Leaving Mozilla as staff

December 31 will be my last day as paid staff on the Community Building Team at Mozilla.

One year ago, I settled into a non-stop flight from Raleigh, NC to San Francisco and immediately fell asleep. I was exhausted; it was the end of my semester and I had spent the week finishing a difficult databases final, which I emailed to my professor as soon as I reached the hotel, marking the completion of my coursework in Library Science and the beginning of my commitment to Mozilla.

The next week was one of the best of my life. While working, hacking, and having fun, I started on the journey that has carried me through the past exhilarating months. I met more friendly faces than I could count and felt myself becoming part of the Mozilla community, which has embraced me. I’ve been proud to call myself a Mozillian this year, and I will continue to work for the free and open Web, though currently in a different capacity as a Rep and contributor.

I’ve met many people through my work and have been universally impressed with your intelligence, drive, and talent. To David, Pierros, William, and particularly Larissa, Christie, Michelle, and Emma, you have been my champions and mentors. Getting to know you all has been a blessing.

I’m not sure what’s next, but I am happy to start on the next step of my career as a Mozillian, a community mentor, and an open Web advocate. Thank you again for this magical time, and I hope to see you all again soon. Let me know if you find yourself in Boston! I will be happy to hear from you and pleased to show you around my hometown.

If you want to reach out, find me on IRC: jennierose. All the best wishes for a happy, restful, and healthy holiday season.

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Townhall, not Shopping Mall! Community, making, and the future of the Internet

I presented a version of this talk at the 2014 Futurebook Conference in London, England. They also kindly featured me in the program. Thank you to The Bookseller for a wonderful conference filled with innovation and intelligent people!

A few days ago, I was in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, often considered the most beautiful library in the world. My enthusiastic guide told the following story:

After the Reformation (when all the books in Oxford were burned), Sir Thomas Bodley decided to create a place where people could go and access all the world’s information at their fingertips, for free.

“What does that sound like?” she asked. “…the Internet?”

While this is a lovely conceit, the part of the story that resonated with me for this talk is the other big change that Bodley made, which was to work with publishers, who were largely a monopoly at that point, to fill his library for free by turning the library into a copyright library. While this seemed antithetical to the ways that publishers worked, in giving a copy of their very expensive books away, they left an indelible and permanent mark on the face of human knowledge. It was not only preservation, but self-preservation.

Bodley was what people nowadays would probably call “an innovator” and maybe even in the parlance of my field, a “community manager.”

By thinking outside of the scheme of how publishing works, he joined together with a group of skeptics and created one of the greatest knowledge repositories in the world, one that still exists 700 years later. This speaks to a few issues:

Sharing economies, community, and publishing should and do go hand in hand and have since the birth of libraries. By stepping outside of traditional models, you are creating a world filled with limitless knowledge and crafting it in new and unexpected ways.

The bound manuscript is one of the most enduring technologies. This story remains relevant because books are still books and people are still reading them.

As the same time, things are definitely changing. For the most part, books and manuscripts were pretty much identifiable as books and manuscripts for the past 1000 years.

But what if I were to give Google Maps to a 16th Century Map Maker? Or what if I were to show Joseph Pulitzer Medium? Or what if I were to hand Gutenberg a Kindle? Or Project Gutenberg for that matter? What if I were to explain to Thomas Bodley how I shared the new Lena Dunham book with a friend by sending her the file instead of actually handing her the physical book? What if I were to try to explain Lena Dunham?

These innovations have all taken place within the last twenty years, and I would argue that we haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of the innovations that are to come.

We need to accept that the future of the printed word may vary from words on paper to an ereader or computer in 500 years, but I want to emphasize that in the 500 years to come, it will more likely vary from the ereader to a giant question mark.

International literacy rates have risen rapidly over the past 100 years and companies are scrambling to be the first to reach what they call “developing markets” in terms of connectivity. In the vein of Mark Surman’s talk at the Mozilla Festival this year, I will instead call these economies post-colonial economies.

Because we (as people of the book) are fundamentally idealists who believe that the printed word can change lives, we need to be engaged with rethinking the printed word in a way that recognizes power structures and does not settle for the limited choices that the corporate Internet provides (think Facebook vs WhatsApp). This is not as a panacea to fix the world’s ills.

In the Atlantic last year, Phil Nichols wrote an excellent piece that paralleled Web literacy and early 20th century literacy movements. The dualities between “connected” and “non-connected,” he writes, impose the same kinds of binaries and blind cure-all for social ills that the “literacy” movement imposed in the early 20th century. In equating “connectedness” with opportunity, we are “hiding an ideology that is rooted in social control.”

Surman, who is director of the Mozilla Foundation, claims that the Web, which had so much potential to become a free and open virtual meeting place for communities, has started to resemble a shopping mall. While I can go there and meet with my friends, it’s still controlled by cameras that are watching my every move and its sole motive is to get me to buy things.

85 percent of North America is connected to the Internet and 40 percent of the world is connected. Connectivity increased at a rate of 676% in the past 13 years. Studies show that literacy and connectivity go hand in hand.

How do you envision a fully connected world? How do you envision a fully literate world? How can we empower a new generation of connected communities to become learners rather than consumers?

