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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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...

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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....

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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...

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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...

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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...

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Toward a history of Web Literacy

As part of my work with Mozilla around Web Literacy Map v2.0 I want to use the web to tell the story of the history of web literacy. It might seem obvious to start from the 1990s, but it’s worth saying that developments in new literacies pre-date that decade. Check out Chapter 4 of my thesis for more detail on this.

History of bicycles

This is the first of a (proposed) series of posts leading up to my keynote at the Literacy Research Association conference in Miami at the beginning of December.

Note: there’s lots of histories of the web itself. If you’re interested in that, just start with the relevant Wikipedia page. Here, I’m focusing on the discourse around the skills required to use the web.


The easiest way to get started is to use a couple of Google tools. Here’s what we get when we plug web literacy as a search term into Google Books Ngram Viewer, focusing on...

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Interim results of the Web Literacy Map 2.0 community survey

Thanks to my colleague Adam Lofting, I’ve been able to crunch some of the numbers from the Web Literacy Map v2.0 community survey. This will remain open until the end of the month, but I thought I’d share some of the results.

Web Literacy Map v2.0 community survey: overview

This is the high-level overview. Respondents are able to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree with each proposal on a five-point scale. The image above shows the average score as well as the standard deviation. Basically, for the top row the higher the number the better. For the bottom row, low is good.

Web Literacy Map v2.0 community survey: by location

Breaking it down a bit further, there’s some interesting things you can pull out of this. Note that the top-most row represents people who completed the survey, but chose not to disclose their location. All of the questions are optional.

Things that stand out:

  • There’s strong support for Proposal 4: I believe that...

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99% finished: Badge Alliance Digital & Web Literacies working group’s Privacy badge pathway

I’m the co-chair of the Badge Alliance’s working group on Digital & Web Literacies. We’ve just finished our first cycle of meetings and are almost finished the deliverable. Taking the Web Literacy Map (v1.1) as a starting point, we created a document outlining considerations for creating a badged pathway around the Privacy competency.

Cat x-ray

The document is currently on Google Docs and open for commenting. After the Mozilla Festival next week the plan is to finalise any edits and then use the template we used for the Webmaker whitepaper.

Click here to access the document:

Comments? Questions? Get in touch: @dajbelshaw /

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Web Literacy Map 2.0 community calls

To support the development of Web Literacy Map v2.0, we’re going to host some calls with the Mozilla community.

Dogs on phone

There is significant overlap between the sub-section of the community interested in the Web Literacy Map and the sub-section involved in the Badge Alliance working group on Digital/Web Literacies. It makes sense, therefore, to use the time between cycles of the Badge Alliance working group to focus on developing the Web Literacy Map.


We’ll have a series of seven community calls on the following dates. The links take you to the etherpad for that call.

  • October 20th
  • October 27th (Doug on holiday)
  • November 3rd
  • November 10th
  • November 17th
  • November 24th
  • December 1st (Doug at Mozilla workweek)
  • December 8th
  • December 15th


You can subscribe to a calendar for these calls at the link below:


We’ll be...

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Some interesting feedback from the Web Literacy Map 2.0 community survey

Last week we at Mozilla launched a community survey containing five proposals for Web Literacy Map v2.0. I don’t want to share how positively or negatively the overall sentiment is for each proposal as the survey is still open. However, I do want to pull out some interesting comments we’ve seen so far.

Mickey Mouse - piano

There’s really good points to be made for and against each of the proposals - as the following (anonymized) examples demonstrate. While I’d like to share the whole spreadsheet, there’s people’s contact details on there, and I haven’t asked them if I can share their feedback with names attached.

What I’ve done here - and I guess you’ll have to trust me on this - is to try and give examples that show the range of feedback we’re getting.


1. I believe the Web Literacy Map should explicitly reference the Mozilla manifesto.


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