“New Mozilla” or “Community 2.0″?


The following blog post was co-written by me and by Ricardo (“Ricmacas”) Maçãs.
Both of us remember dearly when we started contributing to Mozilla. We were part of SUMO’s Livechat (online live one-on-one help sessions for regular users powered by volunteers) and it was easy to voice opinions and to give ideas. We had a strong sense of community and we loved to discuss our ideas with the developers’ team and to help them with feedback whenever needed.
    Ricardo: I think there’s a reason for this: support has always been the bridge between the end user and the developer, it is the area where it becomes clear that these two are in fact two sides of the same coin, so we knew first hand that even the nontechnical user’s opinion was important. Back then, our IRC channel was a very warm and cozy place, always bursting with activity.
     Nowadays, SUMO’s IRC channel is just another Mozilla IRC channel: full of people, mostly empty of words. After the SUMO livechat product ceased to exist, we still gather around in other IRC channels. Some of us have moved to other Mozilla projects, but we all talk to each other like we’re still in the same team. There is certainly something awesome and special that we had in Livechat that stays with us.
    Granted, Mozilla lost some degree of relevance in the past few years. Users demanded Chrome-like performance and features, and our community was not delivering. Our core product, Firefox, was no longer perceived as the innovative product it once was.
    Now, the Corporation and the Foundation are doing its best to revive Mozilla. They’re building hype, they are launching new bold bets in the mobile space. New projects, new ideas, and a coordinated effort to bring Firefox back to the top.
    However, what happens to the community? Is the hype strategy really the best? Does the community want to be preached new products that it didn’t have a say in?
    Ricardo: For example, I feel that most of Mozilla projects’ fate and direction are decided by someone else with an Apple-esque “creative” vision that I can’t reach besides vague responses of “we are considering it/working on it”.
    A community member said a few days ago, “Mozilla, don’t ask us what we can do for you, but ask yourself what you can do for us [the people]“. Active contributors are more and more aware of the slight pressure that’s building up to conform to this new product strategy.
     You’d hope that there is still the willingness and interest of the Corporation to support efforts and side-projects that are governed by the community. Great, big and small products sprung off of these efforts in the past.
    Now? There’s still the possibility to have side projects and interests that differ from the general consensus. However, it doesn’t seem to be pretty much appreciated anymore. Efforts in streamlining (or as Mozilla likes to call it: aligning) this community are undoubtedly taking place and have taken place the last months.
    The following remark in the Summit Strategy is especially important for us [1]:
  • Understand the role of “product” in being a Mozillian
    In our opinion, “Product” has no role in being a Mozillian. Only because the Mozilla Corporation decides to push a product forward, doesn’t mean that we volunteers have to. To us, being a Mozillian means pushing the open web forward. And that can be done in a variety of ways.
    We still stand strongly by Mozilla’s values and manifesto. But whenever we see proposals to streamline the community, we both feel that we are all being conditioned into ideas and vision of a somewhat new Mozilla that knows what the community needs but doesn’t quite know how to make it happen.
    We think that Mozilla should be about community, not products. It’s arguably the only thing that truly aligns us, besides the rather philosophical manifesto. And community consists of people. Without people, Mozilla wouldn’t be what it is today. Mozilla would most likely not have as much marketshare if community hadn’t helped out. But people have their own mind, they have their own reasons for contributing to this project and they have their own special areas of interest.
    Tobbi: The only thing where we probably all agree is: We’re all doing our part in advancing the Mozilla Manifesto. Some of us care more about the community and the people therein than about the products, but does this make them less of a Mozillian? I have been a member of the community for about 5 years.
    Tobbi: And I have learned enough to know that community is diverse. And our power comes from our diversity. The corporation has goals, yes, but the corporation is also under a lot of pressure to maintain its position in the market. Communities can help. However I don’t feel that it is acceptable to encourage communities and their members to do something they don’t completely see eye to eye with.
    We miss the times of Livechat, because we felt we had a voice that mattered. Was it a  huge mess because we all had voice? No, there was a clear vertical management strategy, there were Mozilla employees working there that were our “project leaders”, and the reason I put that in quotes is because these leaders hanged out with us with the humility to listen and consider our ideas, and help us foster them without reservations.
    Tobbi: I personally thrive from the ability to have a say in the general direction a project is going. Unfortunately, Mozilla is under a lot of market pressure, which leads to the influencing of community members, and I, as a contributor, am driven to support a part of the Mozilla project which I don’t quite like to contribute to since I have no means by which I can influence the direction in which it is going.
    What kept us coming back? We always valued diversity. We always embraced our   geeky side when volunteering with Mozilla, and we always enjoyed  talking about everything Mozilla-related. We knew we were improving the web, and Firefox was the browser with the right values, and the right license! That’s why we think the Livechat team is still very alive today.
    Mozilla: We, Tobbi and Ricardo, plead you to listen to the voices in your community and give community members an ear for concern. Even the silent voices, and even those who disagree with your current corporate strategy and would rather align to the manifesto in their own way. Having their own opinion is what makes them human.
Thanks, and comments are appreciated!
Tobias Markus (Tobbi) & Ricardo Maçãs (Ricmacas)