Last week, David Eaves blogged about the potential for Mozilla to energize — and maybe even lead — a mass movement for the open web. My response: hear! hear! More thinking, experimenting, conversing, inventing, definitionizing, evangelizing, politicking, standard-making and party-throwing in the name of the open web is very much needed. And Mozilla is certainly well situated to stir this pot.
What would it take to stir the pot? Probably a re-imagined and re-invigorated Mozilla Foundation.
Currently, the Foundation acts as steward for Mozilla Corporation and Mozilla Messaging,which are owned by the Foundation but run with their own leadership and resources (I like this model). It supports a handful of other Mozilla software projects. And it gives out a small number of grants related to open source and web accessibility. All of these things contribute to the open web, some (stewarding Firefox!) in a massive way. The Foundation should keep doing these things.
Yet, there is still space for the Foundation to be thinking bigger. Looking for the next risky, audacious, disruptive ideas that will make the open web more useful and more fun. Strengthening not only the technical building blocks of the open web (software and standards), but also the social ones (community and business models)? And, getting ordinary people excited about the open web and why it matters? Which is where this idea of a movement comes in.
If Mozilla stepped into the movement building game, it would clearly have a head start: 170 million people who use Firefox and a killer track record building community.
However, there is also a critical piece missing: the ability to help large numbers (millions?) of people make the shift from being a consumer to being contributor. Not contributors to Mozilla Project code. Or even to documentation or marketing. Rather, imagine 170 million contributors to the project of making the open web stronger, better understood and more resilient. This would be very cool movement indeed.
This week’s Downlod Firefox campaign demonstrated that, at least on the company side, Mozilla has the horsepower and respect to galvanize large numbers of people. Over 8 million people downloaded Firefox 3 in a day. In some ways more impressively, 1.6 million pledged to do so in advance. These pledgers care about Mozilla, and want to chip in to making the web more open.This problem is, beyond downloading, there is very little for ordinary, not-so-techie folks to chip in on.
Mozilla Foundation could change this. It could invite people en masse to help define what we mean by the open web (really, we need to work on this). It could encourage them make videos, mashup pictures and write blog postings that explain the importance of the open web to my grandmother (or my kids). And, over time, it could give people — geek and non-geek alike – the scaffolding and encouragement they need to invent new pieces of the open web that have not yet been imagined. Pieces that use openness and participation to make the web better for work / music / life / love / play / the-stuff-that-matters. Imagined this way, the Foundation has the chance to create the next million actively contributing Mozillians. I think it should take that chance.
Which isn’t to suggest that Mozilla should drop its driven focus on great, community-built tech products. Not at all. Firefox and other Mozilla products are critical to keeping the web open. However, one can imagine the Foundation as movement yin to the Corporation’s awesome product yang. Parts of a whole.
As somebody whose job at Shuttleworth is to make the world better using open source tactics, thinking through this version of the Mozilla Foundation fascinates me. I’ve shared this fascination with a few Mozillians, asking: if the Foundation were in the movement building business, what would it look like? Where are the geek (and not just Firefox) and non-geek (and not just marketing) sweet spots for the next million contributors? I have to admit, I don’t know myself. I have vague hunches (above) and a desire to dig deeper. I’m hoping the Mozillians I am talking to have ideas to share. And maybe you do to. If so, I’d love to hear them. I promise to post again to pull together any good ideas that emerge.