The mobile Web is experiencing a watershed moment: over the next few years, billions of first-time users will come online exclusively through their smartphones. Mozilla believes it’s critically important these users find a mobile Web that’s open and invites creativity.
This was our rallying cry last week at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, where mobile technology leaders from around the globe discussed the industry’s future. It was encouraging to hear our rallying cry echoed by others: the GSMA, for example, dedicated significant time and floor space to promoting digital inclusivity.
As a first-timer to MWC, I was really proud of how Mozilla showed up. We unveiled a partnership with French mobile provider Orange, which can equip millions of users across 13 African countries with a Firefox OS smartphone and six months of data and voice service — for just $40. We announced a simple smartphone for first-time users that we’ll release with Verizon in the U.S. next year. And we debuted the beta Webmaker app, a free, open source publishing tool that makes creating local content simple.
Personally, I participated in two panels: One on digital inclusion and one on the power of connected citizens in crisis situations. These sessions gave us a chance to double down on our stance that access alone isn’t the answer — it’s only the first step.
While I disagree with many of their tactics, I was happy to see people like internet.org throwing out a vision for connecting everyone on the planet. But they are really missing the boat on literacy, skills and creativity. Most people will get connected at some point over the next 10 years; the real risk is people not getting the know-how they need to truly unlock the potential of the internet and make their lives better. We were able to effectively get that message across at MWC.
One of the highlights from the panel discussions was meeting Kartik Sheth from Airtel of India. He talked about Airtel’s onboarding program, which introduces people to the internet by focusing on specific content they really want (a Bollywood music video, for example). Then, they educate users about what services the internet offers and what data costs through that process (e.g. introducing people to YouTube and helping them understand that watching a music video doesn’t cost that much in data). This may sound simple, but it’s actually the kind of “ambient web literacy” that we really need to be thinking about. It has the potential not only to give people very basic internet knowledge, but also to help us avoid what I’m starting to call “the Facebook Effect.”
Of course, Mozilla is committed to web literacy at a much deeper level than just basic onboarding. We spent a good deal of time talking with people at MWC about our growing Learning Networks and Clubs. Our Clubs feature curricula that can be remixed and reimagined, and are held in diverse languages and venues. We met with a ton of people ranging from phone carriers to international agencies aimed at empowering women. And these people expressed interest in helping Mozilla both grow these networks and distribute the Webmaker app.
I left MWC energized by these sort of conversations. Feels like more momentum than ever. If you want to be a part of it, it’s worth checking out Webmaker.org/LocalWeb. This site includes a bunch of the research and partnership opportunities we talked to people about in Barcelona, as well as a link to the Webmaker app beta.