Why Do People Join and Stay Part Of a Community (and How to Support Them)

Sean Bolton


[This post is inspired by notes from a talk by Douglas Atkin (currently at AirBnB) about his work with cults, brands and community.]

We all go through life feeling like we are different. When you find people that are different the same way you are, that’s when you decide to join.

As humans, we each have a unique self narrative: “we tell ourselves a story about who we are, what others are like, how the world works, and therefore how one does (or does not) belong in order to maximize self.” We join a community to become more of ourselves – to exist in a place where we feel we don’t have to self-edit as much to fit in.

A community must have a clear ideology – a set of beliefs about what it stands for – a vision of the world as it should be rather than how it is, that aligns with what we believe. Communities form around certain ways of thinking first, not around products. At Mozilla, this is often called “the web we want” or ‘the web as it should be.’

When joining a community people ask two questions: 1) Are they like me? and 2) Will they like me? The answer to these two fundamental human questions determine whether a person will become and stay part of a community. In designing a community it is important to support potential members in answering these questions – be clear about what you stand for and make people feel welcome. The welcoming portion requires extra work in the beginning to ensure that a new member forms relationships with people in the community. These relationships keep people part of a community. For example, I don’t go to a book club purely for the book, I go for my friends Jake and Michelle. Initially, the idea of a book club attracted me but as I became friends with Jake and Michelle, that friendship continually motivated me to show up. This is important because as the daily challenges of life show up, social bonds become our places of belonging where we can recharge.

Source: Douglas Atkin, The Glue Projecy

Source: Douglas Atkin, The Glue Project

These social ties must be mixed with doing significant stuff together. In designing how community members participate, a very helpful tool is the community commitment curve. This curve describes how a new member can invest in low barrier, easy tasks that build commitment momentum so the member can perform more challenging tasks and take on more responsibility. For example, you would not ask a new member to spend 12 hours setting up a development environment just to make their first contribution. This ask is too much for a new person because they are still trying to figure out ‘are the like me?’ and ‘will they like me?’ In addition, their sense of contribution momentum has not been built – 12 hours is a lot when your previous task is 0 but 12 is not so much when your previous was 10.

The community commitment curve is a powerful tool for community builders because it forces you to design the small steps new members can take to get involved and shows structure to how members take on more complex tasks/roles – it takes some of the mystery out! As new members invest small amounts of time, their commitment grows, which encourages them to invest larger amounts of time, continually growing both time and commitment, creating a fulfilling experience for the community and the member. I made a template for you to hack your own community commitment curve.

Social ties combined with a well designed commitment curve, for a clearly defined purpose, is powerful combination in supporting a community.

[Post originally appeared on Sean Bolton's blog.]

Grow Mozilla discussion this Thursday



If you’re interested in helping new people get involved with Mozilla, join us Thursday for an open community building forum.

Firefox 31 New Contributors



With the upcoming release of Firefox 31, we are pleased to welcome the 62 developers who contributed their first code change to Firefox in this release, 49 of whom were brand new volunteers! Special thanks to Sezen Günes for compiling these statistics for this release. Please join us in thanking each of these diligent and enthusiastic individuals, and take a look at their contributions:

Wiki Working Group launches Mozilla Wiki User Survey



The Mozilla Wiki User Survey launched yesterday! This survey is designed to gain insight at who is using the Mozilla Wiki (aka WikiMo) and how. The survey will be up until 21 July 2014 at 12pm PT (17:00 UTC).

Since its formation in March 2014, the Wiki Working Group has been focusing on ways to improve WikiMo, making it more accessible and easier to document and share work. While much progress has been made including the elimination of spam accounts, it is imperative that we capture a snapshot of current wiki users and their usage in order to continue forward.

A survey will benefit us in several ways:

  • We will get a glimpse at the types of contributors——paid or volunteer——and users interacting with the wiki.
  • WWG will receive feedback from the community on what types of support will improve their wiki experience.
  • Reveal patterns of usage that will inform development of best practices and education materials about the wiki.

If you haven’t, please fill out the survey and share it with other Mozillians.

Grow Mozilla discussion this Thursday



If you’re interested in helping new people get involved with Mozilla, join us Thursday for an open community building forum.

Mozilla brings Indian communities together twice in one month



This is a guest post from Subhashish Panigrahi from the Mozilla India community.

Mozilla, in the process of putting its best effort on people that make it, has organized two larger and national events in India: Indic FirefoxOS L10n Sprint 2014 and MozCamp Beta – India. The first is being a more implementation based sprint with the goal to motivate Indic language localization teams to translate strings for its upcoming Firefox OS based $25 phone where the second one was an event for meeting mentors, planning for the future and strategizing Mozilla’s mission in India.

