Scaffolding + support + investment = MoFo?

June 26, 2008 § 6 Comments

The Next Million Mozillians post has sparked some interesting ideas: browser plug-ins that make the whole of the web equally about consumption and contribution; simpler community-powered translation for open content and collaboration; helping people like educators who can weave open knowledge into the core of their work. It has also generated some good questions. What do we mean by the open web? And which bits of it is Mozilla Foundation best situated to drive? I’ll loop back with an in-depth synthesis of all the comments and posts (keep ’em coming) in a couple of weeks when I am back from Italy.


In the mean time, I want to riff off Frank Hecker‘s question about how to engage and brainstorm with the Next Million Mozillians. Frank asked:

Why not send the (FF3 Download) pledgees a message and ask them what they’d like to see Mozilla do (if anything) other than shipping Firefox and other products? [snip] If even 1-2% of people responded to such an appeal with useful suggestions, that would still amount to thousands of people providing their personal thoughts, and possibly hundreds of people who were willing to contribute their time in some form as volunteers.

While sending an e-mail to all the Firefox 3 downloaders may not be the right way to engage (I recall a promise not to send follow up mail), it feels like Frank is headed in the right direction.Mozilla has touch points with millions of people on a regular basis.When it makes contact, I could embed simple, discreet opportunities for these people to contribute either opinions or time.

Of course, if it did this, Mozilla could end up with a new problem: too many ideas on the table plus the expectation that it will do something with them all. Getting around this problem — or, better, turning this problem into an opportunity — seems like one of the key design challenges for a more broadly focused Mozilla Foundation. How do you enable and encourage large numbers of open web ideas but only dig deep on the ones that fit with the Mozilla DNA?

The answer may be some combo of scaffolding + support + investment that comes in at different stages in the evolution of an idea. Possibly something like this (click here for PDF):

Moz prize funnel

The specific ideas, tools and nomenclature (prizes, wikis, etc) don’t matter as much as the levels (scaffolding, support, investment). Scaffolding lets 1000s of people with 1000s of ideas play with ways to improve the open web, but with little or no direct involvement from Mozilla. Mentoring, publicity, travel funds, matching grants and other kinds of in-direct support help the good ideas grow, but with Mozilla only playing a minor role, lending its advice, connections and tiny pots of highly leveraged resources (e.g. travel funds for project meetings). More significant investment and hands on follow through happens only where there are ideas that fit well with Mozilla’s DNA, help grow the open web and have the potential to scale wildly.

On the product side, Mozilla already plays across a spectrum like this.Firefox represents a huge investment of time, energy and committment.It is built on large scale community processes that require rigour and hard work. However, Mozilla is also a key player in a bigger ecosystem made up of thousands of people and organizations building tools for the open web that come in all shapes, sizes and levels of ambition. Mozilla — amongs others — is a part of the scaffolding that makes this ecosystem possible.

A practical question: could and should Mozilla apply this combo of rigourous, large scale open source thinking plus catalytic ecosystem scaffolding to it moves more broadly into ‘ideas that drive the open web’ — open software, videos, data, science, business models, whatever? While my gut says ‘yes’, I don’t quite know what the boundaries are (anything that meets the’Mozilla DNA test’?) or how it would work exactly (e.g. prizes or grants or something else?).

Which is of course why I wanted to post before taking off for two weeks. I want to know what other people think. Is this a useful way for the Mozilla Foundation to think about its engagement with the Next Million Mozillians? If so, what questions need to be answered first? Are there some places (emerging market countries?) or topics (participation? education? politics 2.0?) that offer better places to start than others?Could the Mozilla Manifesto, further articulated and evolved, provide some of the conceptual scaffolding needed to spark and focus people? I wonder.

§ 6 Responses to Scaffolding + support + investment = MoFo?

  • Gerv says:

    I think it’s important to distinguish between the web, and the data transmitted by the web.

    The “open” or “Free” idea has been applied in a lot of places, with varying levels of fidelity to the principles of the original, and with varying results. But a lot of these “open” things are to do with the data being transmitted – the right to use the data/business model/science – rather than the format it’s in.

    Focussing on everything means focussing on nothing. And it seems that a good way to restrict the scope is for the MoFo to focus on the structure of the web being open – protocols, data formats, etc. – and leave applying openness to _content_ to other organizations with a different focus. If we’re trying to define what our DNA is (does that mean what our core values are?) it seems to me that this structure work is more what we have done and what we know, and so what we would be good at.

    So, what happens if we apply that principle to some current issues?


    – Open source software
    – Ubiquitous open technical standards and protocols
    – Open data formats
    – Network neutrality
    – No software patents
    – Creating content in open formats
    – Accessibility


    – Self-publishing mechanisms


    – Open knowledge
    – Open education
    – Open science
    – Open maps
    – Search
    – Content translation

    That’s a pretty big “IN” list, and more than enough for one organization IMO. Keeping our focus there will provide the tools and the platform for other groups to do stuff in the OUT list without it ending up as open data in closed formats, transmitted over closed protocols to people who’ve paid the non-neutral network extra bonus tax, and viewed by closed-source patented software.


