Tag Archives: mozilla

Calling all Mozilla Contributors Past & Present

As some friends know, I’ve been working with Mozilla, helping them design an engagement audit, something to enable them assess how effective they are at engaging and empowering the community. This work has a number of aspects, much of which builds on ideas I’ve blogged about here and spoken about in the last year or so (most recently at DjangoCon and the Drupal Pacific Northwest Summit).

The hardest thing of course, is getting feedback from volunteer contributors themselves. This group of talented people are dispersed and, unsurprisingly, busy. But they also have the best data about their experience and so capturing it, sharing it, and using it to provide recommendations to help Mozilla is essential.

DinoheadIn pursuit of that goal I’ve worked a number of staff at Mozilla, and sought the advice of survey expert Peter Loewen to create a Mozilla Volunteer Contributor Survey.

So…! If you are a Mozilla contributor, or have been in the past, we would be deeply indebted to you if you took the time to fill this out. We are trying to push the survey link into various networks we think contributors will see it, but anything you can do to let e fellow Mozillian know about the survey would be great.

Really, really can’t thank anyone who takes this survey enough.

International Open Data Hackathon 2011: Better Tools, More Data, Bigger Fun

Last year, with only a month of notice, a small group passionate people announced we’d like to do an international open data hackathon and invited the world to participate.

We were thinking small but fun. Maybe 5 or 6 cities.

We got it wrong.

In the end people from over 75 cities around the world offered to host an event. Better still we definitively heard from people in over 40. It was an exciting day.

Last week, after locating a few of the city organizers email addresses, I asked them if we should do it again. Every one of them came back and said: yes.

So it is official. This time we have 2 months notice. December 3rd will be Open Data Day.

I want to be clear, our goal isn’t to be bigger this year. That might be nice if it happens. But maybe we’ll only have 6-7 cities. I don’t know. What I do want is for people to have fun, to learn, and to engage those who are still wrestling with the opportunities around open data. There is a world of possibilities out there. Can we seize on some of them?

Why.

Great question.

First off. We’ve got more data. Thanks to more and more enlightened governments in more and more places, there’s a greater amount of data to play with. Whether it is Switzerland, Kenya, or Chicago there’s never been more data available to use.

Second, we’ve got better tools. With a number of governments using Socrata there are more API’s out there for us to leverage. Scrapperwiki has gotten better and new tools like Buzzdata, TheDataHub and Google’s Fusion Tables are emerging every day.

And finally, there is growing interest in making “openess” a core part of how we measure governments. Open data has a role to play in driving this debate. Done right, we could make the first Saturday in December “Open Data Day.” A chance to explain, demo and invite to play, the policy makers, citizens, businesses and non-profits who don’t yet understand the potential. Let’s raise the world’s data literacy and have some fun. I can’t think of a better way than with another global open data hackathon – an maker’s fair like opportunity for people to celebrate open data by creating visualizations, writing up analyses, building apps or doing what ever they want with data.

Of course, like last time, hopefully we can make the world a little better as well. (more on that coming soon)

How.

The basic premises for the event would be simple, relying on 5 basic principles.

1. Together. It can be as big or as small, as long or as short, as you’d like it, but we’ll be doing it together on Saturday, December 3rd, 2011.

2. It should be open. Around the world I’ve seen hackathons filled with different types of people, exchanging ideas, trying out new technologies and starting new projects. Let’s be open to new ideas and new people. Chris Thorpe in the UK has done amazing work getting young and diverse group hacking. I love Nat Torkington’s words on the subject. Our movement is stronger when it is broader.

3. Anyone can organize a local event. If you are keen help organize one in your city and/or just participate add your name to the relevant city on this wiki page. Where ever possible, try to keep it to one per city, let’s build some community and get new people together. Which city or cities you share with is up to you as it how you do it. But let’s share.

4. You can work on anything that involves open data. That could be a local or global app, a visualization, proposing a standard for common data sets, scraping data from a government website to make it available for others in buzzdata.

It would be great to have a few projects people can work on around the world – building stuff that is core infrastructure to future projects. That’s why I’m hoping someone in each country will create a local version of MySociety’s Mapit web service for their country. It will give us one common project, and raise the profile of a great organization and a great project.

