Messina and Firefox

So I know I’m late to the party but wanted to contribute some thoughts to the Messina debate on Mozilla.

What I find most interesting are not the specifics of the discussion, but the principles beings discussed and the manner by which they are being discussed.

Break Messina piece down and he is essentially making two assertions:

1. “I don’t understand Mozilla’s strategy” and (unsurprisingly!) here are my ideas
2. “Let the community rule”

The response, has been fairly quiet. Some were clearly frustrated. Others saw it as an opportunity to raise their own pet issues. What I haven’t seen (on Planet Mozilla) is a post that really engages Chris’ ideas and says “I don’t agree with Chris on ‘a’ or ‘b’, but he’s right about ‘c.’ ” To be fair, it’s hard to react well to criticism – especially from someone you count on as an ally. When you spend your day fighting billion dollar beasts you don’t exactly want to spend time and energy defending your rear.

However, the silence risks increasing the gap between Mozilla and those who agree with Chris (which judging from his blog may or may not be a fair number of people). I was struck that one commentator said: “I didn’t know somebody could talk like this about Firefox until now.” Such a comment should be a red flag. If the community has some sacred cows or self-censors itself, that’s a bad sign. For this, and other reasons, the thrust of Messina-like rant’s may have significant implications for the future of Mozilla.

The problem is that as the Mozilla community grows and the choices for where to concentrate resources become less and less ‘obvious,’ the community members will increasingly want be part of the strategic decision-making process. When the objective is clear – build a better open browser – its easy to allocate my scarce economic resources towards the project because the aim is obvious (so I either buy-in or I don’t). But as success takes on more nebulous meaning, I need to understand why I should allocate my time and energy. Indeed, I’m more likely to do so if a) I understand the goal and b) I know I can help contribute to deciding what the goal should be.

In this regard Mozilla need to constantly re-examine how it manages strategy and engages with its community (which I know it does!). Personally, I agree with Messina that Mozilla is not a browser company. Indeed, in a previous (not entirely well formed) post, I argue that Mozilla’s isn’t even a software company. Mozilla’s is a community management organization. Consequently its core competency is not coding, but community management. The concern (I think) I share with Messina (if I read between the lines of his rant) is that as Mozilla grows and becomes more successful the decisions it must make also become increasingly complex and involve higher stakes. The fear is that Mozilla will react by adopting more corporate decision-making processes because a) its familiar – everybody knows how this process works and b) its easy – one can consult, but ultimately decisions reside with a few people who trust (or at least employ) one another.

However, if Mozilla is a community management organization then the opposite is true. Mozilla needs a way to treat its strategy like its code, open to editing and contribution. I know it already strives to do this. But what does open-strategy vs. 2.0 look like? What does community management 2.0 look like? Can Mozilla make its community integral to its strategy development? I believe that at its core, Mozilla’s success will depend on its capacity to facilitate these discussions (I may even use the dreaded term… dialogues). This may feel time consuming and onerous, but it pales in comparison to the cost of losing community members (or not attracting them in the first place).

If Mozilla can crack this problem then rants like Messina’s won’t be a threat, they’ll be an opportunity. Or at least he’ll a place where he can channel them.

6 thoughts on “Messina and Firefox

  1. Chris Messina

    Ah, David, this is a great post, and I hope the folks at Mozilla get a chance to read it. I’ll be writing a follow-up post soon, but this really gets at the spirit that my rant was after — it certainly wasn’t aimless anger or indirected frustration, but a plea for answers and for a sense of what’s Mozilla next Big Idea™ is!

    To be fair, I have received quite a few comments and have had some discussions in the past few days that have enlightened me about the state of things — and about what’s going on.

    There is still a great deal of work to be done, all the same, and I think, as a community, we must really take the growing threats seriously (IP law is one of these) and respond to them in due measure. It’s not that Mozilla isn’t up for it or isn’t the organization that I’d want to represent me in the fight, but that I want to make sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to ensure success and that the web stay and become more open.

    Reply
  2. Chris Messina

    Ah, David, this is a great post, and I hope the folks at Mozilla get a chance to read it. I’ll be writing a follow-up post soon, but this really gets at the spirit that my rant was after — it certainly wasn’t aimless anger or indirected frustration, but a plea for answers and for a sense of what’s Mozilla next Big Idea™ is!To be fair, I have received quite a few comments and have had some discussions in the past few days that have enlightened me about the state of things — and about what’s going on.There is still a great deal of work to be done, all the same, and I think, as a community, we must really take the growing threats seriously (IP law is one of these) and respond to them in due measure. It’s not that Mozilla isn’t up for it or isn’t the organization that I’d want to represent me in the fight, but that I want to make sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to ensure success and that the web stay and become more open.

    Reply
  3. Mark Kuznicki

    Great post. You raise the essential question: should/can an OSS enterprise open source its strategy?

    My gut tells me that (in at least some circumstances like the Mozilla case) open sourcing strategy may be a way to optimally balance impact, legitimacy and long-run sustainability in the context of an adapting competitive threat and evolving community aspirations.

    My gut also says that such a prospect is terrifying to employees of the enterprise for many legitimate reasons – some emotional, others completely rational.

    If desirable, is true open source strategy even possible? The practices for it do not currently exist as they do in software development. What is the “source code” of strategy? (I’m speaking metaphorically here.) How do you break up “strategy-code” into discrete work packages that can be reassembled into a coherent whole? How do you interrogate the quality of strategy-code submitted by contributors and approve moving it into the core of an organization?

