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MEMBER OF THE WEEK: MICHELLE THORNE (MOZILLA FOUNDATION)

Michelle Thorne is the Global Events Strategist for the Mozilla Foundation. The Mozilla Foundation is an independent, non-profit organisation founded in 2003 by the Mozilla Corporation, and works towards the promotion of Mozilla’s founding principles of openness, innovation, and opportunity, on the web.

Michelle joined the Mozilla Foundation earlier this year. Since then, she has been involved in a number of projects, and was Festival Lead of the 2011 Mozilla Festival. She has been a member of betahaus since March 2011

1. You are the Global Events Strategist for the Mozilla Foundation, and you are based in Berlin. What made you choose this city in particular?

I first came to Berlin to work for Creative Commons, which has an office here. I then joined Mozilla, which has a space at betahaus. There are about 10 people in Berlin who work for Mozilla, and most of them choose to work from their homes, but I thought betahaus would be a better place for me to work.

2. How do you like working at betahaus? What do you enjoy the most here, and what do you feel could be improved?

I think that the coolest thing about betahaus is the people behind it. I think that the founders have put so much of their lives, their energy, and their characters into shaping this place. You can really feel the energy and creativity that they bring, and because of that, they’ve inspired a lot of other people to come and shape betahaus to be the kind of place where they want to work.

3. You previously worked for Creative Commons, and have been involved in other projects promoting the ideas of free culture and open source. What first attracted you to this cause?

I first got into the whole free-culture movement mostly because of Wikipedia, and realising that a very simple idea like collaboratively trying to summarise all human knowledge in all of the world’s languages was not only incredibly ambitious, but also empowering, because every little contribution makes a difference, and that together, you can actually create something legendary. So Wikipedia was the thing that first inspired me to get into this. Learning about Wikipedia lead me to learn about other collaborative projects, as well as the challenges of copyright in the digital age.

4. The recent increase in the popularity of coworking, among other innovations, suggests that the principles of openness, sharing, and collaboration are becoming more accepted in the world of business. Do you see such a trend continuing into the future, or do you expect a backlash and an eventual return to more traditional corporate mentalities?

That’s a good question. I think that, in general, the trend is moving more towards openness and collaboration. I think that businesses are starting to see the economic efficiency of collaboration – you reduce a lot of unnecessary waste, and you reduce transaction costs by having things that are compatible with each other. Collaboration also creates a better feeling in general for a lot of people. So I think that we will definitely see an increase in collaboration across other fields. We’re already seeing it in science, in design, in production and manufacturing, and of course in the creative industries. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t threats, and that the pendulum won’t swing the other way. There are constantly threats to any ecosystem that encourages collaboration and openness – there are threats against the Internet, against copyright laws, and against the commons, and these will be constant barriers. But I think that there is still a general trend of people opening up and seeing the potential of collaboration.

5. Finally, what plans do you have for future projects and activities, both within and outside of Mozilla?

At Mozilla, what we are trying to do now is to go beyond the browser. We’re looking at how to get geeks and non-geeks to sit together and build things that help them teach, make, and learn on the web. One of the projects we have for that is building “hacktivity kits” – recipes and agendas to help people come together to hack or build things. We’re looking for beta-testers for that, so if people are interested in trying it out, they are welcome to get in touch.

Another thing we are working on, together with betahaus and others in Berlin, is the Awesome Foundation. I encourage anyone who has an awesome idea and who wants 1,000 Euros with no strings attached to submit their entry online: http://awesomefoundation.org/submissions/new, under the Berlin chapter.


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