As I’m posting this, MozCamp LatAm is about to begin in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But what’s a MozCamp, and why does this matter?
In order to answer this question, let’s start with a more general question: how do you get a distributed community of contributors to work together? If Mozilla was a company producing proprietary software, things would be easy. To produce Firefox, Thunderbird and all the rest, we would rent an office, hire people locally and start working. But Mozilla is very different from such a company. It’s a global community of people with a thing in common: the Mozilla Mission, as described in the Mozilla Manifesto. We produce free and open source software as a community which wants to make the Internet experience better for all of us. This means that we welcome people from all over the world; some volunteers, some paid staff. One thing is certain: we can’t ask each of them to move to a single, central location.
The Internet helps a lot to work together on a global scale. We have technical tools that enable us to cooperate globally, some are classics like Wikis and IRC (Instant Messaging), some are tools developed by Mozilla such as Bugzilla, which helps us to manage software development. We recently added video for conferences, on top of phone calls, mailing lists and newsgroups. All these tools are amazing and support cooperation on a global scale, but they’re limited. Anyone with some experience could explain at length how hard it is to communicate electronically, and how easy it is to fall into endless arguments over a detail, much more than in person, for sure.
MozCamps started in Europe a dozen years ago, even if they had a different name at that time. They are essential for Mozilla to work properly as a project, as they bring the in-person dimension to the Mozilla project. For communication, meeting in person makes a huge difference, for several reasons:
- It’s a high-bandwidth channel or, to put things in a less geeky way, you can exchange a lot faster (and better) in person, seeing the body language, and pointing at something on a screen while you talk.
- It’s an opportunity to have a good time together. While we certainly all like to party, there is also a good reason to have fun together. My personal opinion is it’s much harder to disagree with someone if you have shared a beer (or any beverage, even non-alcoholic) or food earlier with the same person. And if you had difficult discussions in the past with someone else in the community, meeting in person and doing something together is a great way to patch things up.
- Networking within the community. It’s amazing how having many people in a single place, with a sense of urgency as time is limited, can make you meet with folks that share interests with you but you never have heard of until someone introduces you to him or her. It’s intense and exhilarating.
- It’s a place to experience the energy that everyone brings to the group. One can feel very lonely in front of his computer, so spending time as a group is a great opportunity to re-energize each other as we get inspired by others within the community.
While I won’t be able to attend MozCamp in Buenos Aires, I envy my fellow Mozillians, the 150 or so of them, coming from Spain, the US and Latin America, who will experience Mozcamp LatAm. My advice to them? Have fun, work hard, and enjoy the energy!