I’m not one of these technology nuts who’s going to argue that books are going to somehow leave their containers and become networked floating apparatuses, and I’m not going to argue that the ereader is a significantly different vessel than the physical book.

I’m also not going to argue that we’re going to have a world of people who are only Web literate and not reading books in twenty years. To make any kind of future prediction would be a false prophesy, elitist, and perhaps dangerous.

Although I don’t know what the printed word will look like in the next 500 years,

I want to take a moment to think outside the book,

to think outside traditional publishing models, and to embrace the instantaneousness, randomness, and spontaneity of the Internet as it could be, not as it is now.

One way I want you to embrace the wonderful wide Web is to try to at least partially decouple your social media followers from your community.

Twitter and other forms of social media are certainly a delightful and fun way for communities to communicate and get involved, but your viral campaign, if you have it, is not your community.

True communities of practice are groups of people who come together to think beyond traditional models and innovate within a domain. For a touchstone, a community of practice is something like the Penguin Labs internal innovation center that Tom Weldon spoke about this morning and not like Penguin’s 600,000 followers on Twitter. How can we bring people together to allow for innovation, communication, and creation?

The Internet provides new and unlimited opportunities for community and innovation, but we have to start managing communities and embracing the people we touch as makers rather than simply followers or consumers.

The maker economy is here— participatory content creation has become the norm rather than the exception. You have the potential to reach and mobilize 2.1 billion people and let them tell you what they want, but you have to identify leaders and early adopters and you have to empower them.

How do you recognize the people who create content for you? I don’t mean authors, but instead the ambassadors who want to get involved and stay involved with your brand.

I want to ask you, in the spirit of innovation from the edges

What is your next platform for radical participation? How are you enabling your community to bring you to the next level? How can you differentiate your brand and make every single person you touch psyched to read your content, together? How can you create a community of practice?

Community is conversation. Your users are not your community.

Ask yourself the question Rachel Fershleiser asked when building a community on Tumblr: Are you reaching out to the people who want to hear from you and encouraging them or are you just letting your community be unplanned and organic?

There reaches a point where we reach the limit of unplanned organic growth. Know when you reach this limit.

Target, plan, be upbeat, and encourage people to talk to one another without your help and stretch the creativity of your work to the upper limit.

Does this model look different from when you started working in publishing? Good.

As the story of the Bodelian Library illustrated, sometimes a totally crazy idea can be the beginning of an enduring institution.

To repeat, the book is one of the most durable technologies and publishing is one of the most durable industries in history. Its durability has been put to the test more than once, and it will surely be put to the test again. Think of your current concerns as a minor stumbling block in a history filled with success, a history that has documented and shaped the world.

Don’t be afraid of the person who calls you up and says, “I have this crazy idea that may just change the way you work…” While the industry may shift, the printed word will always prevail.

Publishing has been around in some shape or form for 1000 years. Here’s hoping that it’s around for another 1000 more.

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New /contribute page

In an uncharacteristically short post, I want to let folks know that we just launched our new /contribute page.

I am so proud of our team! Thank you to Jess, Ben, Larissa, Jen, Rebecca, Mike, Pascal, Flod, Holly, Sean, David, Maryellen, Craig, PMac, Matej, and everyone else who had a hand. You all are the absolute most wonderful people to work with and I look forward to seeing what comes next!

I’ll be posting intermittently about new features and challenges on the site, but I first want to give a big virtual hug to all of you who made it happen and all of you who contribute to Mozilla in the future.

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A new look for our Community Newsletter

This post was featured on the Mozilla Community Blog


 

If you’ve been wondering why you haven’t received the best in Mozilla’s community news in some weeks, it’s because we’ve been busy redesigning our newsletter in order to bring you even more great content.

Non-profit marketing is no easy feat. Even with our team of experts here at Mozilla, we don’t always hit the bar when it comes to open rates, click through rates, and other metrics that measure marketing success. For our community newsletter, I watched our metrics steadily decrease over the six month period since we re-launched the newsletter and started publishing on a regular basis.

It was definitely time for a makeover.

Our community newsletter is a study in pathways and retention: How do we help people who have already expressed interest in contributing get involved and stay involved? What are some easy ways for people to join our community? How can communities come together to write inspiring content for the Web?

At Mozilla, we put out three main newsletters: Firefox and You (currently on a brief hiatus), the Firefox Student Ambassadors newsletter, and our Mozilla Communities Newsletter (formerly called about:Mozilla)

It was important to me to have the newsletter feel authentically like the voice of the community, to help people find their Mozillian way, and to point people in the direction of others who share their interests, opening up participation to a wider audience.

A peer assist with Andrea Wood and Kelli Klein at the Mozilla Foundation helped me articulate what we needed and stay on-target with the newsletter’s goal to “provide the best in contribution opportunities at Mozilla.” Andrea demonstrated to me how the current newsletter was structured for consumption, not action, and directed me toward new features that would engage people with the newsletter’s content and eventually help them join us.

I also took a class with Aspiration Tech on how to write emails that captivate as well as read a lot about non-profit email marketing. While some of it seemed obvious, my research also gave me an overview of the field, which allowed me to redesign the newsletter according to best practices.

Here’s what I learned:

1. According to M & R, who publishes the best (and most hilarious) study of non-profit email campaigns, our metrics were right on track with industry averages. Non-profit marketing emails have a mean open rate of 13% with a 2.5% deviance in either direction. This means that at between 25% and 15% open rate we were actually doing better than other non-profit emails. What worried me was that our open rate rapidly and steadily decreased, signalling a disengagement with the content.

