Enabling Community Incubation


There is a gap between the Mozilla organization and its community. Mozilla community members have ideas in which they would like to create sites / services that should be built by Mozilla. However, Mozilla employees do not have the bandwidth to bring those solutions to fruition.

This is a proposal for Mozilla to create an incubator program that would enable Mozilla community members to create sites and services under a separate brand. This program would detail a clear path for how successful community-incubated projects can be officially adopted by the Mozilla organization.


Mozilla Branches

Mozilla has a few entities that serve as umbrellas for various mission-driven endeavors:

Mozilla Labs is an incubator of sites and services driven by Mozilla employees. Examples include Sync and Raindrop.

Mozilla Community Services is a set of approved website-building packages that enable a community member to build out a website that serves their local Mozilla community. Examples include the Mozilla Hungarian Community Site and the Mozilla Catalan Community Site.

Drumbeat is a community of open web innovators who want to share their sites and services with others and to connect with like-minded individuals. Examples include Hackasauraus and School of Webcraft.


The Problem

The Mozilla organization promotes openness, innovation and participation on the Internet. It is a non-profit organization with over 40,000 community members that volunteer their time to help further the Mozilla mission. When Firefox 4 launched, it did so with the support of 82 languages, all of which had been localized by volunteer translators around the world.

The Mozilla community is vast, and has a number of problems it faces in organizing itself to support the Mozilla mission with the best of its ability. It has identified a number of these problems, and has approached the Mozilla organization with these solutions. However, the Mozilla organization does not have available staff members to bring these ideas to fruition.

In the past, Mozilla community members would just create their own site / service as a solution to this problem. But we’ve recently started to increase the requirements for Mozilla-branded endeavors in order to protect the security and privacy of people who are users of these products.

For example, for each website there are multiple teams that will review each website before it is launched. The Web Development team will review all code written by both internal and external developers. The Legal team reviews privacy policies and collected data to ensure that the users rights are clearly stated and guaranteed. The Security team will test the site for XSS and CSRF attacks and SQL injections, and has put a bug bounty into effect for existing websites. The QA team ensures that all aspects of the site are in working order, and creates automated tests to periodically review the state of the site.

Recently, the community-developed project Mozilla Reps was launched, and then unfortunately it was promptly taken offline.  It used Mozilla branding on the site but it had not gone through this review process by the internal Mozilla Legal, Web Dev, IT, QA and Security teams.

For a community member who wants to develop a Mozilla-branded site / service, there’s currently no program that shows a clear path to becoming an official Mozilla product, and there are too many hoops to jump through in order to launch a new site / service. But we need to find a way to enable community members to incubate an idea for Mozilla with a low barrier to entry.


Community Incubation

Mozilla needs to create a new incubator program that will enable individuals to create a new site / service that should eventually by adopted by the Mozilla organization, while clearly distinguishing that this solution is not an official Mozilla endeavor.

This incubator needs a separate brand name, and one which inherently details an evolutionary path towards becoming an official Mozilla endeavor.

One of the analogies that we have been tossing around is based on frogs, where a young frog is called a tadpole, but there is an assumed evolutionary path towards its becoming a frog when it grows into adulthood. Austin King‘s idea is to call this the Lizard Incubator, where a lizard is the most easily identifiable representation of a young dinosaur.

This separate brand will enable the community members to quickly boot up sites / services without having to pass through the Mozilla gauntlet to get that site / service approved. They can use the badges associated with this brand to label the site / service as an experiment that could potentially have security flaws or privacy concerns, an acknowledgement that any user of the site should use that site / service at their own risk, meanwhile safeguarding the Mozilla brand.

This incubator could cover any new site or service that is created by a Mozilla community member, and could even be a Mozilla employee’s pet project.

There are a few side projects that were developed by Mozilla employees, like Pulse and Badger, that could stand to run through a separate brand until fully developed enough to become an official Mozilla project.

And a good example of a community-led project that would have benefited from this branding is David Tenser‘s Phoenix support site, which provided the impetus for SUMO.

With this separate brand, the community will once again be able to be true incubators of Mozilla solutions, unshackled by the confines of Mozilla regulations.



With the new Incubator program, what the Mozilla community lacks is a real incentive to develop new sites and services under this brand, because it won’t be branded as an official Mozilla site / service. But, we must communicate to the community members what the incentive is to solve the problems they are facing as Mozilla community members.

