A little over two years ago, I did a bunch of posts about the idea of recruiting ‘the next million Mozillians’. My thinking at the time: we need to grow our community dramatically. We need to build even more creativity, reach and resilience into who we are. This is how we build a 100 year organization for the open web.
I still believe we need to do this. However, it turns out, finding a million more Mozillians (or whatever number we need) requires more than good intentions and a snap of the fingers. It requires a crisp understanding who we want to recruit and why they’d want to get involved. Getting to this takes time, experimentation and conversation.
The good news: I think we are closer than ever to having broad and solid strategy to dramatically grow the Mozilla community. As I look across Mozilla, I see three common goals emerging:
- Grow and strengthen our existing community of contributors
- Expand our scope: invent new ways for people to contribute
- Build a massive base of supporters who contribute in small ways
This list is not a top down set of marching orders. Just the opposite. It’s a pattern I see in experiments and initiatives from all across Mozilla. Experiments and initiatives with serious people and resources behind them. This gives me a great deal of hope.
There are conversations going on about bits of this strategy all across Mozilla: Contributor Engagement, Drumbeat, Join Mozilla, MDN. I figured it might be useful to share the overall pattern I’m seeing to feed into these more specific conversations. So, here’s my take …
1. Grow and strengthen our existing community
Depending on who you talk to, we have between 25,000 and 50,000 active Mozillians: people who contribute time and passion to making, improving, testing, localizing and promoting Mozilla software.
This is an awesome number. But it’s also a number that is hard to grow (or even sustain). Finding your way into this core community is often hard. And some community members feel they don’t get the support they need.
Of course, Mozilla has always focused on keeping this community strong. Summits. MozCamps. Community calls. Yet, there is increasing recognition we need to do more. Recognition is solidly turning into action.
Mary Colvig has formed a contributor engagement team with this exact goal: doing more. Mike Shaver is looking at ways to optimize how we make software, including a strong community component. David Boswell is trying to improve our Get Involved page. Gerv Markham is working on a community directory for all Mozillians. People like Alina Meirlus and FuzzyFox are investigating ways to make it easier for people to find their way into the Mozilla community.
These are only the initiatives that I know about. I am sure there are more. However, just looking at these I am convinced that people in Mozilla are broadly embracing the goal of growing and strengthening our contributor community.
2. Expand our scope: new ways to contribute
If we think about keeping the web open for the long haul, then Mozilla needs to get good at more than just building Firefox. And probably at more than just building software.
This is an easy thing to say in the abstract. But what exactly might we do beyond Firefox? What are the threats and opportunities on the web? What do we want to build? Who would want to contribute? Why?
Over the last few years, three new groups have formed to address these questions: Mozilla Drumbeat; Mozilla Labs; and Developer Engagement. All have a mandate to innovate and venture into new territory — and to bring new kinds of people into the Mozilla community.
What has me most excited is the fact that our once vague aspiration for new ways to participate in Mozilla started to become more concrete. The path to becoming a Mozilla / P2PU School of Webcraft course leader is clear (but clunky). The idea of Mozillian as news hacker is coming into focus. The chance to pitch in on Mozilla innovation thinking through a Labs Design Challenge is well established.
Also worth noting: many of these ‘beyond Firefox’ initiatives have started to become Mozilla community software projects. The Popcorn and Butter hypervideo tools. The processing.js toolset developed by Seneca and others. The Batucada open social platform we’ve developed for Drumbeat. All small scale, but notable as software projects aimed at the challenges and opportunities we face today on the web.
While all of these initiatives are interesting in their own right, the bigger story is about community. As they scale, these initiatives will allow many more people to contribute and become Mozillians. This is critical for growth. Ultimately, it’s the difference between being able to support 50,000 contributors and 500,000 contributors. Growing our community means expanding the number of things they can work on. Slowly, this is starting to happen.
3. Build a massive base to contribute in small ways
Personally, I believe that we need a third strategy for growing our community: a way for large numbers of people to simply stand up and support Mozilla. To simply show their affinity.
The main reason: this is the best and fastest way to spread our message, to explain to the world that we are more than just a browser. We know from other movements that ‘joining’ turns supporters into informal evangelists. They wear tshirts. They feel pride. They talk to their friends over dinner about why.
The other reason is that simple ‘support us’ programs are almost always the best way to scale a community of active volunteers and contributors. We saw this in the Obama campaign. And in online environmental organizations like 350.org. First people make a small pledge of money or affinity, then the most active are invited and supported in doing much more. Traditional campaigners call this a ladder of engagement.
Mozilla is trying to build this kind of supporter base through ‘Join Mozilla‘, newsletters and a number of other user engagement programs. The strategy is simple: we want people with a strong affinity for Firefox to understand that we are about something more, and then to express their support for our cause.
Of course, we can do much more once people have joined. We can activate supporters as informal evangelists. We can invite them to local meet-ups or parties. And we can encourage the keenest amongst them to become active Mozillians. And, if we look at other campaigns and movements, it’s clear that the starting point needs to be very simple. And, its still fantastic for the cause that the broad majority of people will be happy to do no more than just show their support.
Mitchell has talked informally about 2011 being ‘the year of community’ for Mozilla. I agree. When I look at the rough community strategy that is emerging across Mozilla, I think the opportunity for major growth is real — it’s an opportunity we can’t miss. I believe the Whistler goal of 1000x-ing the size of our community can actually be achieved.
The caveat: we need to dive in and take some risks now to make this happen. We need Mozillians from around the world to take a leap of faith — that we can scale our already awesome global community into a community that’s even more diverse, powerful and world changing.
Practically, this means moving quickly on everything from a community directory to innovation challenges to Drumbeat projects to the new Join Mozilla program. It means trying things and then trying them again, even if we don’t get them right the first time. As I say, I’m pretty hopeful about this. It’s exactly what the Mozilla community is good at.