I came up with similar findings for our click through rates– on par with the industry, but steadily decreasing. (From almost 5% on our first newsletter to less than 1.5% on our last, eek!)

2. While I thought that our 70,000 subscribers put us safely in the “large email list” category, I learned that we are actually a small/medium newsletter according to industry averages! In terms of how we gain subscribers, I’m hoping that an increased social media presence as well as experiments with viral marketing (IE “forward this to a friend!”) will bring in new voices and new people to engage with our community.

3. “The Five Second Rule” is perhaps the best rule I learned about email marketing. Have you captured the reader in three seconds? Can you open an email and know what it’s trying to ask you in five seconds? If not, you should redesign.

4. Stories that asked people to take action were always the most clicked on stories in our last iteration. This is unsurprising, but “learn more” and “read more” don’t seem to move our readers. “Sign this petition” and “Sign up” were always well-received.

5. There is no statistically “best time” to send an email newsletter. The best time to send an email newsletter is “when it’s ready.” While every two weeks is a good goal for the newsletter, sending it slightly less frequently will not take away from its impact.

6. As M & R writes, “For everything, (churn churn churn) there is a season (churn, churn, churn)…” our churn rate on the newsletter was pretty high (we lost and gained subscribers at a high rate.) I’m hoping that our new regular features about teaching and learning as well as privacy will highlight what’s great about our community and how to take action.

And now to the redesign!

The first thing you’ll notice is that our newsletter is now called “Mozilla Communities.” We voted on the new name a few weeks ago after the Grow Mozilla call. Thanks to everyone who gave feedback.

Newsletter overview

An overview of the newsletter’s new look.

Mozilla Communities

While the overall feel remains the same and is in line with other Mozilla-branded newsletters, the new look incorporates a few “evergreen” opportunities and actions you can take before the fold as well as features a contributor in their own words. (For the draft of the new design, that contributor is me!) The easy actions on the left hand side will rotate out as needed and increase in commitment level as you read down the page. Also, take a look at the awesome logo from Christie Koehler!

 

Section 2 of newsletter

The next section presents rotating features on our privacy and educational initiatives. Privacy and education span a variety of functional areas, so this section could be populated by a variety of community endeavors. At the bottom of these sections, there’s a Facebook post and Tweet that you can post to easily take action, promote our communities, and get social to protect the Internet.

 

Gear store story

The next section features a story that engages the reader to take action! (In this case it invites readers into our awesome new gear store…) This story about Mozilla communities will rotate out according to the content that you submit. It will also be action-oriented, easy, and fun.

Last story and Mozillian Moments

This last story is optional and will be rotated in and out according to testing during the first few issues. (Early feedback feared that there were too many stories.) In the draft design, we’re announcing a new contribution area. This will be a place for new community contribution areas, pathways, and opportunities to connect. The new photo section, “Mozillian Moments,” replaces our “Photo of the Week” section from the last iteration.

 

newsletter footer

Finally, the footer reminds the reader that this newsletter is community-created and community-supported. It also invites readers to join us on social media. In the upcoming issues, the newsletter will also link to the new “Guides” forum that will help contributors find mentorship opportunities and connect with their fellow Mozillians.

 

What we need from you:

1. We need writers, coders, social media gurus, copy editors, and designers who are interested in consistently testing and improving the newsletter. The opportunity newsletter is a new contribution area on the October 15th relaunch of the Get Involved page (under the “Writing –> Journalism” drop down choice) and I’m hoping that will engage new contributors as well.

2. A newsletter can’t run without content, and we experimented with lots of ways to collect that content in the last few months. Do you have content for the newsletter? Do you want to be a featured contributor? Reach out to mozilla-communities at mozilla dot com.

3. Feedback requested! I put together an Etherpad that asks specific questions about improving the design. Please put your feedback here or leave it in the comments.

The newsletter is a place for us to showcase our work and connect with each other. We can only continue improving, incorporating best practices, and connecting more deeply and authentically through our platforms. Thank you to everyone who helped in the Mozilla Communities redesign and to all of you who support Mozilla communities every day.

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Why I feel like an Open Source Failure

I presented a version of this talk at the Supporting Cultural Heritage Open Source Software (SCHOSS) Symposium in Atlanta, GA in September 2014. This talk was generously sponsored by LYRASIS and the Andrew Mellon Foundation.


I often feel like an Open Source failure.

I haven’t submitted 500 patches in my free time, I don’t spend my after-work hours rating html5 apps, and I was certainly not a 14 year old Linux user. Unlike the incredible group of teenaged boys with whom I write my Mozilla Communities newsletter and hang out with on IRC, I spent most of my time online at that age chatting with friends on AOL Instant Messenger and doing my homework.

I am a very poor programmer. My Wikipedia contributions are pretty sad. I sometimes use Powerpoint. I never donated my time to Open Source in the traditional sense until I started at Mozilla as a GNOME OPW intern and while the idea of data gets me excited, the thought of spending hours cleaning it is another story.