Indic FirefoxOS L10n Sprint 2014 was held at Redhat’s Pune office during 7 – 8 June. This was the first time 13 Indic language communities came under one roof to translate interface strings together, says Mozilla’s Community Manager Arky. During the two day sprint most language communities with the strength of 2 – 4 members each completed more than 40% of the localizations that will appear as interface strings for Firefox OS, an upcoming operating system for mobiles and tablets. Mozilla, after releasing its developer test phones starting with GeeksPhone Keon in April last year also started thinking of the mobile users from the emerging nations leaving the west for Android, iOS and Windows 8. Bringing cheaper phones to people with an interface of their own language could help to make phones more smarter for common users. Assamese, Bangla, Hindi, Gujarati, Maithili, Malayalam, Marathi, Kannada, Odia, Punjabi, Telugu, Tamil and Urdu are the 13 language communities that took part in the event.

The other event, MozCamp Beta – India was aimed to bring core contributors form the multiple communities housed under the Mozilla umbrella and engage with them in a participatory and learning mode. Staffers from Mozilla who are responsible for various projects and products together with these contributors spent three days (20 – 22 June) building strategies for best practices for recruiting new contributors, mentoring them and sustaining the communities in a long run. The project page says, “MozCamp Beta is an experiment. This is the first time Mozilla is testing how to train contributors to bring in more contributors across the project.” Mozilla’s core product Firefox browser’s expanding wing Firefox OS was the center of attention. Mozilla has tied up with two Indian brands Spice and Intex to produce these phones that are expected to be around $25 revolutionizing the smartphone world and breaking the stereotype of having smartphones in the hands of them who could afford them. Some of the sessions during the event were also aimed to break the notion of app making process being too technical. The newest web innovation Appmaker gives a user the option to create a web app and flash it into the Firefox OS device without even learning any coding. Similarly the User Centered Design process was helping users to go creating with creating their app by drawing them on papers and brainstorming about having useful functionalities in them. Three of the days ended with celebrating the success of the grand user contribution that makes Mozilla a creativity-seeking organization. “Mozilla is committed to make the web free and fun. We aim to have the maximum number of Maker parties in India this year to promote web literacy and having students to create and curate Open Educational Resources,” says Mozilla’s Global Strategist and Manager of Webmake mentor team Michelle Thorne.

Ask the community, you’ll be surprised!

Jeremie Patonnier


Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time A few month ago, on the MDN mailing list we had an interesting but highly controversial discussion: How to improve our code samples on MDN? As part of our Learning Area project, we came to the conclusion that our code samples need some improvements. Especially, we thought that providing a live interactive interface to play with the code would be a nice improvement. The discussion around that single feature just exploded: everybody coming with their pet project to explain how cool that would be to use it. Lot of passion, lot of strong beliefs. It was impossible to get any consensus or neutral point. We were in a dead end.

Even though the discussion took place on a public mailing list, only a handful of web experts and Mozilla employees were part of it. We felt like our community was put aside! So in order to get a more clean view of what was needed for the community of MDN users, we decided to ask them more directly. We simply designed a survey and asked them what they though about MDN code samples and some various way to improve them. And that was the right move… full of (good) surprises.

We advertised the survey directly on MDN with a banner at the top of each page for 3 weeks between May and June. And what a surprise, we got 950 answers! That was seriously unexpected. We would have been more than happy with 100 answers. But instead we get a true representative samples of MDN users: from beginners to experts, from occasional readers to regular contributors. Awesome! It took a while to dig into all the answers but it was worth it.

MDN Survey people

It was worth it because we got some very unexpected answers. The biggest blast was that MDN users were mostly unaware that it’s possible to simply contribute code samples on MDN. We assume so much that everybody knows MDN is a wiki that we forget it is not that obvious. So our first move will be to push harder on communication around that fact.

When it comes to improvement, again we got a very big surprise. Our code samples are considered rather good so what is the most wanted feature MDN users want to make their experience even better? Live editable code? Sharing ability through GitHub or Codepen.io? Nope! Even if they rate those features quite high, it’s far away from THE killer feature: They want code samples nicely formatted all across MDN. No kidding — it’s more important to have clear and nice code samples than complicated toy features. Simple is beautiful; we have to make sure it remains that way.

And this is consistent with the answers we got about things that could encourage contribution (beyond promoting that it’s possible to contribute). We were assuming that contributors would wish to use GitHub, Gist, JSFiddle, codepen.io, and the like as contribution points to MDN code samples (because those tools’ code contribution workflow is way more advanced and accurate than MDN). Well, again, we assumed wrong; the most wanted feature is a tool to automatically format code samples to follow MDN code style guide. MDN contributors don’t want to use third party tools; they mostly prefer that we improve the contribution workflow on MDN.

