(What I know of) Mozilla’s identity and the Join Mozilla program

I do not know the entire Mozilla community, not even all Mozilla employee names and what they do. But I’m reading a lot of what Mozilla folks write and do. I have also met a couple of people in the Mozilla community and employees so far.
I think I’m having a decent idea of what Mozilla’s identity is about and I am starting to be concerned of the direction that the Join Mozilla program is taking.

Mozilla’s identity by choices, facts and quotes

First of all, I’d like to point that I am not pretending to fully capture what Mozilla is about. I am just trying to mirror what I have seen, heard, experienced. Things that, I think, are tightly related to Mozilla’s identity. Patterns in what people in the Mozilla community say and do. Pointing at what people say and do and trying to understand what it reveals of Mozilla’s core identity.

Do

Mozilla has started by creating a product. A web browser. The way I understand it is that the point wasn’t to say “IE is shit, we can do better”. The point was to show the difference it makes to have a web browser that allow web developers to build on technologies which are openly standardized (one of the goal obviously being to kick IE out of its market share supremacy). Among the Mozilla people, there is this joke on “IE7 is the best Firefox version” or even “Chrome is the best Firefox version”. I interpret this jokes as how by making something, Mozilla challenged Microsoft to create something better than IE6 and how Mozilla allowed Chrome to exist because web technologies are based on open standards Mozilla has always fighted for.

By being innovative, with tab navigation, add-ons, with the core JavaScript language or privacy-protecting features, by implementing these things, by building them and showing it worked, Mozilla has changed the web landscape. People at Mozilla don’t say “This is bad/lacking”. They don’t say “This is bad/lacking, I/we can do it (better)”. What they say is “This is bad/lacking, I/we can do better and I’m/we’re working on it!” (if not “I/We’ve fixed it last night”). “I/We do it”.

I have met Paul Rouget (working at Mozilla Paris office), last October. One of the things he is pissed off about is that Linux users often say “this is broken in Firefox”. His response to them is “What is the bug number? Have you reported it?”. By responding that, he’s encouraging these users to do something to solve the issue they are pointing at.
A while ago, John Resig, another Mozilla employee, wrote the excellent article a web developer’s responsibility where, not only he invites all web developers to report browsers bugs but he also explains how to do it and how to do it in order to have your bug fixed as soon as possible. Nothing forces him to report bugs to web browsers. Nothing even forced him to write this article. I interpret his actions on these matters as following the same pattern of “I do something in order to change the situation”.

Likewise, recent David Humphey (head of Mozilla Education) works are just amazing. He once thought (I paraphrase) “Analyzing the audio stream in the HTML5 <audio> element is not possible. Dynamically generating data and pushing it to the <audio> element isn’t possible. Let’s make it possible!”. He did it and it’s on its way to being standardized.
When I read his blog and the parts about teaching, all is about encouraging students to get involved by doing.
I was in Barcelona last November for the Drumbeat Festival. I have had the chance to meet David Humphrey in person. I have mentionned a project I have which aims at reproducing do what he did at Seneca College with processing.js, (meaning having a group of student working on an open source project in a real-life environement). I’d like to do that on Bugzilla “student-projects” bugs. His very first reaction was “Have you fixed such a bug yourself?”. The subtitle being “don’t ask student to do it if you don’t/can’t do it yourself”.

Chris Heilmann who is currently principal evangelist at Mozilla gave a talk at Le web in Paris last November. Just to emphasis the “do”-culture at Mozilla, here is a quote of his: “Nothing stops you from spending 20 minutes in your time to build a cool interface and show your company what your system could be doing”.

Finally, the Drumbeat festival also had a strong emphasis on doing, making things. Not being a bunch of conferences with one people in front knowing and the rest listening. One of the point was to make people meet each others throughout workshops, discussions.

“Discussions”, you’ll have noticed, isn’t about doing. It’s about sharing, collaborating. And that’s my next point.