I was feeling this way the other day and chatting with a friend about how reading celebrity news often feels like a better choice after work than trying to find a new open source project to contribute to or making edits to Wikipedia. A few minutes later, a message popped up in my inbox from an old friend asking me to help him with his application to library school.

I dug up my statement of purpose and I was extremely heartened to read my words from three years ago:

I am particularly interested in the interaction between libraries and open source technology… I am interested in innovative use of physical and virtual space and democratic archival curation, providing free access to primary sources.

It felt good to know that I have always been interested in these topics but I didn’t know what that would look like until I discovered my place in the open source community. I feel like for many of us in the cultural heritage sector the lack of clarity about where we fit in is a major blocker, and I do think it can be associated with contribution to open source more generally. Douglas Atkin, Community Manager at Airbnb, claims that the two main questions people have when joining a community are “Are they like me? And will they like me?”. Of course, joining a community is a lot more complicated than that, but the lack of visibility of open source projects in the cultural heritage sector can make even locating a project a whole lot more complicated.

As we’ve discussed in this working group, the ethics of cultural heritage and Open Source overlap considerably and

the open source community considers those in the cultural heritage sector to be natural allies.

In his article, “Who are you empowering?” Hugh Rundle writes: (I quote this article all the time because I believe it’s one of the best articles written about library tech recently…)

A simple measure that improves privacy and security and saves money is to use open source software instead of proprietary software on public PCs.

Community-driven, non-profit, and not good at making money are just some of the attributes that most cultural heritage organizations and open source project have in common, and yet, when choosing software for their patrons, most libraries and cultural heritage organizations choose proprietary systems and cultural heritage professionals are not the strongest open source contributors or advocates.

The main reasons for this are, in my opinion:


1. Many people in cultural heritage don’t know what Open Source is.

In a recent survey I ran of the Code4Lib and UNC SILS listservs, nearly every person surveyed could accurately respond to the prompt “Define Open Source in one sentence” though the responses varied from community-based answers to answers solely about the source code.

My sample was biased toward programmers and young people (and perhaps people who knew how to use Google because many of the answers were directly lifted from the first line of the Wikipedia article about Open Source, which is definitely survey bias,) but I think that it is indicative of one of the larger questions of open source.

Is open source about the community, or is it about the source code?

There have been numerous articles and books written on this subject, many of which I can refer you to (and I am sure that you can refer me to as well!) but this question is fundamental to our work.

Many people, librarians and otherwise, will ask: (I would argue most, but I am operating on anecdotal evidence)

Why should we care about whether or not the code is open if we can’t edit it anyway? We just send our problems to the IT department and they fix it.

Many people in cultural heritage don’t have many feelings about open source because they simply don’t know what it is and cannot articulate the value of one over the other. Proprietary systems don’t advertise as proprietary, but open source constantly advertises as open source, and as I’ll get to later, proprietary systems have cornered the market.

This movement from darkness to clarity brings most to mind a story that Kathy Lussier told about the Evergreen project, where librarians who didn’t consider themselves “techy” jumped into IRC to tentatively ask a technical question and due to the friendliness of the Evergreen community, soon they were writing the documentation for the software themselves and were a vital part of their community, participating in conferences and growing their skills as contributors.

In this story, the Open Source community engaged the user and taught her the valuable skill of technical documentation. She also took control of the software she uses daily and was able to maintain and suggest features that she wanted to see. This situation was really a win-win all around.

What institution doesn’t want to see their staff so well trained on a system that they can write the documentation for it?


2. The majority of the market share in cultural heritage is closed-source, closed-access software and they are way better at advertising than Open Source companies.

Last year, my very wonderful boss in the cataloging and metadata department of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill came back from ALA Midwinter with goodies for me: pens and keychains and postits and tote bags and those cute little staplers. “I only took things from vendors we use,” she told me.

Linux and Firefox OS hold 21% of the world’s operating system marketshare. (Interestingly, this is more globally than IOS, but still half that of Windows. On mobile, IOS and Android are approximately equal.)

Similarly, free, open source systems for cultural heritage are unfortunately not a high percentage of the American market. Wikipedia has a great list of proprietary and open source ILSs and OPACs, the languages they’re written in, and their cost. Marshall Breeding writes that FOSS software is picking up some market share, but it is still “the alternative” for most cultural heritage organizations.

There are so many reasons for this small market share, but I would argue (as my previous anecdote did for me,) that a lot of it has to do with the fact that these proprietary vendors have much more money and are therefore a lot better at marketing to people in cultural heritage who are very focused on their work. We just want to be able to install the thing and then have it do the thing well enough. (An article in Library Journal in 2011 describes open source software as: “A lot of work, but a lot of control.”)

As Jack Reed from Stanford and others have pointed out, most of the cost of FOSS in cultural heritage is developer time, and many cultural heritage institutions believe that they don’t have those resources. (John Brice’s example at the Meadville Public Library proves that communities can come together with limited developers and resources in order to maintain vital and robust open source infrastructures as well as significantly cut costs.)

I learned at this year’s Wikiconference USA that academic publishers had the highest profit margin of any company in the country last year, ahead of Google and Apple.

The academic publishing model is, for more reasons than one, completely antithetical to the ethics of cultural heritage work, and yet they maintain a large portion of the cultural heritage market share in terms of both knowledge acquisition and software. Megan Forbes reminds us that the platform Collection Space was founded as the alternative to the market dominance of “several large, commercial vendors” and that cost put them “out of reach for most small and mid-sized institutions.”

