Local communities, always the same faces?

This post will probably end up as a stream of disconnected thoughts more than a well structured analysis, but it’s something that has bothered me for months and it’s quite difficult to choose a starting point and not to get lost in the middle.

The problem is easy: is your local Mozilla community growing? If not, what are you doing to involve new people in the project?

I started contributing to the Italian community at the very beginning of 2004 (the community was just born), trying to help other people as a simple user on the local support forum.  Soon I became a moderator and then an administrator of the forum, after that I started working also on localization: first the integrated Firefox help, then web projects (Mozilla Europe, AMO) and now also software products (Firefox and Fennec).

It’s more than five years of active contribution to the Italian community. Why? Since I liked what Mozilla was (is) giving to me for free – Firebird and Mozilla Suite at that time – I wanted to give something back to the project: since I’m not a programmer but an advanced user, fond of my language, I contributed with support and localization.

If that was possible for me and a lot of the current contributors of the Italian community, why is so difficult to involve new people? Not counting that older contributors can stop helping for different reasons (personal, work, change of priorities), while the number of projects to maintain keeps growing.

Here’s a lot of questions, very few answers.

  • Is this a specific problem of the Italian community? For what I see on the mailing lists (dev.l10n and dev.l10n.web), I don’t recognize a lot of new names, so I’m thinking that maybe it’s a problem also for other wide communities.
  • Is this a specific Mozilla problem? Maybe the Mozilla project, seen from the outside, seems too big or too complex, and people interested in free software and Open Source choose to invest their time in contributing to smaller projects?
  • People got used to “having things for free” and don’t even think about contributing?
  • They don’t know how to contribute, or even that they can do it?

Honestly, for what I saw in the last year I’m not very confident about the future and that’s why I keep asking to myself: how can we change this trend? Looking forward to discussing these issues during the upcoming community-meeting :-)

Technorati Tags:

11 thoughts on “Local communities, always the same faces?

  1. @mardeg

    Well, it could be a first step: that page would be perfect, since it explains what Mozilla is, our work and our structure, in alternative we could use a localizable page hosted on mozilla.com.

    Another thing I’m always thinking about is: how can we make Firefox users aware that they can contribute to the localization work (for example notifying errors)? Right now I feel like this information is a bit too hidden.

  2. I agree with you, something is wrong with us, and we don’t give enough motivation to new contributors. Every community should put some focus on recruiting new contributors, and getting them involved in the communities around the globe.

  3. Ciao Francesco :)
    Thanks for rising these questions.
    As an already “senior” translator contributor, I share most of your thoughts and doubts, and I can tell you in projects like BabelZilla we have the same concern for turn over and recruitment of new contributors.
    I assume it is not Mozilla specific, but it is likely Mozilla community can help to make things running better.
    I just cannot say what the solution is for sure, but yes we shall discuss things next week :)

  4. Hi Francesco,

    I don’t think it’s only a matter of the Italian community. For instance, we would like our community to grow larger as well. I feel we are quite better now than some time in the past, but not as well as I would like to, despite we are not potentially so large community as others could be.

    Understanding Mozilla (and specially what to do) may not be easy at first, since there are many projects and sometimes some background prerequisites (technical, organisational, etc.) which might not be obvious before starting to collaborate, and even after collaborating for some time.

    IMHO, an important task a local community should tackle would be pointing to future contributors which are the priorities and where they can find the most relevant information.
    This kind of tasks, accompanied with guiding and supporting newcomers are key aspects for making your community grow. But, as you surely know, it’s also usually exhausting, and sometimes can be frustrating to realise some volunteers may abandon. Anyway, you must cope with this and learn how to attract people without getting extremely tired with this kind of processes.

    A local meetup can be a nice opportunity to discuss these issues among present community members.
    Commenting and “adapting” what
    Contribute Mozilla says to your own local reality can be a nice approach.

  5. IMHO, an important task a local community should tackle would be pointing to future contributors which are the priorities and where they can find the most relevant information.

    I absolutely agree with you on this point. In fact, during the last redesign of our site we created a series of documents explaining how we work and how to contribute. See for example the page linked in Mardeg’s comment, or the other pages inside the “Contribute” section (“Collabora” in Italian).

    We also decided to manage the QA work (web pages, software, SUMO) in public using a specific section of the support forum. The aim is simple: show people how we work and try to involve them. Unfortunately, this is (still) not producing results.

  6. It’s really great that you’ve brought this up and I’ve had similiar thoughts and concerns.

    Like most people, I became an instant and passionate fan when I discovered Firefox and if it wasn’t for either the “Promote Firefox” option in Firefox 1.0’s Help menu, or the “Get Involved – Help spread Firefox!” bookmark (not sure which one), I may have never discovered the world of Mozilla.
    I too am not a programmer and also like you, I wanted to give back for what I was getting for free and join others who were as pumped up and excited about Firefox as I was. I’d have to say that if it wasn’t for that link in Fx 1.0, I would have never learned about Mozilla’s need for help, their other projects and products, the absolutely awesome people in its communities, or about their reason for existing in the first place.

    We see new people going into MoCo but from my experience, not so much in Mozilla’s communities and many new Mozilla related communities are comprised of the same people who have gotten together to create new ones.

    It all comes down to outreach. If Mozilla wants new contributors (which we know that it does), It just needs to make a greater effort to recruit more people and get them psyched about getting involved.
    There’s no reason why a Get Involved link can’t be added to Firefox similiar to the Promote Firefox one that was in 1.0 and have it linked to the Mozilla Community page (still in the works I believe http://contribute.mozilla.org/Mozilla_Community) and have that same link placed on all official and related Mozilla sites. I’ve commented that I’d really like to see the new Mozilla.org highlight and focus on recruitment for developers and business partners and for volunteers to help with localization, help and support, testing etc and I do hope that happens instead of the focus being on just individual projects.

    The amazing and growing adoption of Firefox is generating thousands of potential new Mozilla Project contributors daily and that is simply not being utilized. My best guess would be that people just aren’t aware of the need and opportunities for them to get involved. People do want to get involved though. They want to be a part of Firefox. I see it all of the time on Spread Firefox and if they were made aware that they are needed and can significantly contribute other than just adding a Firefox button to their sites, then perhaps we’d see more new faces.

  7. @ken
    Thanks a ton for sharing your ideas :-)

    It all comes down to outreach. If Mozilla wants new contributors (which we know that it does), It just needs to make a greater effort to recruit more people and get them psyched about getting involved.

    You’re absolutely right.

    In the last period Mozilla is stressing the importance of releasing a new version of Firefox in more than 70 languages at the same time, and praises local communities’ efforts for this result. Even if Mozilla’s acknowledgement of local communities has grown a lot if the last years (for example, think about the l10n-drivers or the whole logistical and technical support involved in the l10n-building process), Mozilla should understand that local communities have limited resources and try to help them (us) growing.

  8. Pingback: Mozilla Italia & SUMO in Geneva @ Yet Another Tech Blog