More on Mozilla: communities, circles and maps

July 11, 2008 § Leave a comment

Mitchell and others recently posted about the Mozilla community as a series of concentric circles. These posts make it clear that being a part of a community like Mozilla (or not) isn’t a binary switch. Rather, people have varying degrees of involvement and connection. There are different kinds of community members. And, one person might be multiple places in the community at once.

This is a very useful idea. It provides a sort of map to help sort out all the ideas floating around about the evolution of the Mozilla Foundation might do. However, as Mitchell said in her first post, this map only works if the the language and concepts are fairly precise. More conversation is needed to get this point. My take is something like this …


The centre circle in Mozilla feels like it’s about the creation of specific artifacts (a web browser) and outcomes (a world record). For me, this is more than just a ‘community of practice’. It’s a community that makes things. Matthew Aslett gets close to describing this with ‘developer community’. However, it would be great to have a term that incorporates people who create concrete things that aren’t code (e.g. documentation or marketing campaigns). Maybe this centre circle is a ‘community of production‘? I am not sure. Whatever term sits at the centre should be about creating concrete things.

As Mitchell describes it, the next circle is much more in like with what I understand to be a community of practice: a group of people who work in a similar way (shared practices), often for a similar purpose (shared values). A loose association of cabinet makers in Vermont could be a community of practice. They swap ideas. They share local techniques. The might even share specialized tools. But they do not work together on producing a common artifact: they each make their own cabinets. Similarly, there are people and projects who share decision making models (module ownership), tools (Bugzilla) and values (an open Internet and others working on open source) with people producing Mozilla products, but these people are working on their own artifacts and activities. For me, this is what a community of practice looks like.

At the outer edges of the circle, Mitchell’s take on ‘community of interest’ (share Mozilla values) and ‘user community’ (use Mozilla products) feels spot on. As Gerv points out, the potential in seeing these groups differently — and helping people move from one to the other — is huge:

The Community of Interest is formed from people who were in the User Community, but then became aware enough about the project to a) see that we have a mission, b) learn what it is, and c) decide that it’s a good idea. Exactly how we benefit from this will differ from person to person. It may be that ordinary users are more eager to recommend Firefox to their friends. It may be that a politician considers us when involved in patent policy. It may be that a web designer remembers us when his boss asks him to construct an IE-only site “because it’s quicker”.

In some ways, this is a much clearer articulation of what I was trying to get to with my Next Million Mozillians post: finding a way to get people to move from ‘Firefox is cool!’ to ‘Firefox is important!’. Which hopefully leads to some sort of action, even if it is only telling someone else why Firefox and the open Internet matter.


Of course, thinking of Mozilla as a series of circles oversimplifies a little. Just as there is no single open source community, it’s likely there is no single Mozilla community. Each part of the circle includes a myriad of people, projects and ideas. And people will often sit within multiple parts of the circle at once as they are working on multiple things. Which is a good thing.

Still, the circles provide a useful framework for thinking thinking through all the ideas people have been putting on the table. Strengthening, supporting and connecting various pieces of Mozilla ‘community or production’ is a very different activity than moving millions of people from ‘user community’ to ‘community of interest’. Yet, both are important, and both are probably a part of what the Foundation should be doing.

As a part of the broader ‘where should the Mozilla Foundation go’ discussion, it might be useful to look at specific things the Foundation could do in each of the circles … and I guess also what the other pieces of the Mozilla Project are doing in each area. I’ll come back to this in another post. Unless someone beats me to it.

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