So in the end we learn quite a lot by directly asking our community. It was so helpful and accurate that we plan to do this more often. It also pushed us (MDN staff and core contributors) to rethink our assumptions regarding MDN, and it is a good thing, which could be summarized as: “Don’t assume, ask”. By creating that sort of bridge between casual users and core contributors, we will make sure MDN remains a place for everybody. Inclusiveness is not a myth but it requires making sure everybody’s voice is heard, one way or another.

If you are interested in the full results, the digest is available in PDF and the raw data are available as a Google Spreadsheet.

The Web We Want is Private: Building a global community of Privacy Contributors and Advocates through Mozilla



I’ve never actually been that good at keeping things private. I’m a talker. I’m not usually the one to keep your secret. I learned the hard way why one should be careful with passwords and privacy via a few embarrassing linkedin and twitter incidents. Despite having learned my first system administration in college in 1993 or so, I have been pretty hopeless at staying private. But. I’m learning all the time. And, increasingly, I see that privacy is about a lot more than my learning to use Last Pass correctly, or the settings on my facebook (though those are important things).  It’s actually central to all that we do online. And if I can learn the value of privacy, well, anyone can.
When we started the Community Building Team this year we chose teams to work with as partners, to help them build Mozillian community. One of the teams I chose was Privacy, and I was privileged to be partnered to work with Stacy Martin to grow the project we’ve come to call PriMo – or Privacy Mozillians. Working with the newly established Contribution Lifecycle, we brainstormed projects we’d like Mozillians to do around privacy, and we listened to people around the project’s existing ideas and needs for privacy community.Stacy: “Larissa has been a great connector for us.  She is aware of what other teams are doing and helps point us in the direction of content and ideas we can leverage.  She suggests ways to include Foundation projects, such as Webmaker and Open Badges.”We started out with a call for privacy advocates to rally around Data Privacy Day and started to collect a few contributors.  Following on his assessment of the needs of community in Utah, Mozilla L10N engineer and Rep Jeff Beatty started a program around TACMA screenings – which has been very successful and will be expanding soon to include screenings in more Mozilla spaces and in communities as far apart as Utah to Zimbabwe.
Outside organizations also have been reaching out to us for support in privacy – the National Network To End Domestic Violence asked us to develop best practices for browser privacy for survivors, and a community project is evolving. Please check out the NNEDV Browser guidelines project to learn how you can support this effort.
Throughout all our efforts, we’re also infusing educational opportunities to learn more about Privacy, and building community of privacy educators – that can be as simple as learning to teach family members how to use lightbeam over the kitchen table on a Saturday afternoon.The relevance of privacy work becomes more clear all the time. When we released Firefox 28, we did a global campaign to ask our community – the global network of Firefox Users – what kind of Web We Want. Resoundingly and around the world, they responded: the web we want is private. With the development of PriMo, and projects such as the TACMA screenings and NNEDV browser guide among many, we have the power to take that energy and enthusiasm and turn it into action – one privacy advocate at a time.I ask you to invite your privacy leaning friends and family to become privacy action takers- whether that means downloading lightbeam (or teaching someone else to),  signing our Net Neutrality petition, taking action to support our work with NNEDV, or attending (or hosting) a TACMA screening when it comes to your town…  there are many actions large and small that can add up to a strong global community of privacy advocates.

The web we want is respectful of each of our autonomy, our privacy, our data, our needs. The web we want is open to innovation and includes diverse voices. Building community for privacy means casting a wide net and calling many kinds of people together – people who have been involved with Mozilla a long time, and people who are just learning what we’re about. It will take many people together to change the culture of the web. What kind of web do you want?

Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.



With all apologies to Heinlein, being a Californian in summertime Manhattan is sort of like being a stranger in a strange land.  The heat doesn’t slow the pace everyone is fast-walking and fast-talking, all in high humidity.  It’s loud, chaotic and messy.  It’s also vibrant, beautiful and liberating.  I was in NYC June 13-19 to represent the Community Building Team at the Content Services Work Week. We were between twenty forty people in 1,000 square feet of co-working space that had a broken air conditioner.  It should have been terrible, it was the opposite.

Darren Herman and LaraFischer-Zernin made the week amazing.  The agenda showcased the projects the Team is trying out, worked collaboratively to surface new ideas, and managed to educate us about the shadowy world of online advertising without once lecturing anyone in the room.  I was impressed with the intelligence and passion of the team.  Darren clearly put deep thought into the design of work week.   He understands that people need to be brought along, not dictated to.   He and Lara did everything they could  make us welcome, comfortable and help us learn.