    These seem like hard problems worth working on. If desirable and possible, then the best candidate to lead innovation in this area is Mozilla. Success would be nothing less than revolutionary – a true meta-innovation.

    Developing an open source strategy development model would be a fascinating project that I would love to contribute to!

    Reply
  4. Mark Kuznicki

    Great post. You raise the essential question: should/can an OSS enterprise open source its strategy?My gut tells me that (in at least some circumstances like the Mozilla case) open sourcing strategy may be a way to optimally balance impact, legitimacy and long-run sustainability in the context of an adapting competitive threat and evolving community aspirations.My gut also says that such a prospect is terrifying to employees of the enterprise for many legitimate reasons – some emotional, others completely rational.If desirable, is true open source strategy even possible? The practices for it do not currently exist as they do in software development. What is the “source code” of strategy? (I’m speaking metaphorically here.) How do you break up “strategy-code” into discrete work packages that can be reassembled into a coherent whole? How do you interrogate the quality of strategy-code submitted by contributors and approve moving it into the core of an organization?These seem like hard problems worth working on. If desirable and possible, then the best candidate to lead innovation in this area is Mozilla. Success would be nothing less than revolutionary – a true meta-innovation.Developing an open source strategy development model would be a fascinating project that I would love to contribute to!

    Reply
  5. john lilly

    great work, dave, as always!

    i’ve been thinking a lot about this today — obviously everyone here has. what seems (to me) to be happening overall is that our mechanisms for participation in some of the conversations we’re having aren’t quite scaling in kind. there are places to talk about how firefox gets developed (dev.apps.planning), there are places to talk about governance issues as well — these are all open & accessible, although we need to keep working on it.

    but there’s not a very good place to talk together about what mozilla can/should be.

    i’m trying very very hard to get everyone to tease apart tone & implication from content. on the content, there’s much to reiterate & explain (the stuff about international efforts, college efforts, etc, is just not correct), there’s much to talk about to come to better strategies on (what’s after the browser, for example). that’s stuff we have some ways to talk about in the community — but we should be clearer. the funny thing is that the conversations are all happening in a highly decentralized way — that’s mozilla DNA — we could have them in a more centralized way, but it is a tension, for sure.

    but i think that much of the conversation so far has been personal in nature — everyone i know involved with mozilla puts *everything* they have into it. they work incredibly hard, they try to always do the right thing, they take criticism exceptionally personally.

    chris, i’ve found your comments on other peoples’ blogs immensely more moderated in *tone* and more productive to talk about. here you’re saying it’s a plea for answers — that’s great — the form of your post wasn’t that, though. it said more, “they’re not doing this, they’re not doing that.” the campus stuff is an example. just because you don’t know about what’s happening doesn’t mean that it’s not, and framed as a question “what’s going on with campus stuff?” is a much different framing than we started with. there’s a ton of stuff happening in japan that’s nothing to do with joi, there’s a ton of stuff happening in europe and china and latin america and africa. we should be talking about it more, yes. we’re searching for ways to do it always.

    we can be more, we should be more. but we should also be proud of where we are. i’d like any discussion of the future (and we’re having & should have a lot more) should be grounded in what the situation is today, what we’re doing now, what we’re not doing now.

    anyway, dave, this is a great contribution.

    Reply
  6. john lilly

    great work, dave, as always!i’ve been thinking a lot about this today — obviously everyone here has. what seems (to me) to be happening overall is that our mechanisms for participation in some of the conversations we’re having aren’t quite scaling in kind. there are places to talk about how firefox gets developed (dev.apps.planning), there are places to talk about governance issues as well — these are all open & accessible, although we need to keep working on it. but there’s not a very good place to talk together about what mozilla can/should be. i’m trying very very hard to get everyone to tease apart tone & implication from content. on the content, there’s much to reiterate & explain (the stuff about international efforts, college efforts, etc, is just not correct), there’s much to talk about to come to better strategies on (what’s after the browser, for example). that’s stuff we have some ways to talk about in the community — but we should be clearer. the funny thing is that the conversations are all happening in a highly decentralized way — that’s mozilla DNA — we could have them in a more centralized way, but it is a tension, for sure. but i think that much of the conversation so far has been personal in nature — everyone i know involved with mozilla puts *everything* they have into it. they work incredibly hard, they try to always do the right thing, they take criticism exceptionally personally. chris, i’ve found your comments on other peoples’ blogs immensely more moderated in *tone* and more productive to talk about. here you’re saying it’s a plea for answers — that’s great — the form of your post wasn’t that, though. it said more, “they’re not doing this, they’re not doing that.” the campus stuff is an example. just because you don’t know about what’s happening doesn’t mean that it’s not, and framed as a question “what’s going on with campus stuff?” is a much different framing than we started with. there’s a ton of stuff happening in japan that’s nothing to do with joi, there’s a ton of stuff happening in europe and china and latin america and africa. we should be talking about it more, yes. we’re searching for ways to do it always. we can be more, we should be more. but we should also be proud of where we are. i’d like any discussion of the future (and we’re having & should have a lot more) should be grounded in what the situation is today, what we’re doing now, what we’re not doing now. anyway, dave, this is a great contribution.

    Reply

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