More thinking on the next million Mozillians

July 27, 2009 § 13 Comments

For a while now, I have had this feeling: we need to get millions more people to actively love, protect and steward the open web to keep it vibrant over the long haul. Mozilla is in a good position to make this happen.

Surman business card

Most Mozillians I’ve talked to over the past year agree we need to get more people involved. But the ‘why’ and ‘how’ often seem squishy. What would a million more Mozillians do? How could they genuinely make the web better? What challenges does the web face that technology alone cannot resolve? These are tough questions.

The thing is: tough questions shouldn’t scare us. They should encourage us to dive right in.

With this in mind, I’ve started talking to people again about how we might engage the next million Mozillians. I summed up some of the thoughts I’ve gathered in a talk at OSCON2009 last Friday:

The two main messages I was trying to get across with this talk were:

  1. Mozilla and others have helped build an open, participatory web. It is a wonderful, amazing thing. However, technology alone may not be enough to preserve the web we’ve built. Everything from privacy and security to data portability in the cloud will represent serious challenges in the future.
  2. The millions of people who use Firefox could get involved in responding to these challenges. Mozilla is in a better position than ever to reach out to millions of loyal supporters to a) explain why an open web matters and b) invite them to participate actively in making the web better.

My feeling is that it’s time engage people in this way, and that we should take our first steps by touching on issues that are close to home. One small example: imagine a significant community marketing campaign on the importance of security and privacy to overall internet health. And then maybe a related ‘internet health audit’ campaign where new Mozilla community members mobilize to eliminate IE6, old plugins and other security risks on the computers of their friends and neighbors. Small tasks, but real participation and real benefits for the web.

Over the next few days, I want to flesh out this example and a few more. The opportunity here is huge and very long term. However, I believe we’ll only know whether and how to proceed by digging into some real and immediate examples.

In the meantime, I’m interested to hear: do others think this is as important as I do?

§ 13 Responses to More thinking on the next million Mozillians

  • Tristan says:

    Very very good talk, Mark! I like the notion of “seatblet moment/movement”.

    I think the product (Firefox) is super powerful, yet now enough in front of the challenges we face in order to make sure the Web stays open.

    In the same spirit, see http://standblog.org/blog/post/2009/07/26/Poetry-is-important

  • Tristan says:

    Adding to my last comment:

    * the product is one way to act
    * the movement is another way
    * Poetry is to fuel the movement and give direction to the product.

  • SpecK says:

    Sounds pretty important to me. I think a well crafted healthy internet upgrade campaign could integrate education about safety, privacy and security.

    One concern about upgrading browsers though is the lack of support for older operating systems. Perfectly usable computers running OS X 10.39 and other legacy configurations need a rock solid, up to date browser that runs quickly on older computers. Whether it’s a compatibility mode for Firefox, or a fork, it seems like people have been left behind in a relatively short time period.

    • I think this is a really good point — we need to make sure people who are using IE6 (or other old browsers like Mozilla Suite) can actually install modern browsers.

      From my experience moderating the webmaster address for mozilla.org, it seems that some people want to upgrade but can’t. I’ve seen a handful of people saying they have an old computer and can’t afford to buy a new one, but can’t upgrade their browser either.

      I have no idea how feasible it would be to extend support back to operating systems that we are no longer supporting, but it could be a conversation worth having.

      It would also be good to get some stats to see how much of an issue this is. One way to do this would be to create a survey for people hitting the old Mozilla Suite start page at http://www.mozilla.org/start (and there are a surprisingly large number of people still hitting that page).

      • Gerv says:

        The thing about older OSes is that they are often unsupported by the OS vendor also – which means that the “healthy web” message which applies to them is “we love you dearly, but don’t bring that thing anywhere near our nice shiny web, you zombie-fodder, you.”

        Also we’d have an uphill battle getting the Firefox development team to row back on dropping support for those older OSes.

        However, there is a middle ground of OSes dropped by Firefox but not yet by their OS vendor. And this is where a bigger-than-Firefox campaign might be able to recommend other browsers, where a Firefox-focussed campaign couldn’t.

  • npr says:

    I think this is fantastic– Mozilla is in a great position to lead on these issues. The same mix of values and practical action that lead to the creation of Mozilla will fuel the next wave of progress towards open communication and democracy. I’m excited to see a new Mozilla voice emerge!

  • Holmes says:

    Yes, I think it is. The web is obviously already responsible for massive amounts of social transformation, so the health of the web matters in a big way.

    There are very few public interest organizations thinking about the web in these terms, and none have the experience or potential impact that Mozilla has.

  • Dean says:

    Hi Mark,

    I agree that this is critically important. I know you already know this, but it’ll need to go way beyond the browser. That’s where I see a lot of potential for Mozilla Foundation to do things that MoCo hasn’t been able to tackle; namely, building strong relationships between diverse organizations that may or may not already be interested in issues surrounding standards, privacy, and web freedom (think orgs from WITNESS to Unicef to NRDC).

    Part of the strategy could be to mobilize the FF userbase to take collective action on related issues that they also believe in to illustrate the importance of these otherwise dry topics. There may be limits on how progressive/political you guys can get, but I believe there are issues that Mozilla can tackle which support important causes and reinforce the value of the open web, without pushing specific political viewpoints. For example, it would be very powerful to explicitly connect anonymity, the open web, and basic human rights to real world issues (for example, political unrest… hinting towards situations like Iran and Guatemala).

    There are huge numbers of people who choose to use FF, have a general idea that it’s good for the web, but don’t know exactly why they use it. To actively tie FF, the open web, and common sense causes (such as basic human rights) together could be truly powerful.

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