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23 September 2011, 09:41

Mozilla's WebFWD finds a new speed

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WebFWD logo When Mozilla's WebFWD programme was announced in June, its plan to infuse startups with the "Mozilla way", of the web as an open platform for all, were limited to accelerating projects through a four week hothouse incubation and exposing them to as much Mozilla mentoring as possible in that short time. But no plan survives exposure to reality and WebFWD's plans were no exception. The H caught up with Pascal Finette, director of WebFWD, at the end of a visit to Europe, to see what had changed. The big change, said Finette, was the addition of a six-month Fellows programme, alongside the original plan for four week boot camp exposure to Mozilla's open web ethos. Initial feedback was that, although people thought the bootcamp model was a great idea, they preferred the idea of a longer-term, less-intense process.

The six-month engagement cools the hothouse effect and also has the advantage of not burning out participants and mentors. Expanded use of remote conferencing tools such as BigBlueButton, would also allow mentors to work with groups spread over time zones. With a rich selection of mentors including John Lilly, Brendan Eich, John Resig, Aza Raskin Dion Almaer, Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker and others, it was important to make sure their expertise could be effectively disseminated. Finette is confident that the change could allow up to twenty projects to be running concurrently, but the plan is to scale up to that slowly. Currently there are two projects, CASH Music and OpenPhoto in the process.

OpenPhoto is a project created from the experience of closing down a photo hosting service and finding out how few people rescued their images before close down. OpenPhoto's answer is an open source project which will be able to plug into any hosting service, retrieve images and metadata, and place them in a selected cloud service, be It Dropbox, Amazon S3 or some other platform. OpenPhoto hopes to emulate the WordPress model of open source software and a hosted service, offering both the opportunity to run as a picture backup service or hosting service. Exposure to the Mozilla ethos through WebFWD should ensure an open way of moving images around the net.

CASH Music represents a different application of the Mozilla ethos. The project aims to produce a platform which supports the modern independent musician in their quest to promote themselves and their music while building links with their fan base through two-way interaction over social media. It's a little bit like "MySpace done right" but without the massive media corporation behind it. The idea here, says Finette, is to bring the open web ethos to a section of the web population where there has been a failure to sustain commercial models or be beneficial to individuals.

The fine tuning of emphasis in WebFWD does lead Finette to a linguistic challenge though: WebFWD was, and is, billed as an "Innovation Incubator", but he feels that incubation is more about startups and being focused on creating businesses and producing financial returns. WebFWD is now, though, on the path of seeding and nurturing innovative open communities, and Finette is sure there must be a better word to describe what the programme is doing. Even without that new descriptive word, the WebFWD project is already looking forward to a future where, in only a couple of years, it could be assisting a hundred, or more, new open organisations.


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