Open source has the chance to reverse this vicious cycle, but institutions have to put their resources in people in order to grow.

While certain companies like OCLC are working toward a more equitable future, with caveats of course, I would argue that the majority of proprietary cultural heritage systems are providing inferior product to a resource poor community.


 3. People are tired and overworked, particularly in libraries, and to compound that, they don’t think they have the skills to contribute.

These are two separate issues, but they’re not entirely disparate so I am going to tackle them together.

There’s this conception outside of the library world that librarians are secret coders just waiting to emerge from their shells and start categorizing datatypes instead of MARC records (this is perhaps a misconception due to a lot of things, including the sheer diversity of types of jobs that people in cultural heritage fill, but hear me out.)

When surveyed, the skill that entering information science students most want to learn is “programming.” However, the majority of MLIS programs are still teaching Microsoft Word and beginning html as technology skills.

Learning to program computers takes time and instruction and while programs like Women who Code and Girl Develop It can begin educating librarians, we’re still faced with a workforce that’s over 80% female-identified that learned only proprietary systems in their work and a small number of technology skills in their MLIS degrees.

Library jobs, and further, cultural heritage jobs are dwindling. Many trained librarians, art historians, and archivists are working from grant to grant on low salaries with little security and massive amounts of student loans from both undergraduate and graduate school educations. If they’re lucky to get a job, watching television or doing the loads of professional development work they’re expected to do in their free time seems a much better choice after work than continuing to stare at a computer screen for a work-related task or learn something completely new. For reference: an entry-level computer programmer can expect to make over $70,000 per year on average. An entry-level librarian? Under $40,000. I know plenty of people in cultural heritage who have taken two jobs or jobs they hate just to make ends meet, and I am sure you do too.

One can easily say, “Contributing to open source teaches new skills!” but if you don’t know how to make non-code contributions or the project is not set up to accept those kinds of contributions, you don’t see an immediate pay-off in being involved with this project, and you are probably not willing to stay up all night learning to code when you have to be at work the next day or raise a family. Programs like Software Carpentry have proven that librarians, teachers, scientists, and other non-computer scientists are willing to put in that time and grow their skills, so to make any kind of claim without research would be a reach and possibly erroneous, but I would argue that most cultural heritage organizations are not set up in a way to nurture their employees for this kind of professional development. (Not because they don’t want to, necessarily, but because they feel they can’t or they don’t see the immediate value in it.)

I could go on and on about how a lot of these problems are indicative of cultural heritage work being an historically classed and feminized professional grouping, but I will spare you right now, although you’re not safe if you go to the bar with me later.

In addition, many open source projects operate with a “patches welcome!” or “go ahead, jump in!” or “We don’t need a code of conduct because we’re all nice guys here!” mindset, which is not helpful to beginning coders, women, or really, anyone outside of a few open source fanatics.

I’ve identified a lot of problems, but the title of this talk is “Creating the Conditions for Open Source Community” and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about what works.

Diversification, both in terms of types of tasks and types of people and skillsets as well as a clear invitation to get involved are two absolute conditions for a healthy open source community.

Ask yourself the questions: Are you a tight knit group with a lot of IRC in-jokes that new people may not understand? Are you all white men? Are you welcoming? Paraphrasing my colleague Sean Bolton, the steps to an inviting community is to build understanding, build connections, build clarity, build trust, build pilots, which creates a build win-win.

As communities grow, it’s important to be able to recognize and support contributors in ways that feel meaningful. That could be a trip to a conference they want to attend, a Linkedin recommendation, a professional badge, or a reference, or best yet: you could ask them what they want. Our network for contributors and staff is adding a “preferred recognition” system. Don’t know what I want? Check out my social profile. (The answer is usually chocolate, but I’m easy.)

Finding diverse contribution opportunities has been difficult for open source since, well, the beginning of open source. Even for us at Mozilla, with our highly diverse international community and hundreds of ways to get involved, we often struggle to bring a diversity of voices into the conversation, and to find meaningful pathways and recognition systems for our 10,000 contributors.

In my mind, education is perhaps the most important part of bringing in first-time contributors. Organizations like Open Hatch and Software Carpentry provide low-cost, high-value workshops for new contributors to locate and become a part of Open Source in a meaningful and sustained manner. Our Webmaker program introduces technical skills in a dynamic and exciting way for every age.

Mentorship is the last very important aspect of creating the conditions for participation. Having a friend or a buddy or a champion from the beginning is perhaps the greatest motivator according to research from a variety of different papers. Personal connection runs deep, and is a major indicator for community health. I’d like to bring mentorship into our conversation today and I hope that we can explore that in greater depth in the next few hours.

With mentorship and 1:1 connection, you may not see an immediate uptick in your project’s contributions, but a friend tells a friend tells a friend and then eventually you have a small army of motivated cultural heritage workers looking to take back their knowledge.

You too can achieve on-the-ground action. You are the change you wish to see.

Are you working in a cultural heritage institution and are about to switch systems? Help your institution switch to the open source solution and point out the benefits of their community. Learning to program? Check out the Open Hatch list of easy bugs to fix! Are you doing patron education? Teach them Libre Office and the values around it. Are you looking for programming for your library? Hold a Wikipedia edit-a-thon. Working in a library? Try working open for a week and see what happens. Already part of an open source community? Mentor a new contributor or open up your functional area for contribution.

