Why contribute to MDN?

Janet Swisher

A few weeks ago, I posted a some questions on the discussion group for Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) contributors (which is called dev-mdc for historical reasons).

  • If you contribute to MDN, why do you contribute? What do you get out of it? How can we help you get more of whatever you’re getting out of it?
  • If you subscribe to this list, but you don’t contribute to MDN, that’s OK too. I’d like to understand, why don’t you contribute to MDN? Why do you subscribe to the list even so? What make this list worth the effort of reading it (or ignoring it) rather than unsubscribing?

These questions seem pretty self-explanatory to me — I wanted to understand what motivates MDN contributors, so the MDN staff can support them better, and encourage more people to participate. Quite a few members responded, and the conversation was quite informative about the MDN community, and ways that Mozilla can support and enhance it.


A common theme in the motivations that contributors reported is the quality and reach that MDN already has.

[MDN] already has an audience (and has been working quite hard over the last few years on SEO and search to improve both the findability and UX), so I know the content I write will be read by an audience much larger than I could have on my blog for instance.
— David Bruant

Several people mentioned the ability to translate into one’s own language.

Translating pages corresponding to public expectations is a great motivation (“I’m useful here :)” ) [and] a great way to advertize Mozilla and say, “hey you can check this out, it’s now translated on MDN!” (Side effect: reducing the language barrier for beginners)
— Sphinx

The open license was mentioned a few times.

It’s CC-licenced, so the content is reusable in other contexts. (Dochub.io is a fantastic example of the sort of possible content reuse).
— David Bruant

Others noted that contributing to MDN is pretty easy, especially compared to some other ways to contribute to Mozilla.

I also feel that it has a fairly low barrier for “casual” contribution although I am not sure how common knowledge that is. There are no build or source management rituals and several relatively quick tasks seem like time well spent.
— Scott Michaud


The benefits that people get from contributing to MDN are mostly intangible. Several mentioned learning in the process of contributing.

When localizing the articles, I personally also am being benefited as I have to go through a lot of articles and understand them, so I’m learning everyday.
— Shafiul Azam

Some mentioned the community around MDN, and the people who comprise it.

It has been a way to meet interesting people. I heard [that] Jimmy Wales said about the Wikipedia Community, “The type of people who were drawn to writing an encyclopedia for fun tend to be pretty smart people.” I think this can also be said for MDN contributors.
— Thierry Regagnon

And finally, there are the positive feelings (pride, satisfaction of back giving to others) from contributing.

Even making small corrections or additions in a page gives me satisfaction and seeing my name listed in “Contributors to this page” gives me immense pride.
— Saurabh Nair

Why not contribute?

In the few responses from people who do not currently contribute to MDN, to biggest common factor was lack of time.

I want to support this project with sweat equity, so I keep an eye on the mailing list as a way to remind myself to dig in once I have the opportunity again.
— Dan Scott

Requests and suggestions

People who responded to my query had a number of requests and suggestions for ways to better support contributors.

  • Support for events to promote MDN and draw in new contributors
  • Better support for remote participation in meetings
  • Better localization tools, and information about which pages most need translation into a given locale
  • Reputation points or some other system system to give recognition to contributors
  • Mentorship for new contributors
  • Better communication and collaboration with engineering teams whose features are being documented

Some of these ideas require changes to the MDN platform and others are human changes. Either way, some changes can be made very quickly, and others will take some time. For example, to give recognition to contributors, the MDN development team has implemented support for Open Badges. The harder part is defining what badges to give, to ensure that they are significant and motivating to contributors. Improved localization tools is one of the most-desired features for MDN. We’ll be sending out a survey very soon to find out more details about localizers’ needs and preferences.

Many thanks to everyone who participated in this discussion (even if I wasn’t able to include your words here). It was tremendously valuable to the MDN staff in understanding our community and planning ways to support it.