This weekend I had the pleasure to attend for the first time MozFest, the Mozilla Foundation’s annual community gathering, held for the second year running at Ravensbourne College just next door to the O2 Arena. Amongst the big themes being explored this year were Connect your City, Open Data, Journalism, Privacy, the Physical Web, and Science, which are all areas where Mozilla aims to ‘build, empower, teach and shape’, and which are all challenging topics that touch on the excitement of working in data as well as defining some of the broader issues facing data scientists today.
Amongst the plenary speakers were Mark Surman (executive director of Mozilla), Mitchell Baker (chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation), Aron Pilhofer (heading up digital strategy at the New York Times) and Dan Sinker (heading up the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project which each year puts a cohort of web developers in newsrooms around the world) who all did a great job of rallying and keeping happy the assembled troops (by a rough count, around 1,400 people), spreading their vision of a world in which we ‘know more, do more and do better’.
Most satisfying of all were the workshops and one-to-one conversations from which I learnt new things or approached familiar topics from a different perspective. To give a flavour, I joined for the School of Data‘s ‘data expedition’ teaching basic data skills to those who need them, attended a workshop on How to Deal with Text as Data by Mozilla’s Rebecca Weiss, joined a session on Threat Modelling for Journalists by Knight-Mozilla fellow Mike Tigas (who is also working on Tabula, a tool for extracting tabular data from PDFs), learnt TileMill basics from Alistair Coote of the New York Times, and listened to James Ball of the Guardian and Jeff Larson of ProPublica talking about their experiences breaking the Snowden stories. I also had the chance to meet up in person for the first time with Michael Bauer and Milena Marin (of the School of Data), John Burn-Murdoch (data journalist at the Financial Times), and Reuben Binns (a privacy researcher who also consults for Ctrl-Shift) to discuss our shared interests in the future of data visualization, journalism, education and privacy.
Overall, it was a tremendously well-organised and fun event to attend, and owing to its scale I’m sure each person attending experienced and shared their own different MozFest, in keeping with Mozilla’s vision of the web. The event raised plenty of urgent technical, legal and cultural data-related issues to work on, some of which we’ll be addressing here in Inquiron in the coming months – watch this space.