October 3, 2010

What Mozilla Can Learn From 826 National

At the Mozilla Summit in early July, I gave a short presentation on what Mozilla could learn from an awesome non-profit family of writing centers called 826 National.

One of the many things that really impresses me about this organization is that their chapters ooze with a love for writing and creativity, and encourage and showcase it everywhere. For example, their San Francisco chapter, 826 Valencia, masquerades as a pirate supply store that’s filled with products like kitten and hamster planks, beard extensions, and scurvy remedies—all with hilariously-written labels and instructions for use, and whose proceeds go directly to the writing center’s many tutoring programs. Alongside these fake products are real ones: books published by McSweeney’s, and anthologies of poems, non-fiction, and fiction written by kids at the writing center.

It might sound strange, but it’s brilliant. You walk through the store and realize how awesome the printed word is, because every single word you see is so wonderfully crafted, contextualized, and packaged, regardless of whether it was written by a professional or an amateur. Embodied in everything is the idea that writing is fun, being creative is fun, and you can do this too.

At Mozilla, we often talk about how hackable and remixable the Web is, and I wrote about it once myself. But to most people, it’s not obvious: the Web seems just as immutable and opaque as any other commercial product. That’s because techies are the only ones who really know anything about it.

But what if we could make people as excited about the Web as 826 Valencia makes us about writing? What if everyone just knew that the Web was hackable and remixable, because they knew how to do it themselves and saw examples of it all around them?

Maybe it’s impossible, but I want to find out. I’d like to work on this at the Drumbeat Festival on Learning, Freedom and the Web coming up in Barcelona next month—but I’ve already started a few experiments which I’ll write about in my next post.

© Atul Varma 2021