February 1, 2015 § 1 Comment
What is radical participation? I asked this question early last month. Since then I’ve collected comments from my blog and from dozens of conversations. The result was more — and better – questions. Like:
- Do we need radical new approaches, or a return to our roots? (Axel, Greg)
- Can we use ‘the promise of impact’ to draw in the best contributors? (Ian)
- How do people do *new* things under the Mozilla banner? (Ian + others)
- Can we make participation in core product work easier? (Lawrence, Gregory)
- Does staff vs. volunteer binary limit us? Other models to consider? (Mark)
- What’s the best way to get new contributors aligned and effective? (Elio)
- Is there ow hanging fruit we can fix (e.g. contribute.mozilla.org)? (Martin)
Responses have been positive: the consensus is that Mozilla needs to double down on participation. However, the meatier part of my interactions with people have been around more specific questions like the ones above.
These questions feel like a good place to dig in. I’m going to tackle a few of them in follow up posts over the next couple of weeks. If there is a question that interests you, I encourage you to dig in on your own blog.
January 26, 2015 § 16 Comments
Mozilla needs a more creative and radical approach to participation in order to succeed. That is clear. And, I think, pretty widely agreed upon across Mozilla at this stage. What’s less clear: what practical steps do we take to supercharge participation at Mozilla? And what does this more creative and radical approach to participation look like in the everyday work and lives of people involved Mozilla?
This post outlines what we’ve done to begin answering these questions and, importantly, it’s a call to action for your involvement. So read on.
Over the past two months, we’ve written a first draft Mozilla Participation Plan. This plan is focused on increasing the impact of participation efforts already underway across Mozilla and on building new methods for involving people in Mozilla’s mission. It also calls for the creation of new infrastructure and ways of working that will help Mozilla scale its participation efforts. Importantly, this plan is meant to amplify, accelerate and complement the many great community-driven initiatives that already exist at Mozilla (e.g. SuMo, MDN, Webmaker, community marketing, etc.) — it’s not a replacement for any of these efforts.
At the core of the plan is the assumption that we need to build a virtuous circle between 1) participation that helps our products and programs succeed and 2) people getting value from participating in Mozilla. Something like this:
This is a key point for me: we have to simultaneously pay attention to the value participation brings to our core work and to the value that participating provides to our community. Over the last couple of years, many of our efforts have looked at just one side or the other of this circle. We can only succeed if we’re constantly looking in both directions.
With this in mind, the first steps we will take in 2015 include: 1) investing in the ReMo platform and the success of our regional communities and 2) better connecting our volunteer communities to the goals and needs of product teams. At the same time, we will: 3) start a Task Force, with broad involvement from the community, to identify and test new approaches to participation for Mozilla.
The belief is that these activities will inject the energy needed to strengthen the virtuous circle reasonably quickly. We’ll know we’re succeeding if a) participation activities are helping teams across Mozilla measurably advance product and program goals and b) volunteers are getting more value out of their participation out of Mozilla. These are key metrics we’re looking at for 2015.
Over the longer run, there are bigger ambitions: an approach to participation that is at once massive and diverse, local and global. There will be many more people working effectively and creatively on Mozilla activities than we can imagine today, without the need for centralized control. This will result in a different and better, more diverse and resilient Mozilla — an organization that can consistently have massive positive impact on the web and on people’s lives over the long haul.
Making this happen means involvement and creativity from people across Mozilla and our community. However, a core team is needed to drive this work. In order to get things rolling, we are creating a small set of dedicated Participation Teams:
- A newly formed Community Development Team that will focus on strengthening ReMo and tying regional communities into the work of product and program groups.
- A participation ‘task force’ that will drive a broad conversation and set of experiments on what new approaches could look like.
- And, eventually, a Participation Systems Team will build out new infrastructure and business processes that support these new approaches across the organization.
For the time being, these teams will report to Mitchell and me. We will likely create an executive level position later in the year to lead these teams.
