Making MDN contribution opportunities visible

Florian Scholz


On MDN, and probably on every large-scale wiki or documentation site, there is always lots to do. Software and technologies evolve, content out-dates, structures change, and so a lot of updating and shepherding of the content is needed.

Only a fabulous community could help with MDN’s 11,000 English documents and their localizations in about 36 languages and growing. Community growth — that’s something we all look for and it’s exciting. Working with more people and getting more done is rewarding and lots of fun, but can also be a challenge. David Boswell asked “What will 20,000 active contributors do?” and since the beginning of the year we at MDN are asking ourselves similar questions.

Oftentimes a contributor stops by in IRC and would like to help. What to do then? Sometimes a group of Mozillians meets up and would like to sprint and accomplish something really big in several hours or over a weekend. “What can we do for MDN?”, they might ask. You can’t really tell a community or a volunteer what he or she should be doing, but you can offer opportunities. The MDN has an enormous amount of contribution opportunities.

Until a few weeks ago, these opportunities just weren’t as visible as they should be. We’ve tried to fix that by showing what bugs and issues we need help with. Besides, it is also important to give feedback when something has been fixed. A 100%, the “green bar feeling” or some sort of feeling of completeness is really rewarding, too. That can be hard to find in an always-ongoing-and-never-ending wiki.

We are asking in the typical Mozilla way: Are we documented yet? We have put together an MDN “meta documentation” area, where you can not only learn where help is needed but also about how to contribute. We are expanding this guide and trying to help volunteers finding their paths into the project. We’ve added a Getting started page to help newcomers find tasks they can work on right away.

Looking at paths, you can identify two main possible directions a volunteer could come to MDN:

  • Expertise or interest in a specific topic area (such as HTML, CSS, SpiderMonkey, Add-ons, Learners’ material, …);
  • Expertise or interest in a specific type of task (such as performing editorial/technical reviews, translating, tagging and sorting, fixing errors in our macro scripts, …).

To take care of these two main veins into MDN’s heart, it is important to have enough opportunities to offer and have them visible and open to everyone. Therefore, we introduced documentation status pages for each topic area on MDN. These pages aggregate quality indicators and bugs automatically and manually. They act like dashboards so that contributors don’t need to dig deeply into Bugzilla or our documentation spheres. Check out the JavaScript documentation status page for example.

As a Mozilla employee, I am also trying to make my own to-do list more open and visible on these pages and share what plans and work is ahead of me. Everyone is invited to help me and to discuss how to proceed.

So, next time someone stops by, we can interview and ask what interests him or her most and point to various opportunities. What ideally happens:

  1. People start having fun and accomplishing something small really quickly.
  2. People start feeling responsible for something specific such as “I am clearing all open editorial reviews this week” or “I am making sure that all JavaScript pages are tagged properly”.
  3. And as most volunteers show up depending on their availability and free time, they are checking back the status of the things they have looked at last time and fix that again to keep things green.

For sprints and events it has been a huge success, because setting a goal has been never been so easy. In Berlin we figured: Translate all priority articles for Firefox Developer Tools into German? No problem, we can do that. In Paris, the French community sat down and completed the translation of all 150 HTML reference pages among others things.

We have also seen revitalized interest in other localization areas. The Italian translation of the MDN user interface has reached 100% translation of all strings. And the Bangladesh localization team has seen a surge in members and activity.

So, I can only recommend: Be more open and make status visible to give everyone opportunity to contribute.

3 responses

  1. Robert Kaiser wrote on :

    I think we should add WebGL as an area there, even if we barely have any docs for it (but maybe that makes it more visible that we need help there).

  2. Shafiul Azam wrote on :

    Localized developer docs have a huge impact on developers and students in many countries. I’m proud of the opportunity Mozilla is providing to learn the open web in native language, and will express my gratitude to the MDN teams and translator here in Bangladesh – for making it ever possible! :)

  3. San James wrote on :

    Thanks Florian,

    I find this document very informative and useful. I will definitely share it with community in Uganda.