We also hope to be working with Random Hacks of Kindness, who’ve always been so supportive, ideally supplying data that they will need to run their applications.

5. Let’s share ideas across cities on the day. Each city’s hackathon should do at least one demo, brainstorm, proposal, or anything that it shares in an interactive way with at members of a hackathon in at least one other city. This could be via video stream, skype, by chat… anything but let’s get to know one another and share the cool projects or ideas we are hacking on. There are some significant challenges to making this work: timezones, languages, culture, technology… but who cares, we are problem solvers, let’s figure out a way to make it work.

Like last year, let’s not try to boil the ocean. Let’s have a bunch of events, where people care enough to organize them, and try to link them together with a simple short connection/presentation.Above all let’s raise some awareness, build something and have some fun.

What next?

1. If you are interested, sign up on the wiki. We’ll move to something more substantive once we have the numbers.

2. Reach out and connect with others in your city on the wiki. Start thinking about the logistics. And be inclusive. Someone new shows up, let them help too.

3. Share with me your thoughts. What’s got you excited about it? If you love this idea, let me know, and blog/tweet/status update about it. Conversely, tell me what’s wrong with any or all of the above. What’s got you worried? I want to feel positive about this, but I also want to know how we can make it better.

4. Localization. If there is bandwidth locally, I’d love for people to translate this blog post and repost it locally. (let me know as I’ll try cross posting it here, or at least link to it). It is important that this not be an english language only event.

5. If people want a place to chat with other about this, feel free to post comments below. Also the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Data Day mailing list will be the place where people can share news and help one another out.

Once again, I hope this will sound like fun to a few committed people. Let me know what you think.

The Science of Community Management: DjangoCon Keynote

At OSCON this year, Jono Bacon, argued that we are entering a era of renaissance in open source community management – that increasingly we don’t just have to share stories but that repeatable, scientific approaches are increasingly available to us. In short, the art of community management is shifting to a science.

With an enormous debt to Jono, I contend we are already there. Indeed the tools for enable a science of community management have existed for at least 5 years. All that is needed is an effort to implement them.

A few weeks ago the organizers of DjangoCon were kind enough to invite me to give the keynote at their conference in Portland and I made these ideas the centerpiece of my talk.

Embedded below is the result: a talk that that starts slowly, but that grew with passion and engagement as it progressed. I really want to thank the audience for the excellent Q&A and for engaging with me and the ideas as much as they did. As someone from outside their community, I’m grateful.

My hope in the next few weeks is to write this talk up in a series of blog posts or something more significant, and, hopefully, to redo this video in slideshare (although I’m going to have to get my hands on the audio of this). I’ll also be giving a version of this talk at the Drupal Pacific Northwest Summit in a few weeks. Feedback, as always, is not only welcome, but gratefully received. None of this happens in a vacuum, it is always your insights that help me get better, smarter and more on target.

Big thanks to Dierderik Van Liere and Lauren Bacon for inspiration and help as well as Mike Beltzner, Daniel Einspanjer, David Ascher and Dan Mosedale (among many others) at Mozilla who’ve been supportive and a big assistance.

In the meantime, I hope this is enjoyable, challenging and spurs good thoughts.

Smarter Ways to Have School Boards Update Parents

Earlier this month the Vancouver School Board (VSB) released an iPhone app that – helpfully – will use push notifications to inform parents about school holidays, parent interviews, and scheduling disruptions such as snow days. The app is okay, it’s a little clunky to use, and a lot of the data – such as professional days – while helpful in an app, would be even more helpful as an iCal feed parents could subscribe to in their calendars.

That said, the VSB deserves credit for having the vision of developing an app. Positively, the VSB app team hopes to add new features, such as letting parents know about after school activities like concerts, plays and sporting events.

This is a great innovation and without a doubt, other school boards will want apps of their own. The problem is, this is very likely to lead to an enormous amount of waste and duplication. The last thing citizens want is for every school board to be spending $15-50K developing iPhone apps.