Collaborate

From the beginning, all Mozilla projects are collaborative. Bugzilla is an excellent tool for that purpose. All softwares are open source. For internal communication, Mozilla folks use IRC and Etherpad as I experienced during the first doc sprint. These communication tools are open to be used by anyone who’d like to help, provide feedback, input. The latest doc sprint was a tremendous success. In the IRC channel, questions were popping up, people were answering. People are working together. That’s how it works on a daily basis

There are strong inputs from the community like the localizing teams, add-on writers, beta-testers. In Firefox 4 betas, there is now a feedback button so that people can provide feedback more easily than ever.

The Drumbeat Festival could have been entirely closely organized by deciding conference scheduling. Mozilla has prefered taking the risk of not controlling what people do. The Drumbeat Festival wasn’t what Mozilla had planned beforehand. It was what Mozilla took the risk to let us do. Together, in small changing groups.

The Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) is the home of the documentation for Mozilla products and specific interfaces, but also for open web technologies. It is a wiki. By making that choice, Mozilla decides that the documentation shouldn’t be written by Mozilla employees exclusively, Mozilla decides that they are hosting and maintaining a tool where people can collaborate to write the documentation for open web technologies and maintain it, keep it up-to-date.

Conclusion on Mozilla identity

Mozilla, both in its products (Firefox, Thunderbird) and Drumbeat, its main other initiative has promoted what I call the “Do-culture”. It has promoted collaboration. It has promoted openness. Not by saying “let’s promote it and through a communication campaign!”, but by doing it, by making people feel, experience it.

The Join Mozilla program as I read it

What I’ve heard, read and seen

Based on all what I can have read on the Join Mozilla program ([1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6] articles, linked resources and comments), I can see a couple of things:
- The “$5 basic offer” is everywhere.
- There is mention of people who’d eventually get involved but not a single concrete example of how, of what they would do, of how they would connect with the existing “non-member” (I would even dare “not-paying”) community.

Questionning the initial assumption

In the Join Mozilla introduction video, Mark Surman says:
“There are 400M Firefox users (…) They’ve already said they care, they want something different (…) And we know that millions people know that Mozilla is more than just a browser (or at least intuit it). Many of these people want to be a part of what we stand for. They want to be able to do more than just use Firefox to express the fact that they know it’s about something bigger.”
Despite the fact that the Mozilla Foundation “knows” these things, I am afraid to say that I can’t disagree more with these assertions. Aside from the people I know who are already contributors (“Mozillians”), none of the people I’ve met who are Firefox users have a single clue that Mozilla is a non-profit. None know what “open web” means. None know that Drumbeat exists and what it’s about. I have met someone who was confusing a web-based game and the web browser “Mozilla made that cool game!” (nothing to do with the recent game contest).

Or maybe I just happen to know the wrong Firefox users.

I think that there is a need to make sure that people are really going to respond to the “Join Mozilla” program the way the Mozilla Fondation expect them to. If this verification is not done, I see a huge risk in being misinterpreted, misunderstood and in the Mozilla image to be damaged in a way that could take years before healing.

vagueness

Nothing in the program is concrete yet. “Promote the open web”, “Support projects”, “Protect the web”. I’m sorry for being so pragmatic, but tell me what the open web is about, how Mozilla is different, what it builds, what it does to protect. We have concrete examples. We have Firefox, we have Drumbeat projects, achievement. Show it. Stop the words, show concrete things. We do have these. We do have these online! So let’s use them.

As mentionned in the previous point, it is not reasonnable to assume that 400 million people know what Mozilla is about and will adhere to the program.

Lack of multi-cultural concern

If a Join Mozilla program is launched and is world-wide, it has to deal with cross-cultural issues. When I read “basic offer: $5″, I can’t help thinking “I have €uros in my pockets”. There is a lot of US-centricism in that program and its communication and I think it’s incompatible with the aim of reaching the 400M Firefox users world-wide.
In different cultures, people have different ways in approaching notions such as money, giving money, community, joining a community or even the web.
As I said in a comment, “protect the web” has taken particular meaning with recent Tunisia and Egypt events.
The three points in the recent mockup, “Deep inner pride for helping Mozilla build a Web for everyone”, “Access to cool Mozilla swag that will impress your friends” or “Good feelings in the cockles of your heart” may be well-understood in the anglophone cultures. In more “pragmatic” cultures, like the French one, I’m worried that people are going to find this shallow. I’m worried that not all cultures will be receptive to these arguments.