As you’ll see in the plan itself, we’re taking very practical and action oriented steps, while also focusing on and experimenting with longer-term questions. The Community Development Team is working on initiatives that are concrete and can have impact soon. But overall we’re just at the beginning of figuring out ‘radical participation’.
This means there is still a great deal of scope for you to get involved — the plans are still evolving and your insights will improve our process and the plan. We’ll come out with information soon on more structured ways to engage with what we’re calling the ‘task force’. In the meantime, we strongly encourage your ideas right away on ways the participation teams could be working with products and programs. Just comment here on this post or reach out to Mitchell or me.
PS. I promised a follow up on my What is radical participation? post, drawing on comments people made. This is not that. Follow up post on that topic still coming.
January 15, 2015 § 3 Comments
The web belongs to all of us — or, at least, it should. Sadly, this is less and less the case. Both the reality — and the possibilities — of the web increasingly belong to a small handful of companies. These companies are becoming the empires of the web.
The Mozilla community is one of the few groups on the planet dedicated to shifting this tide. One way we do this is by building tools that put people in control of their data, their identity and their corner of the web. This is our mission. Also: it is Mozilla’s mission to empower people learn how to powerfully wield the web as a part of their lives.
Why understanding the web matters
Recent research for a new Webmaker app has reminded why the learning side of this equation is so important. As part of this research, we’ve been running focus groups with new smartphone users in Bangladesh and Kenya. This picture is from Kenya.
During these focus groups we usually ask people: “Do you use the Internet on your phone?”
The response is often: “What’s the Internet?”
“Then what do you use you phone for?” we then ask.
The most common response: “Oh, I just use Facebook and WhatsApp!”
We hear this over and over. I do not want the next three billion people to think that the Internet is Facebook and nothing more. I want them to be able to imagine — and wield — everything the Internet can do. I want them to see themselves as citizens of the web.
This is why I want Mozilla to become just as recognized and respected in learning as it is in software. This starts with the work we’re doing with Webmaker, of course. And it builds on our fellowships and leadership programs. But I think we need to think even bigger and broader: we need to imagine Mozilla as a global classroom and lab for the citizens of the web.
Good news: we’ve made a great deal of progress
The biggest success we’ve had in learning so far has been our local mentor networks. These networks go by a number of names. Hive. Webmaker. Maker Party. The formula is pretty much the same in all cases: Mozilla volunteers and supporters meeting up locally to teach young people — and each other — to wield the full power of the web.
If you look at Maker Party alone — a campaign just two months long — you can see that we’ve built something powerful: 2500 learning events run by 5000 volunteers in in 450 cities around the world. This is something I am proud of. And it’s something I want us to do more of.
As we move into 2015, that’s exactly what we will do: we will invest in making these networks stronger. In particular, we will focus on getting people to teach year round, not just during our campaigns. We’ll be launching Webmaker Clubs and growing Hive teacher networks in more cities around the world. These local networks represent an incredibly important ground game for Mozilla. They are something we want to nurture and build on.
The second place we have made progress in is in creating tools for learning how to make and shape the web.
The initial tools we created in the years following Barcelona were focused on learning the basics of creating web pages and online videos. Xray Goggles. Thimble. Popcorn. These tools have been great for face to face learning through things like Maker Parties and Hives. However, we realized along the way, that they aren’t mass market and don’t serve learners directly. We had people banging on the door saying: How can I learn with Mozilla? How can I do something with Mozilla if I can’t go to a Maker Party?
Last year, we put together a team to ask: what would we make if we wanted to really engage learners directly? We also put together a team of researchers to ask: what would it look like if the only computer you had was a phone? What kind of web page or app could you create?
Flowing from from these questions, we started putting together a very different version of our Webmaker tools focused on meeting the mass market of learners where they are. These tools will come together over the course of 2015, starting with a low bar for people to begin making and learning with Mozilla. Over the course of the year, we will add a smartphone version, social connections between learners and ways for people to mentor and help each other learn. We will also be looking for ways to integrate these new tools directly into Firefox, Firefox for Android and FirefoxOS channels.