Which leads to a broader opportunity for the Minister of Education.

Were I the Education Minister, I’d have my technology team recreate the specs of the VSB app and propose an RFP for it but under an open source license and using phonegap so it would work on both iPhone and Android. In addition, I’d ensure it could offer reminders – like we do at recollect.net – so that people could get email or text messages without a smart phone at all.

I would then propose the ministry cover %60 percent of the development and yearly upkeep costs. The other 40% would be covered by the school boards interested in joining the project. Thus, assuming the app had a development cost of $40K and a yearly upkeep of $5K, if only one school board signed up it would have to pay $16K for the app (a pretty good deal) and $2K a year in upkeep. But if 5 school districts signed up, each would only pay $3.2K in development costs and $400 dollars a year in upkeep costs. Better still, the more that sign up, the cheaper it gets for each of them. I’d also propose a governance model in which those who contribute money for develop would have the right to elect a sub-group to oversee the feature roadmap.

Since the code would be open source other provinces, school districts and private schools could also use the app (although not participate in the development roadmap), and any improvements they made to the code base would be shared back to the benefit of BC school districts.

Of course by signing up to the app project school boards would be committing to ensure their schools shared up to date notifications about the relevant information – probably a best practice that they should be doing anyways. This process work is where the real work lies. However, a simple webform (included in the price) would cover much of the technical side of that problem. Better still the Ministry of Education could offer its infrastructure for hosting and managing any data the school boards wish to collect and share, further reducing costs and, equally important, ensuring the data was standardized across the participating school boards.

So why should the Ministry of Education care?

First, creating new ways to update parents about important events – like when report cards are issued so that parents know to ask for them – helps improve education outcomes. That should probably reason enough, but there are other reasons as well.

Second, it would allow the ministry, and the school boards, to collect some new data: professional day dates, average number of snow days, frequency of emergency disruptions, number of parents in a district interested in these types of notifications. Over time, this data could reveal important information about educational outcomes and be helpful.

But the real benefit would be in both cost savings and in enabling less well resourced school districts to benefit from technological innovation wealthier school districts will likely pursue if left to their own devices. Given there are 59 english school districts in BC, if even half of them spent 30K developing their own iPhone apps, then almost $1M dollars would be collectively spent on software development. By spending $24K, the ministry ensures that this $1M dollars instead gets spent on teachers, resources and schools. Equally important, less tech savvy or well equipped school districts would be able to participate and benefit.

Of course, if the City of Vancouver school district was smart, they’d open source their app, approach the Ministry of Education and offer it as the basis of such a venture. Doing that wouldn’t just make them head of the class, it’d be helping everyone get smarter, faster.

Design Matters: Looking at a Re-themed Bugzilla

I’ll be honest. There was a time when I thought design didn’t matter. To my credit, it was a long time ago… but I used to think, if the tool was good enough, the design won’t matter, people will use it cause it is helpful. (This may or may not have influenced some fashion choices earlier in life as well – I’d like to think things have improved – but not everyone may agree it has improved sufficiently).

Being useful may be sufficient (although take a look at the government website at the bottom of this post – it’s a very useful website). But it’s no excuse for not making things easier to use. Especially when you are running an open source community and want to encourage participation and ease people up the learning curve faster.

Hence why I enjoyed recently discovering ActiveState’s implementation of Bugzilla (re-themed by Tara Gibbs). Bugzilla is the software many open source projects use to identify, track and resolve bugs.

Here we have two identical pieces of software (so the “usefulness” is the same) but what makes ActiveState’s version of Bugzilla so nice are a few simple things they’ve done to make it more user friendly (doubly pleased to see them implement some ideas I’d blogged earlier as well – great minds think alike!).

So let’s start with the Mozilla instance of Bugzilla – as this was the one I was used to.

I’ve circled a couple of the key features to zero in on. Let me go through them as I want you to be thinking about them when you look at the ActiveState version:

  • Red circle: Notice that this has a lot of key items in it, but it is lost next to the “search” button, which pulls your attention away
  • Dark orange arrow: the search button! most often you won’t find a search box located here in an application.
  • Green circle: Tons of useful stuff down here, but arranged in one long horizontal list, that makes it hard to find what you’re look for (and another search box!)
  • Light orange arrow: another log out option… didn’t I see that somewhere else as well?

