I’d like to post some thoughts about what the Mozilla Foundation could be doing to support the existing community (or communities). Thinking about how to expand Mozilla’s scope to new audiences is certainly important, but I don’t want this discussion about the Foundation’s future to overlook the community as it is today. Here are a few things that I think the Foundation should consider doing…
Grants and Donations
The Mozilla Foundation is already supporting the existing community by providing grants and collecting donations. Of all the things the Foundation could be doing, scaling these two efforts up is the most straight-forward. For grants, we can increase the amount of support we give and work with people inside the community to identify which efforts to focus on (just like we’re doing with accessibility grants today). For donations, we’ve provided the infrastructure to collect donations but we need to help projects come up with fundraising plans (having a successful donation effort goes beyond just having a Donate Now button on your site).
I think the best way to define an open source community is to look at what people in the community are doing. The Mozilla project started out with a very specific goal of creating an open source browser suite, but ten years later on it has certainly grown into more than that. One of the things the community is doing today is using Mozilla as a platform to create over a hundred different applications. As the organization that oversees the Mozilla project, I think the Mozilla Foundation should see what it can do to help this part of the community.
There is an existing plan for XUL and XULRunner investment (the technologies behind Mozilla’s platform) and I’m not suggesting changing this. I am suggesting though that the Foundation can help the organizations and people who are using the platform work together so that they can better help themselves. There have been earlier efforts by the community to coordinate to solve common problems and advance the platform, but there are no real efforts here today. I won’t go into details about how to build community around the platform in this post, but I do think that it is a good idea to help make sure this part of the community is healthy and thriving.
Since the Mozilla project is big (some say mind-bogglingly big) there is a need to help people understand what is going on with the community. Firefox and Thunderbird deserve the attention they are getting, but there are plenty of other worthwhile efforts that should be getting exposure too. The Mozilla Foundation can help get the word out about what the community is doing. We’ve made a start with the Mozilla brochure and are making plans to move forward with a Powered by Mozilla program. The http://www.mozilla.org web site can also serve as a gateway to everything the community is doing and can focus on more than just what the project was in the past.
Community As Laboratory
There are two products in the Mozilla community today and many projects. There was a time when the community had no products and there could be a time in the future when there are 3 or 4 (or more) products. The Mozilla Foundation could take a part in clearly defining what a Mozilla product is, what a Mozilla project is and how a project can turn into a product.
The Foundation could also more actively get involved with encouraging the development of new projects (which it is currently doing with grants and donations) and can then nurture any promising efforts that show the potential to make compelling products. Just as Mozilla Labs acts as a testing ground for new ideas that could become part of the Firefox product, we could view the whole community as a lab that is constantly coming up with new ideas. This is the story of Firefox (started as a community idea and became a Foundation product) and the Foundation should be looking for and prepared to help the next Firefox that comes along.
These are just a few ideas, so feel free to post any other suggestions.