The third place we have made progress is in building leaders: people who will in some way play a role in shaping where the web goes and turning the tide back towards a web that is ours.
Our most significant work on this front has been through a number of community labs. Open News. Mozilla Science Lab. Mozilla Advocacy. All of these programs initially started out with either fellowships or training programs. The idea was that we could bring people who deeply understand and care about the open web to news, science and policy, with the ultimate hope that getting the right people in place would bake the values of the web into these important aspects of society.
While fellowships and training remain an important part of this work, these programs have evolved into virtual watering holes for people a) who are leaders in their field and b) who are figuring out ways to tap into the power of the web in their work. All sorts of tools and ways of organizing have emerged. Shared code repositories. Joint software projects. Conferences and meetups. Hackathons. In many ways, these programs have become like distributed research institutes or grassroots grad schools where the best people in a field learn by solving problems together.
We need more. In 2015, we’ll grow the number of fellows — from 7 last year to 15 this year. Much more importantly, we’re going to look for ways to more systematically tap into this community lab model as a part of Mozilla’s community-driven learning offerings and our participation efforts as a whole.
Thinking bigger: Mozilla as a global classroom and lab
I am proud of what we have accomplished and optimistic about where we are headed next. However, I also believe we need to think much bigger.
This year, I want us to do exactly this: let’s put a stake in the ground that says Mozilla is a global classroom and lab for the citizens of the web. I want us to say more loudly: building people’s understanding of the web — and building the leaders of the future of the web — is core to our work. We need to put a stake in the ground and commit to being the best in the world at this.
Given what we’re already doing, being bold doesn’t need to involve huge new investments. In fact, it can start simply with being more clear and assertive the work we already do. Not just with Webmaker, Hive and Maker Party, but also with user education in Firefox, Mozilla Developer Network, ReMo program and our research and fellowships programs. What I’m talking about starts with making these things stronger — and then telling a clear story to ourselves and the world about how they add up to a coherent whole. That’s what I want us to start doing in 2015.
As a first step towards this, a number of us have drafted an initial three year plan for Mozilla’s learning initiatives. This includes, but goes beyond, Webmaker. The plan opens with this text:
Within 10 years there will be five billion citizens of the web. Mozilla wants all of these people to know what the web can do. What’s possible. We want them to have the agency, tools and know-how they need to unlock the full power of the web. We want them to use the web to make their lives better. We want them to know they are citizens of the web
Building on Webmaker, Hive and our fellowship programs, Mozilla Learning is a portfolio of products and programs that help these citizens of the web learn the most important skills of our age: the ability to read, write and participate in the digital world. These programs also help people become mentors and leaders: people committed to teaching others and to shaping the future of the web.
Over the course of the year, I will work with people across — and beyond — Mozilla to flesh out this plan, focusing especially on how we build a sustainable approach to running learning programs that are at once global, distributed and that positions Mozilla as *the* best place to turn if you want to learn about the web.
If you’re interested in being involved — or have comments on the initial plan — I’d love to hear from you, either here or by email. And, if you have thoughts on any aspect of this topic, I strongly encourage you to write about it on your own blog and pingback to this post.
January 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
I usually write down a list of personal priorities at the start of each year. I’ve done the same this year, but with a twist. I haven’t just listed things that me and my org need to do, I also wrote some notes on where I want to focus more energy. With the aim of being transparent on how I plan to spend my time, I’ve posted all this below.
Big for 2015 (Mark)
Mozilla University concept is clear, we have logic model that explains
Money is starting to emerge around this model, fundraising tells our story
Board is stronger, we have new members and growing bench strength
New approaches to participation in play pan-Mozilla, it’s working
MoFo feels more sustainable and humane, on all levels
Big for 2015 (MoFo)
We know the communities we’ve built much better, they are part of us
Local learning community model that works, fits MoFo logic model
Software that people like / use / get value from
Research / lab / fellows model that is clear
Clear leaders and metrics for each product and program
Optimism and kindness
People feeling included and empowered
People on staff spending time with our volunteers
Transparency and internal comms flow in all directions
Genuine traction and impact — depth
Noise and churn
Things to write soon
Mozilla Learning starter post
Radical participation notes
Mozilla learning planning / engagement arc
Webmaker clubs, why and what
The other reason I write this sort of stuff down is to get feedback. I’m going to ask the people on my management team if there are big things missing from this list. However, I’m open to hearing input: if you’re someone at Mozilla or in my general orbit who things there are big topics missing from this list of how I plan to spend 2015, I’d be interested to hear from you. Either here as a comment or privately by email.