I want to be clear, the Bugzilla team at Mozilla is awesome. Recently hired they are trying to do a ton of stuff and this is not where I’d expect them to start (and they’ve been super responsive to everything I’ve blogged about so I’m a huge fan), I want to flag this because everyone, from software engineers to government officials need to recognize that we rely on good design to make our lives easier, to help with decision fatigue and streamline our work, every day.

Now check out the ActiveState version of the exact same software, but re-designed.

So, my cartoonish circles and arrows are mucking up the design and ascetics of both theses sites, so please forgive that. (I suggest opening them in adjacent tabs – Mozilla here, ActiveState here – so you can see them uninterrupted).

So, a few things:

  • Red circle: Now everything to do with the administration of your account is in the top, top right hand corner. This is where Google, Facebook and most websites put this info now, that’s why you’re expecting to find it there!
  • Dark orange arrow: now the search button is in the top right hand corner. Pretty much the same location it appears in Firefox (and safari, IE, chrome, OS X, etc…) and so where users have come to expect it.
  • Green circle: This part really is genius. Did you know there were saved searches in the above version? There are, but the feature didn’t stand out. This theme sorts the users options and displays them vertically within a menu: much, much easier to digest quickly.
  • Light orange arrow: Features appear only once! For example, the sign out and search feature do not appear at the top and bottom. This helps reduce clutter and allows the user to find things more quickly

My point is that a few minor changes can dramatically improve the usability of a website or tool. Is Mozilla’s bugzilla radically worse than ActiveState’s? No, but I definitely prefer ActiveState’s design. Moreover, when you are relying on volunteer contributors and attracting new contributors is something that matters to you, this is an important gateway and so you want it to be as seamless as possible.

What’s interesting is that often it is in the non-profit and government sector that design gets neglected because it is deemed a luxury, or the “substantive” people don’t think design matters and so ignore it.

The results can be disastrous.

I mean, especially if you are in government, then you’ve really got to be advocating for better design. Consider the website below. Remember, this may be the most important citizen facing website in the Canadian government – the one stop shop to find every service you need. It is better than most government website, and yet, you’ve got a site that is still maddeningly difficult to navigate. Where am I supposed to look??? Eyes… being… pulled… in… so… many… directions…

Personally, I think you could solve 80% of the problem with this page just by getting rid of the left hand column and put a search button in the top right hand corner. But I’m supremely confident that would violate some arcane website design rule the government has and so will remain a post for another day…

Open Source Data Journalism – Happening now at Buzz Data

(there is a section on this topic focused on governments below)

A hint of how social data could change journalism

Anyone who’s heard me speak in the last 6 months knows I’m excited about BuzzData. This week, while still in limited access beta, the site is showing hints its potential – and it still has only a few hundred users.

First, what is BuzzData? It’s a website that allows data to be easily uploaded and shared among any number of users. (For hackers – it’s essentially github for data, but more social). It makes it easy for people to copy data sets, tinker with them, share the results back with the original master, mash them up with other data sets, all while engaging with those who care about that data set.

So, what happened? Why is any of this interesting? And what does it have to do with journalism?

Exactly a month ago Svetlana Kovalyova of Reuters had her article – Food prices to remain high, UN warns – re-published in the Globe and Mail.  The piece essentially outlined that food commodities were getting cheaper because of local conditions in a number of regions.

Someone at the Globe and Mail decided to go a step further and upload the data – the annual food price indices from 1990-present – onto the BuzzData site, presumably so they could play around with it. This is nothing complicated, it’s a pretty basic chart. Nonetheless a dozen or so users started “following” the dataset and about 11 days ago, one of them, David Joerg, asked:

The article focused on short-term price movements, but what really blew me away is: 1) how the price of all these agricultural commodities has doubled since 2003 and 2) how sugar has more than TRIPLED since 2003. I have to ask, can anyone explain WHY these prices have gone up so much faster than other prices? Is it all about the price of oil?