Aiming at reaching 400 million people world-wide and not being misunderstood is a hard task. Multi-cultural aspects of the program hasn’t been mentionned anywhere and I think it crucially lacks.

how it doesn’t convey Mozilla’s identity in its current form

“Give $5, thanks for your support, receive a t-shirt, a card and bragging rights” is as far as anything can be from what I’ve described as Mozilla identity. People don’t do anything, they pull out their credit card. People don’t collaborate to gather these $5, they don’t share the t-shirt, it’s a very individual initiative. Besides the bragging aspect and shouting on the street “I support the open web”, there is not much openness.

That’s probably the point that annoy me most. With the current communication form of the program, people cannot understand what Mozilla do, how Mozilla works, how it runs on a daily basis. First, there is no reason for hiding it and second it would certainly encourage more people to join in.

The Join Mozilla program as it could be

The very first time I have read Mark Surman’s about page, I have been impressed, inspired if not jealous of the following sentence: “Mark Surman is in the business of connecting things: people, ideas, everything.”. That must be such an interesting job. This idea of “connecting things” as a job made me realize that “connecting things” is something I think about on a daily basis. And I think it should be the first point of the Join Mozilla program.

Connecting people

People have skills and time. Drumbeat projects are looking for people with skills and people with time. Other Mozilla projects need people with skill and time
Why isn’t the Join Mozilla program making the bridge between them?

If Drumbeat project owners list what they need in term of skills and time, the Join Mozilla program could welcome new people by saying: “You want to help/promote the open web but you don’t know how to do? Tell us your interests, skills, what you want to learn and we can help you find a project that needs you and fits you best!”. This idea is as stupid as a dating website.

The Tatoeba project needs people to translate sentences from one language to another? Drive people who know at least two languages to them!
Universal Subtitles needs people to subtitle State Of The Union in English for deaf English-reading people? Drive people who can type in English to them!

Such an initiative would contain the “do”, the “collaborate” and the “open”, would make newcomers feel, touch what Mozilla and the open web is about. It would help Drumbeat projects finding more people and promote the open web.

Money from the rest

I understand that money is a crucial part of the program and that this money is aimed at founding grants and projects. First of all, if more people are driven to the projects and get involved, there might need less money there.
Then, even if we try to connect people with projects, there is still going to remain some people who want to show their support but do not feel like giving time, then, they can give money.

Conclusion on this alternative program

I’ve proposed a Join Mozilla program in two steps:
- Connecting Drumbeat project and the “get involved” initiative with people’s skills and availability.
- Ask for money if people want to show their support but either don’t have time or don’t want to get involved.

I think that by showcasing first what Mozilla does and by giving the people an opportunity to participate by doing, by collaborating to a project, people will get a better idea of what Mozilla is about, of how it works, of how it’s different from other institutions dealing with the web.

Conclusions

I have tried here to depict what I know of Mozilla identity. I have tried to show a couple of flaws I see in the “Join Mozilla” program in its current form and how it doesn’t fit in what I understand as Mozilla identity. I have finally proposed an idea of an alternative form of the Join Mozilla program which, in my opinion, has a better chance of being understood and is better aligned with Mozilla’s values.

The Join Mozilla program is, as far as I know, the very first time Mozilla addresses broadly a message to Firefox users. If the message is misinterpreted by the press, misunderstood by people, Mozilla could loose its credibility, potentially resulting in worse consequences. It’s a one-shot situation. No second chance.

I hope this article will have helped shaping the Join Mozilla program.
I hope that, regardless its form and content, the Join Mozilla program will be successful.

4 thoughts on “(What I know of) Mozilla’s identity and the Join Mozilla program

  1. Hi David,

    I really appreciate your thoughtful analysis. My impression is that Mark Surman is actively seeking feedback on the Join Us program, so I think you will be heard (especially if you bring this post to his attention).

    I agree that the goal should be to encourage people to greater action, and I doubt Mark would disagree with that. The Contributor Engagement team, led by Mary Colvig, is working on improving the on-ramps for people to get involved. (And they’re holding “town meetings” for current contributors on 3 continents, this week.) Mozilla contributor William Duyck (a.k.a. FuzzyFox) is working on a wizard to help people find the best way for them to contribute.

