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.