He then did a simple visualization of the data.

FoodPrices

In response someone from the Globe and Mail entitled Mason answered:

Hi David… did you create your viz based on the data I posted? I can’t answer your question but clearly your visualization brought it to the forefront. Thanks!

But of course, in a process that mirrors what often happens in the open source community, another “follower” of the data shows up and refines the work of the original commentator. In this case, an Alexander Smith notes:

I added some oil price data to this visualization. As you can see the lines for everything except sugar seem to move more or less with the oil. It would be interesting to do a little regression on this and see how close the actual correlation is.

The first thing to note is that Smith has added data, “mashing in” Oil Price per barrel. So now the data set has been made richer. In addition his graph quite nice as it makes the correlation more visible than the graph by Joerg which only referenced the Oil Price Index. It also becomes apparent, looking at this chart, how much of an outlier sugar really is.

oilandfood

Perhaps some regression is required, but Smith’s graph is pretty compelling. What’s more interesting is not once is the price of oil mentioned in the article as a driver of food commodity prices. So maybe it’s not relevant. But maybe it deserves more investigation – and a significantly better piece, one that would provide better information to the public – could be written in the future. In either case, this discussion, conducted by non-experts simply looking at the data, helped surface some interesting leads.

And therein lies the power of social data.

With even only a handful of users a deeper, better analysis of the story has taken place. Why? Because people are able to access the data and look at it directly. If you’re a follower of Julian Assange of wikileaks, you might call this scientific journalism, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but it certainly is a much more transparent way for doing analysis and a potential audience builder – imagine if 100s or 1000s of readers were engaged in the data underlying a story. What would that do to the story? What would that do to journalism? With BuzzData it also becomes less difficult to imagine a data journalists who spends a significant amount of their time in BuzzData working with a community of engaged pro-ams trying to find hidden meaning in data they amass.

Obviously, this back and forth isn’t game changing. No smoking gun has been found. But I think it hints at a larger potential, one that it would be very interesting to see unlocked.

More than Journalism – I’m looking at you government

Of course, it isn’t just media companies that should be paying attention. For years I argued that governments – and especially politicians – interested in open data have an unhealthy appetite for applications. They like the idea of sexy apps on smart phones enabling citizens to do cool things. To be clear, I think apps are cool too. I hope in cities and jurisdictions with open data we see more of them.

But open data isn’t just about apps. It’s about the analysis.

Imagine a city’s budget up on Buzzdata. Imagine, the flow rates of the water or sewage system. Or the inventory of trees. Think of how a community of interested and engaged “followers” could supplement that data, analyze it, visualize it. Maybe they would be able to explain it to others better, to find savings or potential problems, develop new forms of risk assessment.

It would certainly make for an interesting discussion. If 100 or even just 5 new analyses were to emerge, maybe none of them would be helpful, or would provide any insights. But I have my doubts. I suspect it would enrich the public debate.

It could be that the analysis would become as sexy as the apps. And that’s an outcome that would warm this policy wonk’s soul.

Lessons for Open Source Communities: Making Bug Tracking More Efficient

This post is a discussion about making bug tracking in Bugzilla for the Mozilla project more efficient. However, I believe it is applicable to any open source project or even companies or governments running service desks (think 311).

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a blog post titled: Some thoughts on improving Bugzilla in which I made several suggestions for improving the work flow in bugzilla. Happily a number of those ideas have been implemented.

One however, remains outstanding and, I believe, creates an unnecessary amount of triage work as well as a terrible experience for end users. My understanding is that while the bug could not be resolved last year for a few reasons, there is growing interest (exemplified originally in the comment field of my original post) to tackle it once again. This is my attempt at a rallying cry to get that process moving.

Those who are already keen on this idea and don’t want to read anything more below, this refers to bug 444302.

The Challenge: Dealing with Support Requests that Arrive in Bugzilla

I first had this idea last summer while talking to the triage team at the Mozilla Summit. These are the guys who look at the firehose of bugs being submitted to Mozilla every day. They have a finite amount of time, so anything we can do to automate their work is going to help them, and the project, out significantly.

