Its the Mozilla Festival, but not as we knew it…

At the start of March, the Mozilla Festival 2021 started for 2 weeks of Mozfest joy. Unlike previous years this was the year it went completely virtual. There was a lot of concerns how it would work in a virtual space? But we didn’t need to worry, it kinda worked.

I got a early bird ticket so the schedule was opened up to people like me. It was extensive and downloaded all the calendar events for sessions I was interested in. Unfortunately I missed the book a seat part and when I went back weeks later most of it was booked up (my own fault).

My calendar 8-14 march
My calendar during the first week of Mozfest

The Mozilla team worked very hard to keep the feel of Mozfest with a central place to start (the Plaza), the schedule with all the sessions, a number of social spaces (Mozilla slack and spacial chat), skill shares everyday and art/media tracks running throughout the whole 2 weeks. It was full on, just like Mozfest always has been. Its FOMA overload, but don’t worry there is a help desk – which seemed to be almost 24hours a day via slack.

I did go into a couple spacial chats and check out a skill share but most of my time was sat on zoom and many miro boards during sessions. To be honest I have a love hate relationship with miro but I finally got around to half liking it once I spent time with it for my own session. I did find miro bugging me to signup kind of annoying however.

My mozfest Adaptive podcasting miro board

One shame this year was the Mozhouse events seemed to be dropped from the schedule. This meant the publicspaces conference was missed from the schedule, although it was scheduled around Mozfest months ago. The festival has always been a big magnet for people and the 3rd party events which sit around the festival for example 2 years ago.

Because Mozfest was over 2 weeks, I paced myself and made the decision to carve out time for the festival. It was a good idea as my working hours were running to about 10hrs a day. Luckily most of the sessions had a hour break between them, allowing time to catch up with emails, slack and other work stuff.

Sessions

Sessions ran from a early 7am – a late 11pm GMT, hopefully catching a lot of countries around the world. I imagine over that 14hours, only New Zealand might have been tricky to attend sessions?

I ran a workshop/session during the 2nd week, which was interesting as chrome took down most of my display in a GPU bug I reckon. There was also the neurodiversity art work but I didn’t get enough entries to make something interesting unfortunately.

The advantages of neurodiversity

In total I went to 45 sessions. Here are some of the highlights in the sessions I went to.

Lasting thoughts

The 2 weeks of Mozfest was great. It was a shame some of the sessions which claimed to be full were not. I noticed this changed a little bit later but I missed the social aspect, which slack and spacial chat just doesn’t cover. I quite liked the vibe of BarCampManchester 10 which could be done if narrowed down by the spaces. I noticed Creative AI had aspects of this but its something which could apply more widely if next year is the same?

There is a question which came in 2017 when Mozilla picked Slack over Matrix & Mattermost (which they were using internally). The questions comes up again, about using Zoom, Miro, Slack, etc. Like the publicspaces conference, balancing the practicalities with theĀ  values is hard work. But maybe next year if its virtual/hybrid, Mozilla could really lead the charge here.

When I first knew it was going to be 2 weeks (well really 12 days), I gulped but it worked out well. I never felt rushed and having most of the sessions recorded is super handy, as I’m finding now watching the ones I missed (plus I found the youtube secret playlist which means I can easily watch them back on my chromecast). Not every session was recorded of course and its a little strange when the breakout sessions happen. Ideally the recording should have been paused but the whole festival is community focused and I’m happy its not clean cut because that would have gone against the ethos of the Mozilla Festival.

Talking about the community, it was great to see a minimal amount of sillyness/zoombombing. Also the welcoming of so many different people, cultures, languages, etc. This was also the year when neurodiversity really kicked into high gear!

Where does the festival go from now, is a big question…

I’d like to see a hybrid conference next year. I certainly want to see a combination of the reach of Mozfest 2021 with the social parts of the last 10 years. However, please Mozilla keep the pretext system as it worked so well and hopefully we can finally have a permanent record of all the sessions over the years (one of the things I quite liked about using Github)

Big thanks

Massive thanks to everyone who made the virtual festival so good (especially looking at you Sarah & Mark!). Those working behind the scenes making sure things run smoothly. To all those spacewranglers who likely didn’t know if it was going to be in person, hybrid or virtual. Of course all those people who ran the sessions.

Really making good on ethos of… Arrive with an idea, leave with a community!