It’s more than just “if you build it, they will come.”

If you make open source your mission, people will want to step up to the plate.

To close, I’m going to tell a story that I can’t take credit for, but I will tell it anyway.

We have a lot of ways to contribute at Mozilla. From code to running events to learning and teaching the Web, it can be occasionally overwhelming to find your fit.

A few months ago, my colleague decided to create a module and project around updating the Mozilla Wiki, a long-ignored, frequently used, and under-resourced part of our organization. As an information scientist and former archivist, I was psyched. The space that I called Mozilla’s collective memory was being revived!

We started meeting in April and it became clear that there were other wiki-fanatics in the organization who had been waiting for this opportunity to come up. People throughout the organization were psyched to be a part of it. In August, we held a fantastically successful workweek in London, reskinned the wiki, created a regular release cycle, wrote a manual and a best practice guide, and are still going strong with half contributors and half paid-staff as a regular working group within the organization. Our work has been generally lauded throughout the project, and we’re working hard to make our wiki the resource it can be for contributors and staff.

To me, that was the magic of open source. I met some of my best friends, and at the end of the week, we were a cohesive unit moving forward to share knowledge through our organization and beyond. And isn’t that a basic value of cultural heritage work?

I am still an open source failure. I am not a code fanatic, and I like the ease-of-use of my used IPhone. I don’t listen to techno and write Javscript all night, and I would generally rather read a book than go to a hackathon.

And despite all this, I still feel like I’ve found my community.

I am involved with open source because I am ethically committed to it, because I want to educate my community of practice and my local community about what working open can bring to them.

When people ask me how I got involved with open source, my answer is: I had a great mentor, an incredible community and contributor base, and there are many ways to get involved in open source.

While this may feel like a new frontier for cultural heritage, I know we can do more and do better.

Open up your work as much as you can. Draw on the many, many intelligent people doing work in the field. Educate yourself and others about the value that open source can bring to your institution. Mentor someone new, even if you’re shy. Connect with the community and treat your fellow contributors with respect.Who knows?

You may get an open source failure like me to contribute to your project.

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Numbers are not enough: Why I will only attend conferences with explicitly enforceable Codes of Conduct and a commitment to accessibility

I recently had a bad experience at a programming workshop where I was the only woman in attendance and eventually had to leave early out of concern for my safety.

Having to repeatedly explain the situation to a group of men who promised me that “they were working on fixing this community” was not only degrading, but also unnecessary. I was shuttled to three separate people, eventually receiving some of my money back approximately a month later (which was all I asked for) along with promises and placating statements about “improvement.”

What happened could have been prevented: each participant signed a “Code of Conduct” that was buried in the payment for the workshop, but there was no method of enforcement and nowhere to turn when issues arose.

At one point while I was attempting to resolve the issue, this community’s Project Manager told me, “Three other women signed up, but they dropped out at the last minute because they had to work. It was very strange and unexpected that you were the only woman.” I felt immediately silenced. The issue is not numbers, but instead inviting people to safe spaces and building supportive structures where people feel welcomed and not marginalized. Increasing the variety of people involved in an event is certainly a step, but it is only part of the picture. I realize now that the board members of this organization were largely embarrassed, but they could have handled my feelings in a way where I didn’t feel like their “future improvements” were silencing my very real current concerns.

Similarly, I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation I had with some members of the German Python community a few months ago. Someone told me that Codes of Conduct are an American hegemonic device and that introducing the idea of abuse opens the community up for it, particularly in places that do not define “diversity” in the same way as Americans. This was my first exposure to this argument, and it definitely gave me a lot of food for thought, though I adamantly disagree.

In my opinion, the open-source tech community is a multicultural community and organizers and contributors have the responsibility to set their rules for participation. Mainstream Western society, which unfortunately dictates many of the social rules on the Internet, does a bad job teaching people how to interact with one another in a positive and genuine way, and going beyond “be excellent to one another, we’re all friends here!” argument helps us participate in a way in which people feel safe both on and off the Web.

At a session at the Open Knowledge Festival this week, we were discussing accessibility and realized that the Code of Conduct (called a “User Guide”) was not easily located and many participants were probably not aware of its existence. The User Guide is quite good: it points to other codes of conduct, provides clear enforcement, and emphasizes collaboration and diversity.

At the festival, accessibility was not addressed in any kind of cohesive manner: the one gender-neutral bathroom in the huge space was difficult to find, sessions were loud and noisy and often up stairs, making it impossible for anyone with any kind of hearing or mobility issue to participate, and finally, the conference organizers did not inform participants that food would not be free, causing the conference’s ticket price to increase dramatically in an expensive neighborhood in Berlin.

In many ways, I’m conflating two separate issues here (accessibility and behavior of participants at an event.) I would counter that creating a safe space is not only about behavior on the part of the participants, but also on the part of the conference organizers. Thinking about how participants interact at your event not only has to do with how people interact with one another, but also how people interact with the space. A commitment to accessibility and “diversity” hinges upon more than words and takes concerted and long term action. It may mean choosing a smaller venue or limiting the size of the conference, but it’s not impossible, and incredibly important. It also doesn’t have to be expensive!  A small hack that I appreciated at Ada Camp and Open Source Bridge was a quiet chill out room. Being able to escape from the hectic buzz was super appreciated.

