Meeting with the Dutch Mozilla Community

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A few weeks ago, I attended the first official meetup of the Dutch Mozilla community.

THE DUTCH MOZILLA COMMUNITY IS SPECIAL

The Dutch Mozilla community is somewhat special: we’ve been around for quite some time, but – up until now – have not been as active as some of the other Mozilla communities. In fact, this meeting is the first time I’ve met most of our members face to face, despite the fact that most of us have been active contributors for years!

There are a couple of reasons why our community has not been as active so far. First of all, the Dutch community is still relatively small. The Netherlands being a small country, after all (our total population is barely twice that of the bay area), means that the pool of potential contributors is smaller as well.

Secondly, not too long ago almost all of our members were involved with localization. You can’t expect localizers to have a deep understanding of how Firefox work under the hood, to attend lots of conferences, give technical talks, etc. Developers are much better suited for that role, and it has only been a couple of years since Mozilla has started to hire developers in the Netherlands in earnest.

Lastly, despite (or maybe because of) the fact my country is small, people have a different sense of distance here than say people in the US. Back there, 30 minutes is considered a short drive. Over here, anything taking longer than 30 minutes to reach is considered a long distance away. This makes us reluctant to attend events on the other side of the country (popular belief notwithstanding, not all of us live in Amsterdam ;-))

THE DUTCH MOZILLA COMMUNITY HAS A LOT OF POTENTIAL

Times are changing, however. Over the past few years, our community has been growing at a slow but steady rate. More importantly, the ratio of developers to non-developers is increasing as well. The combination of these two factors means there is a lot of untapped potential within the Dutch Mozilla community.

Bas Schouten, one of my Dutch colleagues, and a developer on the graphics team, recognised this, so he sent out an e-mail in which he proposed to organise a meetup. Brian King, our community manager in Europe, followed up on this by getting a small group of us together at FOSDEM earlier this year, where the final plans for the meetup were made.

We decided to organise the meetup in Utrecht, due to its central location and good accessibility. The good folks at Seats2Meet were kind enough to provide us with a meeting space:

The goal of the meetup was simple: figure out how the Dutch Mozilla community can do better. There is a lot we can do to increase awareness of Mozilla and our mission under the general public, and the developer community in particular. In addition, we can do a lot better in our attempts to gain new local contributors.

THE FIRST HALF OF THE DAY: TEAM BUILDING EXERCISES

The first half of the day consisted mostly of team building exercises. I was unsure what to expect of this at first (being an antisocial jerk, I generally detest team building. I also hate dancing and singing). However, it turned out to be really useful: it gave everyone a good idea of each other’s opinion on the state of our community.

One thing that really struck me was that a lot of people seemed to think our community isn’t welcoming enough to newcomers. This particularly hit home because I think this is a problem with Mozilla in general (maybe we’re hiring too many antisocial jerks). Though the situation has improved a lot since I started out, it is still too hard for newcomers to start contributing.

In general, I think we as individuals should put a lot more effort in encouraging and coaching new contributors. When someone finally makes the decision they want to contribute to Mozilla, the first few weeks are crucial. It is very easy to get discouraged during that time, either because you don’t know where to start, how to fix something if it doesn’t work, who to ask questions if you get stuck, etc.

If a new contributor gets discouraged, he’s likely to leave forever. Over time, that’s a huge loss. If they would have had someone to help them get started, point them to the right people when they have questions, or simply listen to their frustrations and try to resolve the problem, they might not have left, and we might have gained a valuable contributor for years.

All we need to do is put in the effort to help these people out, rather than leave them on their own. It really doesn’t take that much time, and I’m personally convinced that the pay off is worth it. I am committed to this, so I’ve decided to put myself not the forward list for people who express interest in contributing via our local website.

My hope is that I can present these people with a friendly face. Right now all these people are getting is an auto-reply e-mail. This is great if you’re committed to presenting yourself as a big faceless organisation, but that’s not what Mozilla is about. We can, and *should* do better than that.

THE SECOND HALF OF THE DAY: DISCUSSING STRATEGIES

The second half of the day consisted more of brainstorming and discussing strategies for improving our community. What I mostly took away from this is that we have to do better where it comes to establishing a presence for Mozilla at conferences, events, etc. The Netherlands has a vibrant and active web developer community, with several large annual events, such as Kings of Code, Mobilism, etc. We currently have no presence at any of these.

It’s critically important that we improve the visibility of Mozilla in the Netherlands. Competitors such as Google have put large amount of funds into local marketing campaigns for their browser. The Chrome logo is visible everywhere I go, from bus stops to television ads. The Firefox logo does not command the same amount of mass-awareness. We *need* to do better.

Since we can’t simply outspend the likes of Google on marketing, the only way we can improve our visibility is by relying on the community to promote our brand. There are several ways to accomplish this. The most obvious one I already mentioned: being present at events. Having a booth at the large conferences goes a long way, but it’s even more important to have speakers present. Speakers carry the Mozilla message to the outside world, and direct people to your booth in the process.

There are many other things we can do, besides conferences. In light of our goal of gaining more contributors, I’m enthusiastic about the idea of organising workshops or hackathons for web developers, and app developers in particular. I believe these would be a great way to promote Firefox, primarily because of our developer tools.

The devtools team has done a really awesome job. I believe our developer tools are now as good as, if not better than those of other browsers. This situation was very different only a short while ago, so many people who have become disappointed by Firefox and switched to another browser might not be aware how much better we have gotten since then. And what better way to showcase our developer tools than a workshop?

We also discussed whether it would make sense to organise workshops around Firefox OS. However, we quickly decided against it, because Firefox OS phones won’t be available in the Netherlands any time soon. On the other hand, workshops centred around mobile app development would be a great opportunity to promote Firefox OS.

The number of apps for Firefox is still relatively small. On the other hand we have a very large user base, so there are many opportunities here for mobile app developers. The message that you can make money developing for Firefox OS is an important one, and we would do well to drive it home.

CONCLUSION

The above things is what I mainly took away from our meetup. Overall, I think our it was extremely useful that we got together. Now, all we have to do is follow up on what we discussed. Like I said before, I am personally very excited about coaching new contributors and organising workshops. I would also love to speak more often at Dutch conferences.

Of course, we all have busy schedules, so it’s likely that not everything we want to do will materialize. However, as an open organisation committed to the idea of open source we have a responsibility to put ourselves out there, so I’m hoping we’ll see a lot more of each other in the months to come.

The are many other topics we discussed, but since I wasn’t directly involved with those, I don’t have as much to say about them. I’d like to wrap up by thanking Brian King and Tim van den Broek for their efforts in making this event happen. Furthermore, I would like to thank Alex Lakatos for coming along and moderating the brainstorm sessions. We could not have been effective without you, Alex. Thanks!

Last, but not least, a big thank you to everyone from the Dutch Mozilla community for being there in your free time. I had a great time meeting you all, and I hope to see you again at our next meetup!

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