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Jetpack Design Camp

So, the Cohere Jetpack was one of the 10 winners of the Mozilla Labs Jetpack 4 Learning competition and I got to jet off to Austin, Texas for a week attending a 3 day design camp, following into the SXSW interactive festival. Another KMi entry also won a place at the design camp, Mupple, so I got to travel over with a colleague from KMi, Laurian. I am easy to spot in the photo as I was the only female there and Laurian is in the red top. Well done to Laurian for also picking up a special award for being super-helpful! See the Mozilla blog for their coverage of the camp.

So what is Jetpack?

Jetpack is Firefox Extension writing made ‘Light’. Jetpack provides and easy and fast way to create FireFox extensions. It abstracts away from the more complicated aspects of the existing extensions API and the XUL interface language. You write your extension in simple HTML, CSS and Javascript, so any web developer can have a go at extending Firefox.

We used the Jetpack prototype version for developing our Jetpacks for the competition and while it was still quite buggy, as a proof of concept it did its job well. It demonstrated that you could get web developers who didn’t know the Mozilla API or XUL to produce some interesting Firefox addons which where quite technically complex. Many of the 10 jetpack4learning winners had never written a Firefox extension before and only knew javascript and HTML. With a bit of help and support we all achieved a lot with what was, after all, only a small prototype of the planned Jetpack API. I think as the full Jetpack SDK is developed it will go from strength to strength. It will expose functionality many developers may not have been aware of in the existing Firefox extension system as they were just too complex to discover or use.

Mozilla have now started releasing the rebooted Jetpack SDK version. The reboot roadmap is quite aggressive and they hope to have the major functionality of the prototype rewritten by the end of May. A lot of the future development plans are in flux and can be redirected / influenced by the requirements of the current Jetpack developer community.

As Mozilla say: “Any Web developer can participate in the Mozilla mission of making the Web better. We hope you’ll work with us to continue to make Firefox a platform than enables choice in the experience of Firefox users and developers worldwide. If you have more than a passing interest in the future of add-ons, consider this a rousing call to action to get involved.

The Camp

The 10 jetpack4learning winners where 'trapped' in a conference room for 3 days from 8am to 6pm. Breakfast and lunch where brought to the room, so we had no reason to leave! The mornings consisted of various discussion groups and brainstorming sessions around the Jetpack technology and the future directions it could take. The first two afternoons we had intensive coding sessions to make final adjustments to our Jetpacks. It was all great fun and there was a real group dynamic. The third day involved rehearsing and giving the final presentations of our Jetpacks.

Amongst the 10 projects at the camp there were some really interesting ideas. I was surprised at the diversity of learning concepts presented. Two projects I particularly liked:

ClozeFox, which won a special award for “best use case”, was a really simple idea that the user could understand immediately, and the learning benefits where instantly apparent.

Basically, the extension was for language learning, and it processed a given webpage and replaced certain words with multiple choice drop-down menus, thereby simulating a close test. The user then had to choose the correct words to complete the sentences and was then marked and given a score. For the prototype they started with a preposition test and a random test for two languages, English and Dutch. But it was easy to see how this could be extended to include many languages and many language aspects.

Another project that caught my eye was NetDetective. This Jetpack is a web-based game for teaching children how to best use the internet to locate information. Their goal is “to make these children proactive users of the Internet as an information resource”. The child plays the role of a detective and is given certain tasks to complete in a given timeframe. They are rewarded by earning the detective agency some money. New scenarios can easily be constructed by parents or teachers and are currently plugged in as XML documents. It seemed to have lots of scope to extend the type of actions tracked so it could become a more complex learning tool in the future. 

To see the details of all jetpack4learning projects go here.

The Cohere Jetpack

We plan to continue the development of our Cohere jetpack, and will release a new version based on the new Jetpack SDK later this year when it has become sufficiently mature to meet our current Jetpack’s needs. To see the full Cohere Jetpack competition entry page go here. To have a go with our Cohere Jetpack (currently based on the Jetpack prototype) please follow the instructions below:

Short Instructional movies

Here are some example webpages with Cohere data on them for you to explore:

Michelle - Cohere developer.

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