Open Letter to Mozilla, RE: Webmaker Mobile App

Posted on June 16, 2015

Hi Mozilla,

This is Stefan. We worked together before, briefly, remember? Anyway, when I learned about the changes coming to the Webmaker project, I was particularly surprised to learn that Appmaker is going away. It’s a really neat little tool, still has room for improvement (well, I haven’t played with it in a while), but definitely a solid start for what could be a great way to prototype and learn to make mobile web apps.

So let’s have a look at the Webmaker app. (Provided that you have an Android phone, which I, luckily, do.)

Now, I happen to have had the opportunity to try a very early (and much clunkier) version of this app that actually had more functionality, like adding input fields. I saw some potential, so I thought I’d wait until you guys make things smoother. When I saw someone on Twitter posting slides that showed a much better, sleeker looking version of the app, I was quite excited to give it another try.

Much to my surprise, I was looking at a completely different app. I accepted this to still be an early version and I figured most of the things that bothered me would be fixed. I mean you’re Mozilla, you have some of the best and most known engineers working for you.

When I read on the mailing list that a release day is coming, without the app really changing much, I started to wonder a little bit, still giving you the benefit of the doubt.

But now the app is officially out and I’m just confused. I’m not even going to talk much about the sub-par user experience, you must have read this article by now. Although–

Alright, just a few things I really think you should fix (Updated on June 17, 2015):

  • When you open a make someone shared with you, it should be zoomed in.
  • Please allow the users to add some level of interactivity, other than clicking to another “page” – the app looks more like a presentation tool, that’s not what the web really is (only) for.
  • There has to be a way to easily re-order layers, that is, if I add some text, then an image, resize it to fill the background, I don’t want the original text to disappear underneath.
  • When moving/rotating images/text, they should “snap” in place, so that it’s easier to align things, rotate things by exactly 90 degrees, etc.
  • Maybe add just a few more fonts?

Now, the real problem here is that the app’s premise is completely false.

Mozilla Webmaker transforms Web users into Web makers.

I don’t quite feel like I’m making the web here.

See, when I try to share my creation, such as this one …well I can’t, unless the person I am sharing this with has your app installed as well.

Yes, I’m a hacker.

So Webmaker lets the user create somewhat interactive presentations for other Webmaker users. I don’t even see how the “web” fits into this, other than the user needing to be “on the web” to install the app (oh and I know that Webmaker is a so called “hybrid” app, so I guess it uses “web” technologies? Not that this really matters to the users though – and this is probably the main reason the app is so clunky!)

All in all, the Webmaker app leaves me very confused. Why can’t I make actual websites? Why can’t I share them with friends who don’t have an Android phone or aren’t yet convinced the Webmaker app is worth installing? Why is this thing so clunky? What happens with my “web content” when/if the Webmaker gets shut down? 

Now, you’re saying that the app is still a beta and I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt..again. I know you’re doing your best and have a lot going on right now. I just hope you will see this as a constructive criticism.

PS: Oh, by the way, is there any way you could get my profile approved? Ha, thanks!

UPDATE (June 17, 2015):

Thanks to the folks at @mozilla @webmaker for appreciating my harsh, unsolicited opinions.