January 9, 2015 § 31 Comments
Last year, we started talking about radical participation and Mozilla — the idea that we need to get more creative and aggressive with our approach to getting people involved if we want to win the current battles we’re fighting on the web.
The response has generally been positive. People like the poetry. But a number of people have also asked, what specifically do you mean by ‘radical participation’? Fair question.
Personally, I don’t have a firm definition yet. But I do have thoughts. I’ve jotted them down below with the hope of getting other people to do the same. If people share their thoughts, I’ll try to synthesize what I hear into some sort of working definition or discussion paper over the next few weeks.
Mark’s notes on radical participation at Mozilla:
As a starting point, why do we care about radical participation? Because we want to have an impact on the world. We want to shape the web for the better. For this to happen, we believe that we need an approach participation that is at once massive and diverse, local and global. Without these things, we neither have the diversity nor the number of people we need to confront the huge challenges that Mozilla and the web face today.
The kind of radical participation we need includes:
- Many more people than today are working on Mozilla activities around the world in their own small groups.
- Some of these people participate by helping to build, improve or promote our products and programs. Our products and programs get better all the time because people are participating. This is traditional open source participation, but not just limited to software and updated with current methods and approaches.
- Others are coming up with new ideas for products, programs, whatever — things that move the mission forward in ways that others in Mozilla see as valuable. This is more of an ‘open innovation meets distributed leadership’ definition of participation. IMHO, this is something we want to do but haven’t done well in the past.
- Still others are connected to Mozilla because we have designed participation into what we’ve built — there is deep integration of participation into the *use* and *value proposition* of our key products and programs. E.g. people are helping to create an open maps databases as they use Firefox OS or people are teaching others about the web by offering casual advice to other users inside of Mozilla products like Firefox. This is about designing participation into the experiences that Mozilla offers people. We’ve never really done this before.
- The result: all these people are having impact that we can see. Our products get better. Our programs succeed. New (and good) ideas for how to move the mission emerge and get acted upon.
- All this is decentralized, but it aligns well with our brand, priorities and mission. We find good ways to balance creativity and emergence with coherence and crispness of message.
- We have clear programs and infrastructure to support all this: people know how to *act* and get things moving under the Mozilla banner.
- Ultimately, there are more Mozilla activities taking place around the world than employees can keep track of, let alone control.
For this to happen, we need an architecture of participation that includes:
- A clear (and updated) framework for starting something — a project, a local group, etc.
- Plans and working methods that are as transparent as possible — people see what we’re doing and where we’re going, and can join in. We used to be good at this, but we’re not right now.
- High quality on boarding and eduction: a way to for people to understand our philosophy, goals and ground rules; and a way for people to quickly get started in doing something useful.
- A way to recognize — and possibly to rank — people’s participation and contributions. This can both motivate people and help them find a path to what they should do next.
- A clear *volunteer* leadership structure, where people anywhere can get involved in leading and shaping the direction of Mozilla once they have proven themselves. Education and recognition are key drivers of this.
- Software that is embedded into the workflow of products and programs that makes participation in that work easier (e.g. SuMo does this well). This lets people who want to do standard stuff have impact fast.
- Software that lets groups and project organize, communicate and work under the Mozilla banner. This lets people with new ideas or new local communities get going easily.
- Explicit ways to talk about and evaluate whether a specific group or project is succeeding. On the one hand, a way for teams to brag. On another, a way for teams and the overall org to know when things aren’t going well.
- Data and metrics that let us optimize, improve and troubleshoot the overall system.
