Let’s make MDN beginner friendly

Jeremie Patonnier

Since the beginning of the year, the MDN community has been working on a very exciting project: building a learning area to make MDN friendly for beginners.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fallenpegasus/3988152150

© Mark Atwood

As you probably know, MDN is a very well known and highly rated resource for general documentation about web technologies. Years of effort from the astonishing Mozilla community have produced a site that is among best reference documentation ever about web technologies. We cover a crazy amount of technologies, in more than 11,000 articles. Even better, we are doing this in more than 36 languages, making it available to a larger audience than just English speaking people. We can all be proud of this fantastic work — and it’s not done.

Of course, perfection is not a part of this world and the MDN community was aware that, even if the documentation was great for skilled developers, it was not helpful for beginners or people who knew very little about the web: the amount of technologies is overwhelming, the absence of learning pathways is disrupting, the lack of simple, straightforward hackable examples make things hard to understand, etc. All of this makes MDN a wild and unfriendly place for beginners.

But because we are Mozilla, we couldn’t let that stand.

So we decided to change things and start what we call the Learning Area project. This project try to reach the following goals:

  • Help beginners find their way through MDN.
  • Update our existing content for beginners. (Yes, we have some!)
  • Fill in the gaps and create more beginners oriented content.
  • Improve the discoverability and usability of our exiting content for beginners.
  • Help beginners find good third party ressources to learn from.

We spent the first quarter of 2014 analyzing content, getting feedback from the MDN community and design a plan to change things. We also spent more time discussing with the WebMaker team which makes an awesome job at teaching the web.

And here we are, time to start writing and make MDN awesome — again :)

So, what will happen in the next month?

The first thing we are focusing on is to build a glossary of terms to make all the web lingo clearer. At the same time, we are starting to tag MDN contents using the Web Literacy Map to help users find what they need easily. This is a long ongoing effort and you are more than welcome to help. Soon after, we want to add “knowledge boxes” on MDN articles. The purpose of those boxes is to clarify what is required or simply recommended to know in order to understand a given article. We are currently shaping this up and we would love to hear any ideas you might have about it.

By summer, the MDN team and the WebMaker team (both paid staff and volunteers) plan to meet in order to define the best way to work all together. One of the main topics will be about building self-teaching content on MDN and/or WebMaker. Another one will be the best way to curate and promote third-party learning resources. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, and there are so many good resources to learn the web that we want to find a way to better aggregate and promote them. On the other hand, the web is ever-changing and sometimes resources move or disappear, so links have to be maintained.

In parallel, we are discussing the opportunity to improve our system for showing examples. Especially, we wish to make them hackable. There are plenty of technical solution to achieve this and everybody has their pet tool to do this. So stay tuned as we are planning to run a large survey to get users feedback in the next weeks.

Finally by the end of the year, we expect to completely rebuild our learning zone on MDN, which is severely outdated. But beyond the content, we want to add a new contribution dynamic on MDN, with more focus on basics knowledge for beginners.

Sounds good to you? Wants to get involved? Come join the MDN community and help us make the web better, even for beginners.