The program will need to identify a clear path to graduation, where a community-built site / service will be adopted as an official Mozilla site / service.

I’ll propose this idea: On a quarterly basis, a Mozilla committee would review all community-built sites / services that have been branded as being part of the incubator program. The committee would identify all of the sites / services that were successful endeavors, whether that’s seen as a site / service that was a brilliant solution to an identified problem or a project that was adopted and used by other community members. At the end of the nomination process, the committee would agree on 2 to 3 sites / services that would be brought into the Mozilla organization as official Mozilla sites / services.

For example, a community member might build a successful website that was nominated and accepted by the Mozilla committee for adoption. In this case, the Mozilla Web Development team would drive the process of writing specifications for that site and would commence rebuilding that site atop Playdoh. They would engage the product owners to help oversee the development of the site, and shepherd the site through the review process by Mozilla teams.

Upon the official launch of the site, the original team who built the community site / service would be flown into California, and would be introduced to the rest of the Mozilla community at the company meeting in the Mountain View office on Monday morning. These individuals would be celebrated as true innovators for the Mozilla organization.

And if there are particular members of the original community team who stood out, those individuals would be considered as people Mozilla could bring aboard as full-time employees.


This blog post is the outcome of a series of lightning talks and pub sessions during the Mozilla all-hands gathering April 4th through April 8th, 2011, and is the evolution of the work David Boswell has done around the Mozilla family of brands and Austin King’s Mozilla Beta program blog post.

5 responses

  1. groovecoder wrote on :

    I like the idea! Question: will Mozilla give present-value to Lizard projects? I.e., more than just the graduation path? Promotion and exposure?

  2. Axel Hecht wrote on :

    I would have three comments on this one:

    I like the idea of having an open door to put ideas for sites and services in. I’d prefer to see a chance for a “we’re not convinced, argue harder or drop” step early.

    I don’t think this is a “us” vs “them” problem, “nobody” in mozilla knows how to launch a website or -service. I can say that both from the point of view that we’re localizing a good deal of them, and from trying to get our own things up. I do think you got the painpoints of doing that right, but we should get to a place where it’s easy for anyone to do the right thing. I know that’s on your lap to some extent, just think we shouldn’t build walls without need.

    The last one would be, I don’t agree that any of security or privacy or technical merits in implementation should depend on the mozilla brand. Actually, I don’t even think they do. If the privacy policy around mozilla reps was bad, there wouldn’t have been a point to keep it up as non-mozilla, as we’d have to throw the data away that it collected.

  3. Majken “Lucy” Connor wrote on :

    I might be missing large parts here, but it seems to me that Spread Firefox covered a lot of this ground. It was a place for people to communicate and recruit help, but certainly the projects could link out to any site. Or they could be carried out completely on the existing infrastructure. IMO the 2 problems with SFx are 1) software needed to be updated 2) there needed to be real employee attention to promoting promising projects

    I do think having a branding free of restriction will help. I think this is the difference between now and when SFx was thriving. People know there are restrictions and want to help Mozilla, not get slapped on the hand for using the branding incorrectly, but I think there needs to be a central SFx like site that people can use as a catalog, or starting platform.

  4. Dan Mosedale wrote on :

    I like this proposal quite a bit — providing a defined on-ramp to becoming more official seems incredibly worthwhile to the community and the project. I look forward to seeing how this evolves…

  5. Ryan Snyder wrote on :

    @groovecoder – Yes, I think there would have to be some sort of promotion and exposure in order to ensure that the community was aware of new projects that were coming on board as incubator projects.

    @Makjen – Spread Firefox definitely had its place, and would cover Groovecoder’s concerns as well. SFx is in the process of being taken offline, and there are plans to re-envision that site and bring it back online around Q4 2011.

    @Axel – I definitely hear your concerns. We’re putting a lot of effort into documenting web development processes and ensuring that specific requirements are met before beginning development of official Mozilla projects. And you’re right that some of the projects we are booting up really should have been vetted more thoroughly before instantiation.

    In regards to security and privacy concerns, I would argue that do owe it to our community to ensure that we are launching every site and service with full assurance that we have tested for vulnerabilities and will be safely taking care of the users’ data. A breach on any Mozilla website could result in a reduction of user confidence in Firefox and other Mozilla products.