Webmaker.org after 9 weeks, in 9 weeks

This week I spent a few days meeting with the Mozilla Foundation's Webmaker engineering and design team in the Toronto office.  It was a great time of reflection after the past 9 weeks, and a time to plan the next 9 weeks.  I left feeling like we're on track, and excited about what's next, and wanted to share some of my observations.

For various reasons, our planning horizon has been, and continues to occupy a 9 week period.  Trying to forecast software projects beyond two months is fraught.  The team has really come together around a period of time that honours proper design-first development, and one that also gives engineers space to follow a rigorous process of review, iteration, and deployment (dev, staging, production).  Combining this with our ability to ship to users in short order (everyone on the team can ship, we have proper staging environments, push-button automated deploys, etc), I think the coming 9 weeks are going to be awesome in the way they let us move more quickly.

In order to launch the first iteration of the new webmaker.org, we had to bring up 5 new apps all at once, with various dependencies between each.  This was hard to do in stages, and so we had to do a "1.0" style release that happened all on one day.  Over the summer, this won't be necessary, since we can now iterate on our platform, apps, and content in parallel.  Even weekly trains, as we did with Popcorn Maker in the early winter, feels too slow now, and we'll be shipping multiple times a day going forward.

So what will we be shipping?  In the next 9 weeks, our goal is follow-through.  We shipped an MVP with the new webmaker.org, and we had, and have, many plans that go much further than what's there now.  We're ready to dive into some of these now.  At a high-level, this includes working toward shipping the following in the coming months:

  • Webmaker Localization (l10n):  I've already written about this, and we remain bullish on localizing webmaker.org by the end of the summer.

  • X-Ray Goggles: everyone who has ever used it loves this tool, and we do too.  Making it work in the new webmaker.org is a high priority for us.

  • Open MakeAPI to 3rd Party Users: we think the MakeAPI, with its idea of cataloging and making discoverable the things one makes, is useful beyond just working with our own tools.  We've already heard from 3rd party apps that want to use it, and we're going to update it so this is possible.

  • Focus on Mobile Experience: having webmaker.org work in mobile and be more responsive, is something we're excited to do.  We've already started in this direction, and plan to make it better and better as the summer unfolds.

  • Webmaker Mobile Web App: we also want to try our hand at creating a new Webmaker tool specifically for mobile, and geared to allowing users to publish to the MakeAPI more seamlessly.  This is at the early design phase, so I won't anticipate direction by saying more.  What I can say is that we're planning to leverage the open web platform (hi there, Firefox OS!).  I know Cassie, Kate, and others will have more to say on it soon.

  • Improve makes.org: the user publishing makes.org domain is one of our most loved features in the new site, and we have plans to take it further, adding things like user profile pages, better page and URL naming, analytics, etc.

  • Media Sync: making on the web means using a variety of services, tools, and publishing platforms.  Users of the web know that one doesn't use just a single site or work only using one account or identity.  With webmaker.org, we want to make it possible to more easily access and use the disparate bits one has created across the web.  We'd like to allow users to access their work on YouTube, Flickr, SoundCloud, etc., and use it to make and remix new work.

  • UI and UX Improvements in our Tools: we have lots of ideas to improve how our existing tools work, make them more fun and easier to use.  Some of these are small and others will take many weeks.  Watch for things to evolve.

  • Scripts in Thimble: we've been working hard toward allowing our users to safely include JavaScript in their published makes for some time.  Doing this properly has meant a bunch of engineering work in our publishing code, and we're still putting the final touches on it.  But we're really close, and I know Pomax is currently getting the final pieces in place.

  • Content, Content, Content: the new webmaker.org is built around content and enabling newer and better content types is something we're already working to do.  Additionally, we have UI changes that we need to ship to make this content easier to find and remix

  • Tutorials: our current solution for tutorials is really a first effort at an MVP.  There's a lot more we can do, and figuring out how to do them well is on our list.
    In addition to some of these big ticket things, there's a host of other work that will occupy us as we go forward:

  • Paying down technical- and design-debt

  • Creating a Style Guide for our UI and UX
  • Creating Documentation for ourselves and users
  • Doing more User Testing
  • Figuring out how to do proper QA and User Support
  • Staying on top of Security bugs and issues
    And obviously we'll continue to have fun!  This is one of my favourite teams to work with at Mozilla, and I'd encourage you to join us as we battle our way through the open bugs.  We're in the #webmaker channel on irc, and you are more than welcome to stop by and say 'hello'.