Ashe Dryden writes compellingly about the need for better Codes of Conduct and the impetus to not only have events be a reflection of what a community looks like, but also where they want to see them go. As she writes,

I worry about the conferences that are adopting codes of conduct without understanding that their responsibility doesn’t end after copy/pasting it onto their site. Organizers and volunteers need to be trained about how to respond, need to educate themselves about the issues facing marginalized people attending their events, and need to more thoughtfully consider their actions when responding to reports.

Dryden’s  Code of Conduct 101 and FAQ should be required reading for all event organizers and Community Managers. Codes of Conduct remove the grey areas surrounding appropriate and inappropriate behavior and allow groups to set the boundaries for what they want to see happening in their communities. In my opinion, there should not only be a Code of Conduct, but also an accessibility statement that collaboratively outlines what the organizers are doing to make the space accessible and inclusive and addresses and invites concerns and edits.  In her talk at the OKFestival, Penny pointed out that accessibility and inclusion actually makes things better for everyone involved in an event. As she said, “No one wants to sit in a noisy room! For you, it may be annoying, but for me it’s impossible.”

Diversity is not only about getting more women in the room, it is about thinking intersectionally and educating oneself so that all people feel welcome regardless of class, race, physicality, or level of education. I’ve had the remarkable opportunity to go to conferences all over the world this year, and the spaces that have made an obvious effort to think beyond “We have 50% women speakers!” are almost immediately obvious. I felt safe and welcomed at Open Source Bridge and Ada Camp. From food I could actually eat to lanyards that indicated comfort with photography to accessibility lanes, the conference organizers were thoughtful, available, and also kind enough that I could approach them if I needed anything or wanted to talk.

From now on, unless I’m presented a Code of Conduct that is explicit in its enforcement, defines harassment in a comprehensive manner, makes accessibility a priority, and provides trained facilitators to respond to issues, you can count me out of your event.

We can do better in protecting our friends and communities, but change can only begin internally. I am a Community Manager because we get together to educate ourselves and each other as a collaborative community of people from around the world. We should feel safe in the communities of practice that we choose, whether that community is the international Python community, or a local soccer league, or a university. We have the power to change our surroundings and our by extension our future, but it will take a solid commitment from each of us.

Events will never be perfect, but I believe that at least in this respect, we can come damn close.

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about:Mozilla: more than just a newsletter

“The about:Mozilla newsletter reaches 70,000 people?” I asked Larissa Shapiro incredulously in March when she suggested that our team assist in reviving the dormant newsletter. Indeed, with about:Mozilla, we have the opportunity to reach the inboxes of 70,000 potential contributors, all of whom have already expressed interest in learning more about our work. Though the newsletter is several years old, the revamp focuses on contribution and community. Its renewal has been a boon for our team and helped us continue working both cross-functionally and with our contributor base.

Spreading the Mozilla mission by connecting at scale is one of next quarter’s goals, and the about:Mozilla newsletter is a unique and dynamic way for us to do so. The about:Mozilla newsletter brings us back to our roots: We are seeking out the best in contribution activities and delighting a large community of motivated, excited people who love our products, projects and mission. As our Recognition Working Group asserts: “People contribute to Mozilla because they believe in our message.” The newsletter brings that message to new contributors and reminds casual contributors what they can do for Mozilla.

Reinvigorating the newsletter was a high priority for the Community Building team in Q2 and its success and consistency speaks to the continued collaboration between Community Building and Engagement to create a fantastic, contributor-led newsletter. We’ve released four newsletters since May, and found that with each issue we continue to find our voice, empower new contributions, and seek out relevant, highly engaged channels for new contributors to get involved at scale. The newsletter team, which consists of myself, Jan Bambach, Brian King, Jessilyn Davis, and Larissa Shapiro, seek to provide readers the best opportunities to volunteer across Mozilla.

The easy, digestible, and fun opportunities in the newsletter have been identified by a variety of teams, and every week we present more chances to connect. We’ve given contributors the tools to contribute in a variety of functional areas, from Maker Party to Security to Marketplace to Coding. We have yet to be sure of our return on investment: the newsletter is new and our tracking system is still limited in terms of how we identify new contributions across the organization, but we are excited to see this continue to scale in Q3. We hope to become a staple in the inboxes of contributors and potential contributors around the world.

Our click rates are stable and at industry average with approximately 25% of subscribers opening the newsletter, and our bounce rate is very low. We are working together to improve the quality and click rate for our community news and updates as well as featuring a diverse set of Mozilla contributors from a variety of different contribution areas. Though our current click rate is at 3%, we’re fighting for at least 6% and the numbers have been getting incrementally better.

Identifying bite-sized contribution activities across the organization continues to be a struggle from week to week. We keep our ears open for new opportunities, but would like more teams to submit through our channels in order to identify diverse opportunities. Though we put out a call for submissions at the bi-monthly Grow meeting, we find it difficult to track down teams with opportunities to engage new Mozillians. Submissions remain low despite repeated reminders and outreach.

