Mozilla Drumbeat @ Web of Change 2009

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“Speed Geeking” Drumbeat with the Web of Change community
Focus grouping and sunny thoughts from Hollyhock on Mozilla’s Drumbeat initiative
Matt Thompson, September 30, 2009

Mozilla has already engaged its global community to build the world’s most awesome web browser. How can it apply those same people and lessons to building a better 21st century web?

We asked the friendly brainpower gathered at Web of Change 2009, an annual conference / retreat of enlightened geeks and thought leaders working at the intersection of technology and social change. In addition to four solid days of gorgeous sun and one hell of an oyster barbeque, it provided a super rich environment to focus group Mozilla Drumbeat and add new voices and perspectives into the mix. Presenting a condensed version of Mark Surman’s Drumbeat slides, I asked for brainstorming and feedback at the conference’s “Speed Geek” session. Here’s what came back!

Mozilla Drumbeat

There’s powerful trust in the brand. Not surprisingly, many of the folks here know and like Mozilla and expressed a high level of trust and outright love for the brand. I knew that’d be the case with progressive geeks, but I was surprised at how vocal and enthusiastic real-life Firefox lovers really are.

“I love you guys [Mozilla].”

“There’s a sense that Firefox is for the public good. 
Extending that model of generosity and openness not just to the browser, but to the whole web experience
makes sense.”

These people immediately responded to the idea of Mozilla helping to deliver a better web. That part resonated, impacted on an emotional level, and made sense to them.

But the communication challenges around “open web” issues are steep. Explaining what we mean by a “better web” is hard to do in just one or two sentences. It tends to require lengthy, more complex storytelling, and that’s where we lost many people. After the initial enthusiasm for the idea of “Mozillans helping to build a better web,” I saw a few wrinkled brows and “I don’t get it” looks from many of the less tech-savvy faces in the room. People were having a tough time fully understanding the goal and the threat. They didn’t seem to understand the “crisi-tunity” moment — the crisis or threat that gives way onto opportunity.

a better Internet doodle

Even web-savvy people still don’t really know what the “open web” or “open Internet” mean. Even amongst politically active geeks like these, there was a surprisingly low level of understanding around what “the open web” or “open Internet” even is. Several asked if we were talking about “net neutrality,” which in this case we weren’t really.

“I only vaguely know what the ‘open Internet’ really is. 
I hear people use those words but if I’m honest, 
I don’t really know what it means.”

“A lot of people don’t understand what ‘open source’ even is.”

“I feel like you just fired a bunch of buzz-words at me. I need you to slow down and give me some concrete examples.”

“I think I’m for Net Neutrality — even though I don’t really know what the hell it means.”

Many seemed unsure what was meant by “turning the Mozilla community into stewards of the open web.” Some weren’t sure what we meant by “stewards,” and others took this phrase to mean that Drumbeat would focus primarily on advocacy and policy work, like open cities initiatives or lobbying politicians on issues like net neutrality. Many are not used to thinking about stuff like privacy and security, identity, data in the cloud, open standards, etc. In most cases, they said they tended to rely on trusted experts (like Mozilla) to think about this stuff for them.

And therein could lie a big opportunity for Drumbeat? To use Mozilla’s huge trust and credibility to simplify these problems for busy people, and make it easy for Mozilla’s community to solve them?

“I trust Mozilla to figure this kind of stuff out FOR me”
One of my favorite pieces of feedback was: “I love Firefox because it lets me be brainless about my browser.” She meant that she installed it and it just works — without having to really think about it. And she also vaguely sensed (without knowing the details) that Mozilla was cool and had a public-interest aspect that she could feel good about.

“I trust you [Mozilla] to figure this stuff out and tell what you want me to do. I don’t really need to get into all the details.”

“When I look at Mozilla I see people I trust —
so just tell me what I really need to know.”

Making Web 3.0 challenges simpler and easier for busy people
Many expressed interest in a sentiment like: “I don’t have time to wade through all this geeky and wonky stuff around the mobile web, or open standards, or privacy and security and all that stuff. But I trust Mozilla to do all that FOR me.” Making a simple emotional or values-based pitch, followed by a direct call to action, may be a more effective approach with this audience than trying to wade through complex explanation. And Mozilla’s high credibility and trust should put it in a perfect position to do that.

mozilla org

Who is Mozilla’s community? Breaking down the tribes
Of the 90 or so participants at Web of Change 09, it quickly because obvious that there were at least three or four distinct segments in terms of people’s relationship to Mozilla and Firefox (which they tended to conflate in their mind).