Presently, I’m told that Mozilla gets a huge number of bugs submitted that are not actually bugs, but support issues. This creates several challenges.

First, it means that support related issues, as opposed to real problems with the software, are clogging up the bug tracking system. This increases the amount of noise in the system – making it harder for everyone to find the information they need.

Second, it means the triage teams has to spend time filtering bugs that are actually support issues. Not a good use of their time.

Third, it means that users who have real support issues but submit them accidentally though Bugzilla, get a terrible experience.

This last one is a real problem. If you are a user, feeling frustrated (and possibly not behaving as your usual rational self – we’ve all been there) because your software is not working the way you expect, and then you submit what a triage person considers a support issue (Resolve-Invalid)  you get an email that looks like this:


If I’m already cheesed that my software isn’t doing what I want, getting an email that says “Invalid” and “Verified” is really going to cheese me off. That of course presumes I even know what this email means. More likely, I’ll be thinking that some ancient machine in the bowels of mozilla using software created in the late 1990s received my plea and has, in its 640K confusion, has spammed me. (I mean look at it… from a user’s perspective!)

The Proposal: Re-Automating the Process for a better result

Step 1: My sense is that this issue – especially problem #3 – could be resolved by simply creating a new resolution field. I’ve opted to call it “Support” but am happy to name it something else.

This feels like a simple fix and it would quickly move a lot of bugs that are cluttering up bugzilla… out.

Step 2: Query the text of bugs marked “support” against Mozilla’s database. Then insert the results in an email that goes back to the user. I’m imagining something that might look like this:

SUMO-transfer-v2

Such an email has several advantages:

First, if these are users who’ve submitted inappropriate bugs and who really need support, giving them a bugzilla email isn’t going to help them, they aren’t even going to know how to read it.

Second, there is an opportunity to explain to them where they should go for help – I haven’t done that explicitly enough in this email – but you get the idea.

Because, because we’ve done a query of the Mozilla support database (SUMO) we are able to include some support articles that might resolve their issue.

Fourth, if this really is a bug from a more sophisticated user, we give them a hyperlink back to bugzilla so they can make a note or comment.

What I like about this is it is customized engagement at a low cost. More importantly, it helps unclutter things while also making us more responsive and creating a better experience for users.

Next Steps:

It’s my understanding that this is all pretty doable. After last year’s post there were several helpful comments. Including this one from Bugzilla expert Gervase Markham:

The best way to implement this would be a field on SUMO where you paste a bug number, and it reaches out, downloads the Bugzilla information using the Bugzilla API, and creates a new SUMO entry using it. It then goes back and uses the API to automatically resolve the Bugzilla bug – either as SUPPORT, if we have that new resolution, or INVALID, or MOVED (which is a resolution Bugzilla has had in the past for bugs moved elsewhere), or something else.

The SUMO end could then send them a custom email, and it could include hyperlinks to appropriate articles if the SUMO engine thought there were any.

And Tyler Downer noted in this comment that there maybe be a dependency bug (#577561) that would also need resolving:

Gerv, I love you point 3. Exactly what I had in mind, have SUMO pull the relevant data from the bug report (we just need BMO to autodetect firefox version numbers, bug 577561 ;) and then it should have most of the required data. That would save the user so much time and remove a major time barrier. They think “I just filed a bug, now they want me to start a forum thread?” If it does it automatically, the user would be so much better served.

So, if there is interest in doing this, let me know. I’m happy to support any discussion, should it take place on the comment stream of the bug, the comments below, or somewhere else that might be helpful (maybe I should dial in on this call?). Regardless, this feels like a quick win, one that would better serve Mozilla users, teach them to go to the right place for support (over time) and improve the Bugzilla workflow. It might be worth implementing even for a bit, and we can assess any positive or negative feedback after 6 months.

Let me know how I can help.

Additional Resources

Bug 444302: Provide a means to migrate support issues that are misfiled as bugs over to the support.mozilla.com forums.

My previous post: Some thoughts on improving Bugzilla. The comments are worth checking out

Mozilla’s Bugzilla Wiki Page