by Doug Belshaw

Dr. Doug Belshaw is Web Literacy Lead for the non-profit Mozilla Foundation and author of ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ (

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Bittorrent’s Project Maelstrom is ‘Firecloud’ on steroids

Earlier this week, BitTorrent, Inc. announced Project Maelstrom. The idea is to apply the bittorrent technologies and approaches to more of the web.

Project Maelstrom

Note: if you can’t read the text in the image, it says: “This is a webpage powered by 397 people + You. Not a central server.” So. Much. Win.

The blog post announcing the project doesn’t have lots of details, but a follow-up PC World article includes an interview with a couple of the people behind it.

I think the key thing comes in this response from product manager Rob Velasquez:

We support normal web browsing via HTTP/S. We only add the additional support of being able to browse the distributed web via torrents

This excites me for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve thought on-and-off for years about how to build a website that’s untakedownable. I’ve explored DNS based on the technology powering Bitcoin, experimented with the...

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Feedback on the Web Literacy Map from the LRA conference

Last week, leaving midway through the Mozilla coincidental workweek, I headed to Florida for the Literacy Research Association conference. Mozilla was invited by contributor Ian O'Byrne to lead a session on Web Literacy Map v1.1 and our plans for v2.0.


You can find what I talked about in this post: Toward The Development of a Web Literacy Map: Exploring, Building, and Connecting Online.

We received some great feedback from the following discussants:

  • Richard Beach, University of Minnesota
  • Amy Stornaiuolo, University of Pennsylvania
  • Bridget Dalton, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Colin Harrison, University of Nottingham

It was difficult to capture it all, so I’m just going to list my takeaways. Special thanks to Amy who sent me her notes!

What’s the theory of learning driving the Web Literacy Map?

We talk about Mozilla’s approach to learning in the Webmaker whitepaper, but...

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[IDEA] Webmaker Clubs: three legs to the stool

Yesterday, during the Mozilla work week, some comments made by my colleagues made me think about Webmaker Clubs using a new metaphor. I tested it out in a few conversations and it didn’t get shot down, so I’m recording it here to come back to.

Three legs to the Webmaker Clubs stool?

I thought about there being ‘three legs to the stool’ for Webmaker Clubs (name TBC):

  • Web literacy
  • Facilitation
  • Pedagogy/ethos

The Web Literacy Map (currently v1.1 but soon v2.0) provides the basis for curriculum and learning pathways. We can build off this in a fairly straightforward way - and in fact Laura Hilliger has begun to do just that.

What I feel we need is some kind of 'map’ for the other two legs of the stool. What what this look like for facilitation skills? What about for pedagogy/ethos?

I was asked for clarity on pedagogy/ethos. It probably needs a better name, but all I mean here are the approaches to teaching and learning...

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A Brief History of Web Literacy and its Future Potential [DMLcentral]

Further to an earlier post on the history of web literacy, I’ve just had an article published at DMLcentral. Entitled A Brief History of Web Literacy and its Future Potential, it weighs in at over 3,000 words – so you might want to sit down with a cup of coffee before starting to read it!

A Brief History of Web Literacy and its Future Potential

After doing some additional research on top of that I did for my thesis, I’ve identified five ‘eras’ of web literacy:

  • 1993-1997: The Information Superhighway
  • 1999-2002: The Wild West
  • 2003-2007: The Web 2.0 era
  • 2008-2012: The Era of the App
  • 2013+: The Post-Snowden era

As I say in the article:

It’s worth noting that what follows is partial, incomplete, focused on the developed, western world, and only a first attempt. I’d be very grateful for comment, pushback, and pointers to other work in this area.

Click here to read the article in full at DMLcentral

Questions? Comments? Please add them to the...

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Toward The Development of a Web Literacy Map: Exploring, Building, and Connecting Online

LRA slides

I’m presenting at the Literacy Research Association conference next Friday. I got some useful feedback after my previous post so this is pretty much the version I’m going to present. The slides are above (modern web browser with fast JavaScript performance required!)


Hi everyone, and thanks to Ian for the introduction. I’m really glad to be here - it’s my first time in Florida and, although I’ll only be here for about 46 hours, I plan to make full use of the amount of sunshine. I come from the frozen wastelands of northern England where most of us have skin like ‘Gollum’ from Lord of the Rings. Portland, Oregon - where I’ve just come from a Mozilla work week - was actually colder than where I live!

