MDN: documentation, the Mozilla way

Tristan Nitot

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The MDN and Evangelism team in NYC

The MDN and Evangelism team in NYC

 

Last week in Brooklyn, a Mozilla meeting took place around MDN, aka the Mozilla Developer Network, the Website where the Firefox documentation is made available. But in a true Mozilla fashion (or spirit?), the documentation is free to use (of course), built in an open way, and with the open Web in mind, not for the sole benefit of Mozilla and its ecosystem. Let me elaborate:

The documentation is built collaboratively using a wiki-based system, by the community, with is comprised of volunteers and paid staff, in a way similar to Wikipedia, but on a smaller scale. This is why during our last meeting in New York City, we had a mix of employees and volunteers coming from Poland, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, Sweden, France, Canada and at least 5 different US states, no less! Volunteers are an integral part of the team and participate to weekly conference calls, sharing the same mailing lists as employees and — budget permitting — are invited, all expenses paid, to documentation in-person meetings.

The fact that the documentation is a collaborative work is bringing to it a special flavor: it’s like having advanced users (in this case Web developers) helping build the product (the documentation) they’ll be using in the real world. This is exactly how MDN has become the #1 reference for JavaScript-related topics (the fact that Brendan Eich, inventor of JavaScript, is Mozilla’s CTO did not hurt). But MDN is also becoming the reference for browser-agnostic documentation on Web development. Until recently, Web developers had to scout each browser vendor documentation to learn which feature was supported by each browser. Now, with the work of the MDN writers (paid staff and volunteers), Mozilla is hosting the documentation that all Web developers having been waiting for: a place where you can see how a feature is supposed to work, and which browsers support it.

Just like the Web, MDN is a work in progress. For now, the CSS documentation is the most successful part of the effort, with close to 100% covered for all browsers. It’s worth noting that some other browser vendors, particularly Google, are helping with the documentation effort on MDN, showing that competitors in the browser space can join forces in order to write documentation. Mozilla, with its paid staff, its community (including some competitors) is showing once again that it’s working on documentation not only about its products (like Firefox), but the whole Web, staying true to its non-profit values and its Manifesto.

Now, you could help MDN to help the Web, in different ways:

  1. If you own a Website, you could link to MDN , in order to boost its visibility and help Web developers find valuable and more actionable information, compared to vendor-specific documentation. We even have a Promote MDN wizard to help.
  2. Help localize documentation. Not all Web developers understand English, and if we want the Web to be universal and an opportunity for all, we need localized documentation. Head to our How to help page and use the ”Languages” drop down menu to get to localized versions of this page. (including French, German, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Greek, Traditional / Simplified Chinese, Japanese…)
  3. Help write documentation. We maintain a list of topics and people who could help you getting started  (You may notice that not all of them are paid staff…). In order to learn the rope, one could start by proofreading articles or write code examples.

4 responses

  1. Philippe P. wrote on ::

    Now, if MDN could just land on top of Google search results for Javascript, HTML and DOM-related queries instead of the inaccurate, error-filled and generally bad w3schools, that would be one huge achievement for the web developer community :-)

  2. Pingback from State of the Docs, March 30, 2012 ✩ Mozilla Hacks – the Web developer blog on ::

    [...] Nitot wrote a blog post describing how MDN does documentation the Mozilla way. It also gives a good summary of ways that you can help [...]

  3. vinod wrote on ::

    It is useful and there is more important thinks to learn

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