OSCON Report – Mozilla Reps, Mayors, Community and Change


The Mozilla Reps Council submitted a talk early on when the CFP was announced. The talk, titled ‘How To Multiply Your Community By A Factor Of X‘ seemed like a perfect fit for the Community track. The goal was two-fold, to get the word out about what we are doing in the Reps program, and to learn from other open source communities. Some last-minute shuffling meant that only one member of the Reps Council (myself) could go, but luckily we have a great Rep locally in Portland (Benjamin Kerensa) who jumped in to co-present with me. Our slides are at htmlpad.org/remo-oscon-2012/. I took some pictures, check out the set on Flickr.

Sam Adams
Portland Mayor Sam Adams Keynotes

On Community

Everyone has their own ideas about what community is for an open source project, organisation or company. In essence, for me, it is about nurturing a group of individuals with the common aim of forwarding the cause of your project. For any entity with a platform, technology, or mission that they want to succeed, community is crucial. The community as a whole can be made up of sub-communities, for example localisers, developers, and evangelists but it is essential that they all work together. Nurturing means harnessing the passion people have and sustaining that passion over a long period. Mozilla is a community driven organisation and has recognised this for a long time, and the Reps program aims to make life easier for contributors. O’Reilly recognises the importance of community, hence the dedicated track at OSCON. Everyone was talking about community this year, not as an afterthought but as a core component of any project.

Community Leaders at Lunch
Community Leaders at Lunch


Coming from a development background, OSCON this year was a departure for me as it was the first time at a conference where I focused on non-technical sessions. See all sessions (click though on a talk for details and slides). Here are some of the highlights of talks I attended.

Harnessing the Good Intentions of Others for your OSS Project

[Listing] This was very much a hands on discussion about how you catch a person during the first period when they express interest in helping and guiding them to achieve what they want to do, e.g. write a patch. If they have a positive first experience, they are likely to return and contribute more. Some general take-aways:

  • Pairing: Value lies not in the area of common knowledge but in what each of you knows separately, i.e. what you don’t know. Pairing leads to commitable code, quicker.
  • Listening is important, e.g. Twitter
  • People who express interest … 2 days window of opportunity before they move on. The opportunity for first engagement is even shorter
  • Github lowers barrier to entry to a project
  • Average person has 2 hours to give you (initially)
  • Other tools: Mikogo works well on low bandwidth. Also: Skype, G Hangouts, Join.me, AWS ec2, remote desktop, VNC
  • When asking for help, be specific!

Lleweln and Lynn are doing great work, for just a couple of examples check out teachingkidsprogramming.org and the Geek Road Trip.

Open Source Community Growth as a User Experience Problem

[Listing] Asheesh and Karen from OpenHatch focused on the Web entry point into a project and how this can be make or break for you. A welcoming entry point is a way of turning potential into actual.  The ‘Funnel Analysis’ approach is popular now and the goal should always be to figure out where and why people drop off along the way so it can be refined. They have a few examples: Nano (bad), GNOME (ok), and LibreOffice (good). In general, you want to get people to where they want to go without overwhelming them with too much information. Want to know more about what OpenHatch does? Check out their cookbook.

Mozilla is pro-active in this area. As part of the Grow Mozilla project, David Boswell has been working on a number of initiatives to ensure contributors can more easily become involved via the Mozilla Web pages. One of these  efforts is connecting with people all over the world by filtering potential contributors to their local Mozilla community.

Scaling your community by nurturing leaders

Meghan Gill leads the community marketing efforts at 10gen. 10gen began the open source MongoDB project, and provides commercial support, training, and consulting for Mongo. This is a great example of a commercial company driving an open source project where in effect the success of one is reliant on the other. Some of the things they are doing are similar to the Reps program (e.g. events/swag) and the main take-away here is that for continued health of the community you need to build up a strong set of leaders and give public recognition. The MongoDB Masters program aims to do this.

Open Source – The Next Generation

[Listing] This was an amusing talk focusing on some of the inequalities hampering FOSS communities. The gender issue came up and that has been on the agenda for a number of years. The general consensus is that things are getting better, slowly. The main take-away here is that the FOSS world needs less Kirks, and more Picards. If you are a Trekkie, no further explanation is needed!

Open Source: The Next Generation
Open Source: The Next Generation

Learnings and Next Steps

I had the opportunity to talk to many community folks during the course of the week and they face many of the challenges that we face at Mozilla. There are a common set of issues to deal with – governance, enabling, tools, metrics, events, and so on. And many times, we come up with the same solutions. The levels of success vary. I heard more than one person talking about how the Apache Community is working well, and without know the inner workings it seems that have the right structure and set of documentation in place to make a great experience for contributors. In general I think Mozilla’s efforts are on a greater scale, and more ambitious. There are a few reasons for this, namely being in the right place as the computing industry moves en-masse to the Web, and the fact that Mozilla is walking head on into issues outside their own products such as identity and data privacy.

Open source has been in in crisis in recent years, having to deal with numerous issues such as the move away from desktop, the building of walled gardens on the Web,  and other challenges. Projects are evolving, e.g. Ubuntu’s cloud efforts. We are all working outside our comfort zone. Yet now more than ever we need to rise to the new challenges. To do that we need more passionate people. We need more community. So get involved now with your favourite open source project. Interested in Mozilla? See how you can get involved, and find out more about the Mozilla Reps program.

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