Learning more about the Mozilla community

We’ve learned a lot this year as we’ve been working on enabling communities that have impact. We discovered there is a high contributor churn rate, scaling the size of the community doesn’t meet the needs of all teams and there is a need to make community building more reliable and predictable.

There are still many more questions than answers right now though and there is much more to learn. A contributor audit was done in 2011 that had useful findings and recommendations, but it has now been 3 years since that research was completed. It is time to do more.


Research has provided other community-driven organizations with lessons that help them be more successful. For example, Lego has an active community and research has helped them develop a set of principles that promote successful interactions that provide value for both community members and the Lego organization.

We’ll be kicking off a new research project soon and we’d love to get your help. This will involve creating a survey to send out to Mozillians and will also dive into the contributor data we’ve started collecting. This won’t answer all the questions we have, but this will give us some insight and can provide a starting point for other research projects.


Some specific asks for helping with the survey include thinking about what questions we want to ask and thinking about the audience of people we want to reach out to. For the data analysis part, please comment here or contact me if you’re interested in helping.

Creating community contribution challenges

There is something magical about how anyone anywhere can contribute to Mozilla—people show up and help you with something you’re doing or offer you something completely new and unexpected.

The Code Rush documentary has a great example of this from the time when the Mozilla project first launched. Netscape opened it’s code to the world in the hope that people would contribute, but there was no guarantee that anyone would help.

One of the first signs they had that this was working was when Stuart Parmenter started contributing by rewriting a key part of the code and this accelerated development work by months. (This is about 27 minutes into the documentary.)


It is hard to plan and schedule around magic though. This year we’ve been building up a participation system that will help make contributions more reliable and predictable, so that teams can plan and schedule around leveraging the Mozilla community.

Pathways, tools and education are part of that system. Something else we’re trying is contribution challenges. These will identify unmet needs where scale and asynchronous activities can provide impact in the short-term and where there is strong interest within the volunteer community.

The challenges will also specify the when, where, who and how of the idea, so that we can intentionally design for participation at the beginning and have a prepared way that we’re rallying people to take action.

For next steps, leadership of the Mozilla Reps program is meeting in Berlin from September 12-14 and they’ll be working on this concept as well as on some specific challenge ideas. There will be more to share after that.


If you’re interested in helping with this and want to get involved, take a look at the contribution challenges etherpad for more background and a list of challenge ideas. Then join the community building mailing list and share your thoughts, comments and questions.

Quality over Quantity

I was in Portland last week for a work week and Michelle recommended that I try the donuts at Blue Star. The blueberry donut was really great. The inside of the bakery was interesting too—right inside the doors was a big mural that said ‘Quality over Quantity’.


That turned out to be an good summary of the work week. We were checking in on progress toward this year’s goal to grow the number of active contributors by 10x and also thinking about how we could increase the impact of our community building work next year.

One clear take-away was that community building can’t be all about growth. Some teams, like Location Service, do need large numbers of new active contributors, but many teams don’t. For instance, localization needs to develop the active contributors already in the project into core contributors that can take on a bigger role.

For me, creating a draft framework that would give us more ways to support teams and communities was the most important thing we did—in addition to taking a great team photo 🙂


Growth is part of this framework, but it includes other factors for us to look at to make sure that we’re building healthy functional and regional communities. The health measures we think we should be focusing on next year are:

  • Retention (how many contributors are staying and leaving)
  • Growth (how many new contributors are joining)
  • Development (how many contributors are getting more deeply involved in a project)
  • Sentiment (how do contributors feel about being involved)
  • Capacity (how are teams increasing their ability to build communities)

Having this more nuanced approach to community building will create more value because it aligns better with the needs we’re seeing across Mozilla. The growth work we’ve done has been critical to getting us here and we should continue that along with adding more to what we offer.


There is a video that Rainer just posted that has a story Chris Hofmann told at last year’s summit about one contributor that had a huge impact on the project. This is a great example of how we should be thinking more broadly about community building.

We should be setting up participation systems that let us help teams build long-lasting relationships with contributors like Scoobidiver as well as helping teams connect with large numbers of people to focus on an issue for a short time when that is what’s needed.

Moral of this story: Eat more donuts—they help you think 🙂

People are the hook

One of Mozilla’s goals for 2014 is to grow the number of active contributors by 10x. As we’ve been working on this, we’ve been learning a lot of interesting things. I’m going to do a series of posts with some of those insights.

The recent launch of the contributor dashboard has provided a lot of interesting information. What stands out to me is the churn — we’re able to connect new people to opportunities, but growth is slower than it could be because many people are leaving at the same time.