Ultimately, we need better versions of the participation models we have today and we also need completely new approaches that we invent or borrow from others. Taking radical participation at Mozilla will require us to make these kinds of improvements quickly and in ways that show real impact.
As I said above, this are just notes. I don’t think this is the final or complete way to talk about radical participation at Mozilla — we need language that is crisp enough to inspire and specific enough to act on. And, I suspect there is lots missing and much to disagree with. But, hopefully, these notes are enough to spark others to think about how we build more participation and more impact into Mozilla.
My question, especially if you are a Mozillian: what does high impact radical participation look like to you?
If you have ideas on this, please add comments at the end of this post. Or, do your own post and send me a link. I’ll review whatever I see in the next two weeks and then come back with a post that synthesizes what I hear.
PS. A concrete plan of action on community and participation — including increased focus on ReMo and our regional communities — is in the works. Mitchell, myself and others will be posting about this next week.
January 8, 2015 § 2 Comments
I have always tried to be as transparent as possible in work that I do at Mozilla. Why? I truly believe that thinking and working in the open gets better results. It gets more people engaged. It gives you access to more ideas and perspectives. And, ultimately, it leads to better thinking and better work. Working in the open is core to both who I am — and who Mozilla is.
Over the past year, I feel like I’ve become less good at this. I’m spending more time in Google Docs and video conferences. I’m spending less time blogging, working on wikis and participating in public calls and forums. On some level, this is just a change in what tools I use. But, on another, it’s a switch in my habits. The result is I have less of a transparency habit overall — and it’s harder for people to see what I am (and we are) working on.
As 2015 gets rolling, I want to change this. I want to get back in the groove with my transparency habits. I’m challenging myself to:
- Blog more, especially about our plans and progress.
- Tweet about what I’m working on so people who are interested can see what I’m focused on in any given week.
- Put key documents I’m working on on a central wiki for the project in question so that people can always find them and track them.
- Start reading Planet Mozilla and Planet Webmaker again so that I have a better sense of what others are doing.
- Do more work on public calls and public forums, and less on closed video calls.
These sound like small things — and in many ways they are. But these little habits can make a real difference in terms of getting people engaged and involved in what we’re doing. As we think about a more radical approach to participation at Mozilla, that’s important. And worth working on.
I encourage everyone at Mozilla to ask themselves: how can we all build up our transparency habits in 2015? If you already have good habits, how can you help others? If, like me, you’re a bit rusty, what small things can you do to make your work more open?
PS. Huge thanks to Humph for his Video Killed the Radio Star post late last year, which is one of the things that inspired me to work on better habits in 2015.
December 18, 2014 § 4 Comments
People in Mozilla have been talking a lot about radical participation recently. As Mitchell said at recently, participation will be key to our success as we move into ’the third era of Mozilla’ — the era where we find ways to be successful beyond the desktop browser.
This whole conversation has prompted me to reflect on how I think about radical participation today. And about what drew me to Mozilla in the first place more than five years ago.
For me, a big part of that draw was an image in my mind of Mozilla as the David who had knocked over Microsoft’s Goliath. Mozilla was the successful underdog in a fight I really cared about. Against all odds, Mozilla shook the foundation of a huge empire and changed what was possible with the web. This was magnetic. I wanted to be a part of that.
I started to think about this more the other day: what does it really mean for Mozilla to be David? And how do we win against future Goliaths?
Malcom Gladwell wrote a book last year that provides an interesting angle on this. He said: we often take the wrong lesson from David and Goliath story, thinking that it’s surprising that such a small challenger could fell such a large opponent.
Gladwell argues that Goliath was much more vulnerable that we think. He was large. But he was also slow, lumbering and had bad eyesight. Moreover, he used the most traditional fighting techniques of his time: the armour and brute force of infantry.
David, on the other hand, actually had a significant set of strategic advantages. He was nimble and good with a sling. A sling used properly, by the way, is a real weapon: it can project a rock at the speed of a .45 caliber pistol. Instead of confronting Goliath with brute force, he used a different and surprising technique to knock over his opponent. He wasn’t just courageous and lucky, he was smart.
