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5 Lessons Learned in Creating Webmaker, a Mobile Content Publishing Platform

By Guest Writer on May 29, 2017

Recently, the Mozilla Foundation product development team set off to design a new, general purpose content publishing platform that could enable creativity among first-time smartphone owners.

The intent was to create a simple, streamlined content creation platform for low cost-smartphones – something like the 2015 equivalent of the early web page creation software “FrontPage”- while taking into consideration the lower literacy levels of the target market.

Here, product design was used as a research method and documented in Approaches to Local Content: Realising the Smartphone Opportunity. This contributed towards a greater understanding of the content creation opportunities in emerging markets, as well as the development of software to meet real user needs.

Webmaker is the result—a tool tailored to empower ordinary mobile users as creators and content producers. It is free and open source, designed as a public interest application to stimulate further development in this area. Webmaker has been designed to be accessible to all kinds of users, especially new smartphone owners.

The experience of testing Webmaker in the target countries suggests that pushing tools and user education for young people to be creative in emerging markets, has the potential to create significant positive effects in user confidence, long tail content creation, and user initiative.

Among a group of youth who participated in Webmaker field testing in Cambodia and Rwanda, the number of participants feeling “very confident” about using the web increased from 27% to 65% during the course of a month. Larger scale, live market trials of Webmaker and other tools are required to further validate the opportunities implied here.

Through this process we learned many valuable lessons. Essential to all of them was the importance of following the central principle of good design: keeping the focus on the end user.

Here are some observations related to mobile content creation in emerging markets:

1. There is a latent appetite to create content in emerging markets.

Research participants and user testers were hugely excited and enthusiastic about the idea of creating for the Internet. In contrast, similar testing showed that users in Europe and North America, were less enthusiastic and already sensitized to the concept of publishing for a wider audience.

2. Sharing is a powerful motivator for original content creation.

In some of our testing contexts, we have observed that the social incentives for “sharing” content provide the hook that leads a user to generate his or her own original content. For a young person to gain attention among friends and family who have shared or liked their content on Facebook can be motivating and rewarding.

3. Popular social media platforms are already offering micro-businesses their own virtual storefronts.

Initial prototypes of Webmaker assumed that enabling people to bring their micro-businesses online would be an attractive user proposition. However, user testing did not reveal significant demand for this kind of general purpose tool, notably because micro-businesses across the developing world are already managing their businesses using social applications such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook.

Popular social platforms have natural advantages and critical mass, meaning that they are already serving many micro-businesses well at this stage. Rather than socializing and serving a specific digital commercial niche, Webmaker evolved into a more general content creation platform focusing on visual, hyperlinked content that is not possible to create with existing tools.

4. Designing for the “next billion” requires the same focus and respect for the user as designing for those already online.

Simply because some are new to the Web, or to content creation, does not mean that those creating platforms and applications should underrate their ability to handle and even enjoy complexity. The initial Webmaker prototype used a series of pre-designed templates that users would customize and edit.

This required little effort from the user who simply had to edit the existing templates with their own content. However, testing revealed that users were quickly bored by the process, and that this authoring system was too simplistic to realise many of the users’ ideas.

5. Users do not want to create the same content as everyone else.

During workshops, participants continually broke free of our restrictions, escaping the templates and the grids they were provided with, to experiment with more open-ended and fun concepts.

This resulted in a dramatic change within Webmaker’s design, meaning the adoption of more open-ended navigation, and allowing more branching content and ability for the user to “tinker” with the product. Ultimately, leaving room for self-expression and differentiation on the part of the user is crucial

Read more in in Approaches to Local Content: Realising the Smartphone Opportunity.

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