But, seriously, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about something that’s really important to the Mozilla community - web literacy. It’s a topic I don’t think...

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On the denotative nature of programming

This is just a quick post almost as a placeholder for further thinking. I was listening to the latest episode of Spark! on CBC Radio about Cracking the code of beauty to find the beauty of code. Vikram Chandra is a fiction author as well as a programmer and was talking about the difference between the two mediums.

It’s definitely worth a listen [MP3]

The thing that struck me was the (perhaps obvious) insight that when writing code you have to be as denotative as possible. That is to say ambiguity is a bad thing leading to imprecision, bugs, and hard-to-read code. That’s not the case with fiction, which relies on connotation.

This reminded me of a paper I wrote a couple of years ago with my thesis supervisor about a ‘continuum of ambiguity’. In it, we talk about the overlap between the denotative and connotative aspects of a word, term, or phrase being the space in which ambiguity...

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[DRAFT] Toward The Development of a Web Literacy Map: Exploring, Building, and Connecting Online

The title of this post is also the title of a presentation I’m giving at the Literacy Research Association conference next week. The conference has the theme ‘The Dialogic Construction of Literacies’ – so this session is a great fit. It’s been organised by Ian O'Byrne and Greg McVerry, both researchers and Mozilla contributors.


I’m cutting short my participation in the Mozilla work week in Portland, Oregon next week to fly to present at this conference. This is not only because I think it’s important to honour prior commitments, but because I want to encourage more literacy researchers to get involved in developing the Web Literacy Map.

I’ve drafted the talk in the style in which I’d deliver it. The idea isn’t to read it, but to use this to ensure that my presentation is backed up by slides, rather than vice-versa. I’ll then craft speaker notes to ensure I approximate what’s written...

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Firefox Interest Dashboard: privacy-respecting analytics for your web browsing history

On a recent Mozilla project call I heard about the new Firefox Interest Dashboard. As someone who loves self-tracking, but stopped using my Fitbit due to privacy concerns, this is awesome.

My Firefox Interest Dashboard

Some of the numbers may be a bit off, and the categorisation certainly is in some cases, but it’s a promising start! The great thing is that if you use Firefox Sync it uses your data from other installations you use, too!

From the Content Services team:

This is an early version of interest categorization we’re working on. We invite you to test out this experimental beta add-on and help us out with the misclassified results. We would love to hear from you on suggestions on improvement or any feedback through the flag icon on the interest timeline.

Unlike other analytics services, the FAQ assures users that “all of the interest analysis and categorization is done on the client-side of your browser....

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Native apps, the open web, and web literacy

In a recent blog post, John Gruber argues that native apps are part of the web. This was in response to a WSJ article in which Christopher Mims stated his belief that the web is dying; apps are killing it. In this post, I want to explore the relationship between native apps and web literacy. This is important as we work towards a new version of Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map. It’s something that I explored preliminarily in a post earlier this year entitled What exactly is ‘the mobile web’? (and what does it mean for web literacy?). This, again, was in response to Gruber.

Native app

This blog focuses on new literacies, so I’ll not be diving too much into technical specifications, etc. I’m defining web literacy in the same way as we do with the Web Literacy Map v1.1: ‘the skills and competencies required to read, write and participate on the web’. If the main question we’re considering is are native...

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MozFest Web Literacy Map roundup

Because late is better than never, right?

Web literacy was, of course, a theme that ran through all of the Mozilla Festival this year. However, in this post I want to focus on a couple of sessions that focused specifically on the Web Literacy Map.

Prototypes and Pathways for Web Literacy

Session details (from schedule)

Karen Smith introducing the MozFest 2014 session 'Pathways & Prototypes for Web Literacy'

This session was led by Karen Smith, with me supporting. It was a practical, hands-on session where participants were able to chart learning pathways around the Privacy competency of the Web Literacy Map. This was based on a deliverable from the Badge Alliance working group on Digital & Web Literacies. We also used the recent UX Personas work to help frame the discussion.

Mozilla Festival 2014: Pathways & Prototypes for Web Literacy

Participants were asked to choose a persona and stick it to a large sheet of paper. They then explored what things that person was likely to want around privacy, and which things they’d like...

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