    My understanding of the Join Us program is that it is intended to provide a middle ground (and a funnel, if you will) for people who aren’t able to be really actively involved, but want to go beyond installing Firefox and “liking” it on Facebook. There is probably an American cultural bias in the idea that giving some money to an organization provides a sense of “ownership” that is meaningful. But just as political causes invite more enthusiastic donors to sign up for an activist newsletter where they receive specific calls-to-action on issues, Mozilla should provide ways for “Joiners” to “do something” in bite-size chunks.

  2. Hey David. Thanks for this. It helps to have this kind of thoughtful input. There’s a bunch of stuff in here that ties to a posting I’m working on about our broader community engagement strategy. So, some quick comments now and then more as I get to that post in the next week or so.

    First: I like your ‘both/and’ proposal — get more people connecting and working together AND invite people who can’t / don’t want to to show their support with money.

    This is exactly the plan. Grow our contributor engagement (get involved) program. Grow Drumbeat and make it easier to participate in projects (it’s hard now). Build a ‘join us’ program for people who aren’t ready to do either. Also, we may add a low bar money piece to Drumbeat at some point if people think it’s a good idea (e.g. ability to include a Flattr button on your Drumbeat page).

    I think part of the problem is that we’ve described ‘join us’ in isolation from these two other plans — both of which will get way more money, resources and focus than join us. That’s what I hope to fix with my next post.

    On the join us program as proposed, I now realize there are still alot of assumptions we haven’t explained (and a bunch of vagueness and unfinished thinking).

    The biggest missing assumption might be this: most people need to take a small but active first step of support (e.g. giving money) before they will become more deeply involved (e.g. volunteering).

    We’ve seen this with the Obama Campaign, 350.org and many others that we’ve studied and talked to about how to do programs like this. The all have small steps like the current $5 membership that start a conversation and then slowly get those who are most interested to get more involved. Campaigners call this a ‘ladder of engagement’ — small step, medium step, big step.

    One thing that is important to think about with these examples is numbers: there will always be more people who want to take a small step than a big one. So, if we can get 1 million members (our stretch goal), then we might get 100,000 to do some small task for a Drumbeat project. And maybe 10,000 to have meaningful repeat involvement with Drumbeat or other Mozilla projects. Again: this is what we see in places like the Obama campaign.

    While Mozilla admittedly is different than these organizations, my belief is that we should try some of their techniques to see if they work. Others might disagree.

    You raise many other good points on localization, culture, $5/5 euro etc. Totally valid. Mostly these are things we’re thinking about. Some will be fixed by the time we launch. Some wont. Seeing your perspective on what’s important helps us double check and focus.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      I agree with you when you said that part of the problem is the isolation of the “Join us” program. Actually your comment makes easier to understand and accept the Join Mozilla program, at least for me. For the community sake, I think it’s better to have a “continuous program” instead of several fragmented programs which handles different part. It would otherwise create some sort of differences between community members based on how they reached Mozilla.

      I don’t know if you’re planning on writing about that in the post you’re working on, but the idea of “ladder of engagement” and the two concrete examples you gave seem to be key in what brought the Join Mozilla program as you described it. They would probably be worth mentionning.

      I would like to point out that both (350.org / Obama campaign) seem to be events/campaign and not expecting long term engagement. Mozilla’s goal seem to be slightly different.

      And as you said, there are a lot of assumptions in the Join Mozilla program. One of them is that people will be receptive to messages like “support the open web”. On a daily basis, I meet people who are daily web users, but don’t understand the difference between connecting with Facebook or OpenID. They don’t understand (and probably don’t care) why open standards are important. One Mitchell Baker famous quote is “The average consumer does not know the difference between browser, Internet and search box.”. It has been said about 2 years ago and is still true even though changing at a very small pace. This shouldn’t be undermined in my opinion.

      Last but not least, all the communication has to be done very carefully. In your Join Mozilla post trackbacks, there is this link (http://blog.arpitnext.com/2011/01/join-mozilla.html). The last sentence is : “Mozilla is planning to ask every user for a contribution of $5 through ‘Join Mozilla’ program.”. I know that Firefox is free and will always be. However, a lot of people

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