How Should Mozilla Execute Its Vision?

by Glyn Moody

The announcement by the GNOME Foundation that it is appointing Stormy Peters as its Executive Director confirms a suspicion that I've harboured for a while: that we are witnessing the evolution of major open source projects into new kinds of players in the computing world, ones that require full-time staff not just to run them, but also to articulate what exactly they are trying to do *beyond* the code.

The pioneer in this field is obviously the Mozilla Foundation, which has grown from an apparently doomed attempt to hack the original Netscape Navigator code into something half-usable, to a high-profile, media-savvy outfit that is not just winning market- and mind-share, but starting to frame many of the most important discussions within the open source world.

That shift was made manifest in the drawing up of the Mozilla Manifesto in February 2007. As Mozilla's Chief Lizard Wrangler, Mitchell Baker, explained at the time:

The Mozilla project is about more than simply producing new versions of Firefox. Firefox is important, of course, and our major focus right now. However, Firefox is also important to achieving a broader goal, and it’s important for the project to articulate that goal.

With the help of a number of Mozilla contributors, I have created a draft document called the Mozilla Manifesto. The Manifesto sets out a vision of the Internet as a piece of infrastructure that is open, accessible and enriches the lives of individual human beings. It includes a pledge from the Mozilla Foundation about taking action in support of the principles of the Mozilla Manifesto. It extends an invitation to others to join us, either by working directly with the Foundation or through other activities that support the Mozilla Manifesto.

That “invitation to others” is expressed thus:

The Mozilla Foundation invites all others who support the principles of the Mozilla Manifesto to join with us, and to find new ways to make this vision of the Internet a reality.

The question concerning the ways that vision can be made a reality has received a new impetus recently in the form of an open conversation between various bloggers and Mitch:

There’s a bit of a discussion underway about what the Mozilla Foundation might do to become an even more effective organization in achieving its mission. Mark Surman and Dave Eaves had some thoughts about this mission in possibly the broadest possible formulation — a social movement for the Open Web (or Open Internet). David Ascher has a nice follow-up, pointing out a few areas beyond the products we shipping today that are in need of serious attention for an Open Internet to be real. Glyn Moody has a piece up at Linux Journal called “How Can we Harness the Firefox Effect” that carries these ideas even further. This is great to see. The open-endedness of this encourages good brainstorming.

At the end of this post she introduces the idea of the Mozilla Foundation consisting of “concentric circles” of activity:

with the software development we’re already doing as the innermost circle. The next circle out would be pretty closely related to this, the next circle a little less so. One of these concentric layers may become a boundary — the furthest point we can go and still have cohesion and effectiveness. That’s a fine thing. At that point we’ll know the scope of things we can do as Mozilla.

Now, she has refined that metaphor further:

I’m thinking of 4 concentric groups: a Community of Practice, a Community of Action, a Community of Interest and our User Community.

As well as explaining those four communities in more detail, she makes the following request:

I’m very interested in whether people living and working Mozilla feel these distinctions describe the different communities in which you participate and with which you interact. Let me know!

I've already offered my own thoughts on this in my previous posting about Firefox; now it's your turn. What's your view on this idea of concentric circles of community? Which circle are you in? Which ones should Mozilla be concentrating on – and what circle should it choose as its outer boundary? Since we know from one of the posts above that Mitch reads Linux Journal (doesn't everyone?), you can send a message to her below, or by adding a comment on her own site (or both).

Glyn Moody writes about openness at opendotdotdot.