Most other warriors would have seen Goliath as invincible. Not David: he was playing the game by his own rules.
In many ways, the same thing happened when we took on Microsoft and Internet Explorer. They didn’t expect the citizens of the web to rally against them: to build — and then choose by the millions — an unknown browser. Microsoft didn’t expect the citizens of the web to sling a rock at their weak spot, right between their eyes.
As a community, radical participation was our sling and our rock. It was our strategic advantage and our element of surprise. And it is what shook the web loose from Microsoft’s imperial grip on the web.
Of course, participation still is our sling. It is still part of who were are as an organization and a global community. And, as the chart above shows, it is still what makes us different.
But, as we know, the setting has changed dramatically since Mozilla first released Firefox. It’s not just — or even primarily — the browser that shapes the web today. It’s not just the three companies in this chart that are vying for territorial claim. With the internet growing at breakneck speed, there are many Goliaths on many fronts. And these Goliaths are expanding their scope around the world. They are building empires.
This has me thinking a lot about empire recently: about how the places that were once the subjects of the great European empires are by and large the same places we call “emerging markets”. These are the places where billions of people will be coming online for the first time in coming years. They are also the places where the new economic empires of the digital age are most aggressively consolidating their power.
Consider this: In North America, Android has about 68% of smartphone market share. In most parts of Asia and Africa, Android market share is in the 90% range – give or take a few points by country. That means Google has a near monopoly not only on the operating system on these markets, but also on the distribution of apps and how they are paid for. Android is becoming the Windows 98 of emerging economies, the monopoly and the control point; the arbiter of what is possible.
Also consider that Facebook and WhatsApp together control 80% of the messaging market globally, and are owned by one company. More scary: as we do market research with new smartphone users in countries like Bangladesh and Kenya. We usually ask people: do you use the internet: do you use the internet on you phone? The response is often: “what’s the Internet?” “What do you use you phone for?”, we ask. The response: “Oh, Facebook and WhatsApp.” Facebook’s internet is the only internet these people know of or can imagine.
It’s not the Facebooks and Googles of the world that concern me, per se. I use their products and in many cases, I love them. And I also believe they have done good in the world.
What concerns me is that, like the European powers in the 18th and 19th centuries, these companies are becoming empires that control both what is possible and what is imaginable. They are becoming monopolies that exert immense control over what people can do and experience on the web. And over what the web – and human society as a whole – may become.
One thing is clear to me: I don’t want this sort of future for the web. I want a future where anything is possible. I want a future where anything is imaginable. The web can be about these kinds of unlimited possibilities. That’s the web that I want everyone to be able to experience, including the billions of people coming online for the first time.
This is the future we want as a Mozilla. And, as a community we are going to need to take on some of these Goliaths. We are going to need reach down into our pocket and pull out that rock. And we are going to need to get some practice with our sling.
The truth is: Mozilla has become a bit rusty with it. Yes, participation is still a key part of who we are. But, if we’re honest, we haven’t relied on it as much of late.
If we want to shake the foundations of today’s digital empires, we need to regain that practice and proficiency. And find new and surprising ways to use that power. We need to aim at new weak spots in the giant.
We may not know what those new and surprising tactics are yet. But there is an increasing consensus that we need them. Chris Beard has talked recently about thinking differently about participation and product, building participation into the actual features and experience of our software. And we have been talking for the last couple of years about the importance of web literacy — and the power of community and participation to get people teaching each other how to wield the web. These are are the kinds of directions we need to take, and the strategies we need to figure out.
It’s not only about strategy, of course. Standing up to Goliaths and using participation to win are also about how we show up in the world. The attitude each of us embodies every day.
Think about this. Think about the image of David. The image of the underdog. Think about the idea of independence. And, then think of the task at hand: for all of us to bring more people into the Mozilla community and activate them.
If we as individuals and as an organization show up again as a challenger — like David — we will naturally draw people into what we’re doing. It’s a part of who we are as Mozillians, and its magnetic when we get it right