Despite Jishnu's expression, the ice cream really helped us stay cool.

Despite Jishnu’s expression, the ice cream really helped us stay cool.

They made New York manageable so that we could see the vibrant, the beautiful and the liberating.  They made the content manageable, so we could see past the fear of ads and understand the possibilities for disruption.  Content Services is a small but mighty team, and I’m excited to help them begin to build an open source community around their work.

I was also nervous.  The Content Services team had some rocky press when they started sharing their work, and the online advertising world is the antithesis of everything “open”. I  attended to help them take the first steps in working in the open.  Watching Darren understand the needs to his team, work tirelessly to make sure we were comfortable, and keep everyone focused, I saw a model of service leadership that helped allay my nerves.

I’ve felt like a stranger in a strange land before.  It happened the first time I had a large-scale interaction with the community a few years ago.  I realized that everything that I knew was wrong, and that I just didn’t get it.  I was lucky enough to have a tour guide in David Boswell,  so my journey to learning why we do what we do was pretty painless.   I joined David’s team to provide that same experience to others.   The Community Building Team is here to help Mozilla work effectively with the community at scale.  For groups like the Content Services Team that means we’re there to help members on the team learn about Open Source, and connect to the idea of why people do this.   We cannot assume that newer team members will just magically “get it”.

In designing my one-hour session for the team, I focused on the idea that much of the team was in a brand new culture  with a ton of expectations but limited explanations.  I knew that I couldn’t lecture them.  I had to get them to understand the why, and they had to connect with that on personal level, not just because it was their job.

I got the room warmed up by playing a game called Fortunately/Unfortunately, which is designed as a fun way to get people to share possibilities and concerns without pressuring them.   We moved to some discussion about why the team might want to work with a community.   Dia Bondi made me a funny video showcasing her first community experience at scale.

When people started to see the benefits of working in an open way with a global community,  I sent them off to be creative.  If my presentation was working they would start to create lists of opportunities where they could encourage the community to engage.

This team had a lot of ideas, and enthusiasm.

This team had a lot of ideas, and enthusiasm.

Group Brainstorm

Luckily, it was working.  They came back full of ideas and created a six page list of possibilities for opening the work up!

My strategy was this: meet them where they are, not where you want them to be .  We all started in Open Source at some point.  Not a single person working within the project at Mozilla was born knowing how to work the way we do.   We forget that, the same way New Yorkers expect everyone to walk and talk fast and woe to the person lost on the sidewalk.  When you have someone showing you where to go, and how to do it, things are better.  That was true as Darren made New York fun.  It was true for me when David patiently helped me learn.   I hope it will continue to be true for Content Services as I partner with them.

Excerpts from Darren:

“I honestly did not know what to expect with your presentation.  I didn’t think it was going to bomb, but I didn’t know how “good” it could be – also wasn’t sure how receptive most of the room was going to be towards community…

I heard some very positive feedback from the attendees.  They enjoyed the stimulation, the exercise and your energy…

What am I excited about as result of the session?

Three things:

1.  Knowing that someone like you exists in the org – not just Dia :)  Full of energy.

2.  Our entire team now has a baseline understanding of community.  Not all are experts, and neither am I , but we at least all heard the same thing at the same time… so the baseline is there.

3.  The opportunity of having community members help us in our quest towards building a great group within Mozilla…. now exactly what those community members do, say, act, participate, I’m not 100% sure… but we’ll get there.”

What’s Next?

I plan to spend July teaching them some basic concepts of openness.  We are going to work on active transparency, communication channels, the language of Mozilla and open planning.  Each week, starting July 7th the whole team will receive a short article on one of the above concepts to read then I’ll hold an open call at the end of each week where we discuss how to implement the concept in their work.

I cannot do this alone, I am looking for some people who want to act as community mentors for the group to attend the open calls and help the team design for future participation.   We will all be stronger and better from more perspective.  You can always connect with me directly, my contact info is on Mozillians.org.  Reach out if you are interested.

Once that is done we can start piloting a few areas of participation in the projects as they get off the ground.  The best part of working with this team is that it is all new, so contributors to this part of the project will be able to make an impact immediately.  I’ll be back in this space with open calls for participation.

Are you interested in learning more about the Community Building Team?

The Community Building Team is here to help! Contact us at CBT@Mozilla.com.  We are here to support your work and your team, from nascent groups like this, through the work of scale and transformation that can happen with some our more established communities.


Grow Mozilla discussion this Thursday



If you’re interested in helping new people get involved with Mozilla, join us Thursday for an open community building forum.