To really highlight this part of the data, Pierros made a chart that compares the number of new people who are joining with the number of people leaving. The results are dramatic — more people are joining, but the number of people leaving is significant.


This is understandable — the goal for this year is about connecting new people and we haven’t focused much effort on retention. As the year winds down and we look to next year, I encourage us to think about what a serious retention effort would look like.

I believe that the heart of a retention effort is to make it very easy for contributors to find new contribution opportunities as well as helping them make connections with other community members.

Stories we’ve collected from long time community members almost all share the thread of making a connection with another contributor and getting hooked. We have data from an audit that shows this too — a positive experience in the community keeps people sticking around.


There are many ways we could help create those connections. Just one example is the Kitherder mentor matching tool that the Security team is working on. They did a demo of it at the last Grow Mozilla meeting.

I don’t know what the answer is though, so I’d love to hear what other people think. What are some of the ways you would address contributor retention?

Community Building Stories

One of Mozilla’s goals for 2014 is to grow the number of active contributors by 10x. For the first half of the year, the Community Building team has been supporting other teams as they connect more new contributors to their projects.

Everyone on the team recently blogged about their experience supporting projects. The stories below show different stages in the lifecycle of communities and show how we’re helping projects progress through the phases of starting, learning, scaling and then sustaining communities.

We’ve learned a lot from these experiences that will help us complete the goal in the second half of the year. For example, the Geolocation pilot event in Bangalore will be a template for more events that will connect more people to the Location Services project.

Photo courtesy of  Galaxy Kadiyala
Photo courtesy of Galaxy Kadiyala

These are just a few of the stories of community building though. There are many other blog posts to check out and even a video Dia made about how contributors made the Web We Want video available in 29 different languages.


I’d love to hear what you’ve been doing to connect with more contributors and to hear about what you’ve learned. Feel free to leave links to your stories in the comments below.

Data driven community building

One of Mozilla’s goals for 2014 is to grow the number of active contributors by 10x. We’re almost half way through the year and we haven’t had a way to track our progress toward that goal—until now.

Pierros Papadeas, Adam Lofting, Sheeri Cabral, Anurag Phadke and several other people have been working on gathering contribution activity data and putting it on the new areweamillionyet.org dashboard.


For the second quarter, we had a goal to launch a dashboard showing 5,000 active contributors as a milestone toward the year end total of 20,000. I’m excited that we’ve done that (plus done a bit more by showing over 7,000 active contributors).

Having this dashboard does much more than just complete a quarterly goal though. This enables people doing community building work to be more effective at their job and to optimize contribution pathways to connect even more people to the mission.


For example, the view of Firefox coding contributors shows a higher growth rate than the overall contributor growth and this is great feedback that Mike Hoye and Josh Matthews are having an impact with mentored bugs and with other efforts to support new coding contributors.

I’m proud to be part of a team that is focused helping all teams have the kind of success in connecting with new contributors that Mike and Josh are having. Making more data available to more teams is one way we’ll be able to do that.

Currently we’re just showing data from Bugzilla, Github and SUMO. We’ll be adding more data to this dashboard throughout the rest of the year. Check out the Baloo roadmap for details of what’s coming next.

Enabling communities that have impact

If I had to summarize the Town Hall about the goal to increase the number of active contributors by 10x this year, I would use the word ‘intention’. This word captures how this is the time we pivot from unplanned to planned community building.

To learn more about why we need to become intentional about community building, what our vision is of where we need to be going and what we’ll get by making this shift, take a look at the recording of the Town Hall presentation and Q&A.


We had the Town Hall in the San Francisco space and right outside the entrance is the Mozilla Monument. I think the monument provides a really great concrete example of this pivot toward intentional community building.

There are over 4,000 names on the monument that represent the first 15 years of Mozilla’s history. We’re planning on more than tripling that number of people in one year. This is only possible with an intentional, scalable and systematic approach.

The monument was created as a physical representation of the community (for instance, the globe is designed to let light through to demonstrate how we are a transparent community) and I’d love to see it also embody this increase in our community.


Updating the monument with the names of the new active contributors that join the community this year would be a great way to show progress toward this goal. Hopefully people have better ideas for adding names than the sticky note approach that Larissa and I took 🙂

Maybe the panels get replaced and we reduce the font size to make space for more names? Maybe we create a virtual monument that grows until it is as tall as the Mozilla office building or the nearby Bay Bridge? What ideas do you have for adding names of new contributors?