  • Frank Hecker says:

    Gerv, I’ll comment more on your comment and Mark’s post later, but I wanted to comment briefly on the idea of the “Mozilla DNA” and the issue of whether particular activities might be consistent with it or not. Others may disagree, but IMO the term “Mozilla DNA” primarily refers to the type of project Mozilla has been and is, the types of activities it has traditionally engaged in, the types of people (i.e., in terms of skills, motivations, etc.) that have traditionally engaged in those activities, and the mechanisms by which the people and activities have been coordinated.

    Thus, for example, the idea of developing, distributing, and marketing software is IMO part of the Mozilla DNA. Ditto the idea of operating as a (quasi)meritocracy with associated governance mechanisms (module ownership, review and super-review, etc.) and a layered structure from end users on up. On the other hand, advocacy of ideas in and of themselves (i.e., disconnected from and not embodied in tangible products) is arguably not part of the Mozilla DNA, nor is the idea of the project serving as an expression of the popular will of its “members” (however defined).

  • Mitchell Baker says:

    I think my hopes are a bit broader than Gerv’s. Gerv’s comment outlines a good view of where we are today, and the kinds of issues that affect the software we build. But our online lives are — and will increasingly be — determined as well by other factors.

    I’m hoping we can expand our reach. Both to address these broader issues and — to use Mark’s words — to reach the next million Mozillians. To do that we need to reach more broadly than the set of things that are central to our software development work today.

    And one of my hopes for ages has been that we can help open source become legitimate as a way of studying software development globally. I don’t know if that fits into the “open education” category that’s listed as an “out” above. But I would put it in the list of things I want to consider seriously.


  • Mark Surman says:

    Gerv, I agree that an open, participatory web is made up of both an architecture of participation and the participation itself. And, while I might go a bit broader than you have, you’re right that Mozilla should remain sharply focused on the architecture of participation … and not on what people create and do when they participate.

    However, my point with this post was not so much to ask *what* Mozilla Foundation should do but rather *how* it should do it. If the Foundation wants to go broader (which in my opinion it should), it needs a mechanism to do exactly what you’ve started to do here: draw boundaries. What’s the mechanism?

    One approach is what I am suggesting in the diagram above. Create scaffolding for large number of people to come up with ideas and then filter from there. Starting a large scale conversation about the Mozilla Manifesto, watching for good ideas and engaging with the people who have them is an example of how you might do this.

    Another option is Mitchell’s concentric circles idea ( Start close to home and move out slowly. Scaling the open source education work that Mozilla is already doing with people like Seneca ( is an example of this approach. It offers direct benefit to Mozilla while driving educational innovation at the same time.

    Of course, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. And I suspect there are other options, which I am hoping people will jump in with here or on their own blogs.

  • Gerv says:

    Mitchell: I don’t think what I said is just an outline of where we are today. For example, at the moment, the Mozilla Foundation does nothing or next to nothing publicly on network neutrality, software patents or creating content in open formats. (“Doing something” in the future may, of course, mean funding organizations working in those areas, particularly the first two.) And my list was only a set of examples – I’m sure there are more things that we aren’t doing that could be added to the IN list.

    Open source as an educational tool is, I think, much closer to my IN category than the general idea of “open education”. When I said “open education”, what I meant was what Melissa Hagemann called “The collaborative creation of open educational resources” in the comments to the previous post. James Napolitano also wrote about it, beginning “Imagine if there was a site like Wikipedia, but where users could create lecture notes, slides, exercises, diagrams, interactive computer programs, videos of their lessons, etc., all categorized by subject area and tagged according to grade level…” That, for me, is in the OUT list.

    Mark: I’m glad that you say that “Mozilla should remain sharply focused on the architecture of participation”. I think perhaps some of the commenters to the previous post switched from “growing the architecture of participation” to “growing participation”, and therefore started talking about e.g. open education. I think we need to be careful not to do that. I like the idea of concentric circles, but that idea by itself doesn’t give us any idea where to draw the boundary. As you say, “What’s the mechanism?”. My post above proposes one – architecture of participation vs. participation. Perhaps that boundary is too close to the core, perhaps too far away. Let’s talk more🙂

    But if it is in the right place, this does raise the question: are there really millions of people out there who want to and can get involved in growing the _architecture_? Perhaps I’m being short-sighted, but it seems that this would tend to be technical and standards work. OK, there would be some advocacy, but again it’s very easy for the message “We need an internet architecture which supports e.g. open education” to become “We need open education”. Particularly if open education is the particular application of the architecture which is the passion of the person you have recruited.

    It would be very cool to have a movement of millions of people, but if we keep our focus, do we actually have anything for them to _do_?


  • HS Diploma says:

    In spite of the list of disadvantages, Mozilla remains to be one of the most popular browsers.

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