My favorite part of the newsletter is definitely our “Featured Contributor” section. We’ve featured people from four countries (the United States, China, India, and the Phillipines,) and told their varied and inspirational stories. People are excited to be featured in the newsletter, and we are already getting thank you emails and reposts about this initiative. Thank you also to all the contributors who have volunteered to be interviewed!

I’d like to encourage all Mozillians to help, and here are some easy things that you can do to help us connect at scale:

Here is what I would like to see in the next quarter:

  • I’d like to see our click rate increase to 8%. I’ve been reading a lot about online newsletters, and we have email experts like Jessilyn Davis on our team, so I think that this can be done.

  • The name about:Mozilla is no longer descriptive, and we would like to discuss a name change to about:Community by the end of the year.

  • I will set up a system for teams to provide feedback on whether or not the newsletter brought in new contributors. Certain teams have done this well: the MoFo Net Neutrality petition from last week contained analytics that tracked if the signature came from the newsletter. (Security-minded folks: I can say honestly that it tracked nothing else!)

  • I would like to see the newsletter and other forms of Engagement become a pathway for new contributors. This newsletter cannot happen without the incredible work of Jan Bambach, a motivated and long-time volunteer from Germany, but I’d love to see others getting involved too. We have a link at the bottom of the page that encourages people to Get Involved, but I think we can do more. The newsletter provides a pathway that can help contributors practice writing for the web, learn about news and marketing cycles, and also learn to code in html. A few more hands would provide a variety of voices.

  • I will continue to reach out to a variety of teams in new and creative ways to encourage diverse submissions and opportunities. The form seems to be underutilized, and there are definitely other ways to do outreach to teams across the organization.
  • Eventually, I’d love to see the newsletter translated into other languages besides English!

While the newsletter is only a part of what we do, it has become a symbol for me of how a small group of motivated people can reboot a project to provide consistent quality to an increasingly large supporter base. The about:Mozilla newsletter is not only a success for the Community Building Team, it’s a success for the whole organization because it helps us get the word out about our wonderful work.

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On working open in a closed world

At Mozilla, we talk a lot about how working in the open can benefit our communities. As Mozillians, we come from a lot of different backgrounds and experience levels in terms of “openness,” and have blogged and blogged and blogged about this subject, trying to fight “community debt” and keep people active and involved using open processes to collaboration. As David Boswell pointed out at a recent talk,  a lot of this is the expanding nature of our communities; while he was able to reach out to one or two people when he wanted to get involved fifteen years ago, now there are hundreds of listservs and tools and thousands of people to engage with.

At Ada Camp this weekend, I had a wonderful conversation with other feminists about hospitality and its absence in many communities. Working open is, for me, a form of hospitality. When we use phrases like “Designing for Participation,” we are actually inviting people into our work and then gifting it to them, asking them to share in our creativity, and using the power of the collective “hive” mind in order to create something beautiful, functional, and delightful. We should be continuing to embrace this gift economy, recognizing contributors in ways that they both want, and in perhaps less tangible ways.

There’s a section of the book The Ethical Slut (pardon the title) that I’ve always loved. The authors propose that love and affection in our society is engaged a mythical “starvation economy” and claim that many of us have been conditioned since childhood to “fight for whatever we get, often in cutthroat competition with our brothers and sisters.” They assert that people who believe in starvation economics are often possessive of their work, friends, and things, believing that anything they get has to come from “a small pool of not-enough” and has to be taken from someone else. Further, anything that they have can only be taken from them rather than shared.

I believe that creativity can be conceived of in a similar fashion. If there’s anything that working for Mozilla has taught me, it is that there are always enough (usually too many!) ideas to go around. Embracing creativity as a collaborative process is central to our ethos, and working “default open” should not just be about the final work, it should be also about the journey to get there. Inviting people to provide input into the story as well as the final product will not only make our events, projects, and products better, it will inspire a new kind of work and motivate our communities to find their impact because they have a say in the projects and products they love.

While making project pages public, inviting volunteers to meetings and workweeks, and using public forums rather than personal emails are a start to working in the open, there is still so much more that we can be doing to ensure that a multitude of voices are included in our process. We can learn a lot from other open source communities, but I would posit that we can also be learning from activist communities, non-profits, corporate trainings, and others. We’ve already begun with our speaker series “Learning from other non-profits,” but I look forward to seeing how much more we can do. Breaking down the silos can help us empower and grow our communities in ways we didn’t think possible.

As the community building team asserts,

Mozilla has reached the limits of unplanned, organic community growth.

For many people, one-on-one and personal interaction is the most important part of community, and until we create processes for creating and maintaining these connections as well as systems for mediating the inevitable conflicts that arise within communities working together toward a common goal, we have failed as advocates and community builders.

To that end, I am working with my colleagues to bring process-based solutions into conversation and indeed into the structure of the organization. From Mozilla “guides” who will help contributors find their way in an increasingly confusing contributor landscape to training in non-violent communication and consensus, we want to provide our communities open solutions that make them want to continue contributing and creatively collaborating together. We can do other things as well, like running exciting meetings with innovative structures, providing fun tasks to volunteers, and keeping personal connections vivid and electric with possibility.

On holidays, many Jews traditionally open the door and make a plate for any person who has no place to go. Reinterpreting that for our own creative processes, I would say that we should open the door and leave a place in our work for new people and new ideas because, as we have seen, there is enough. There is always enough.

 

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