Mozilla “Users”

  • They use Firefox or another Mozilla product and like it, mostly because it’s fast and “just works.”
  • They don’t necessarily have strong feelings about the politics or values of the open web, or know what that means.
  • The Internet is primarily just a useful tool they use to get their own work done. Not something they’re used to thinking about in terms of technology or policy.

“I’m not sure why I use Firefox exactly. Mostly I guess because my husband uses it and told me I should use it, too. And given the community I’m in, I feel like if you fire up Explorer, you’re kind of embarrassed.”

Mozilla “Lovers”

  • They love Mozilla products and often evangelize and spread them.
  • There is brand value for these folks, beyond just “product value.”

“I’m not totally sure about ‘open source’ and all that, but I like Firefox and I like that it sounds free and democratic.
It has brand value beyond product value.”

“I installed the latest version of Windows for my mum 
the other week. And made sure I set Firefox 
as the default browser everywhere.”

Mozilla “Big Brains”

  • The small number of thought leaders and geeks with a more complex understanding of open web issues, and the technology and standards of “open.”
  • May already be working on these or similar issues.
  • More likely to have a brand awareness of Mozilla Foundation, as opposed to just a product relationship (e.g., to Firefox)
  • Often spread out and working individually across a wide range of institutions and projects. (Maybe could use some campaign infrastructure that facilitates collaboration and impact?)

“I really like what you guys did with Mozilla Service.”

“[Drumbeat] sounds interesting. I have some work on open video stuff I could contribute.”

“I’m working on some of these issues, too. What’s next?”

in the room at hollyhock

What do these different “tribes” mean for Drumbeat?
Paradoxically, the success of a brand like Firefox might be measured partly by the fact that, for the casual users who make up the widest layer of the Mozilla onion, they don’t even know why they use Firefox. They just do!

The woman who shared the story about using Firefox only because her husband suggested it — and because she’d feel kind of “uncool” about firing up Internet Explorer amongst her circle of peers, even though she wasn’t sure why — was vaguely apologetic about it. “Sorry, I guess I’m not being very helpful to you!” But it struck me that this in fact could be extremely significant and worth thinking about for Drumbeat.

What can Drumbeat learn from Firefox

What can Drumbeat learn from the success of Firefox?
The brand cycle of a product like Firefox may hold out a potential theory of change for Drumbeat as well. You start with a small but influential group of Big Brains, who collaborate and wade through the complexity to produce a solution that is elegantly simple and “just works,” and that comes with high credibility, trust, and civic value.

That solution, in turn, gets adopted by power users and brand LOVERS, who adopt it in part because they like the brand’s values — and therefore trust it enough to try it — but primarily because it is simple, elegant and works great. They don’t necessarily need or want to understand the complexity of the original problem, whether it’s how to build a better open source browser, or solving a complex privacy or open data issue. They love that a bunch of big brains have solved it for them — and are primarily interested in using and spreading that solution or practice. Not only because it’s “the right thing to do” — but because it makes their life easier in a small but important way.

The tipping point from “cause” into “culture”

In the case of Firefox, these two tribes then pushed the solution across a tipping point, where positive and largely unconscious social pressures lead casual users to adopt it in large numbers. Even though they didn’t even necessarily understand why. They just do it — because their colleague suggest it, or because it just seems like “the thing to do,” or because if they use a closed or locked-down browser (identity product, or mobile browsing product, etc.) they might feel vaguely uncool amongst their peers or social circles. They didn’t have to be sold on the value of “open” — they just kind of swallowed it by osmosis. This means the solution succeeded in changing the culture of the web in a small but vital way. It shifts from being a “cause” to becoming a part of web culture. And that has a massive impact.

Can Drumbeat create these “Firefox”-type moments and tipping points 
for Web 3.0?
As Mozilla moves from enabling a better Internet primarily through products and technology to engaging its community as “stewards of the open web,” what can Mozilla learn and adapt from its major success at the product and technology layer? Most Web of Changers seemed to want to focus their questions there. Most of this community likes Mozilla because it thinks about and solves web problems — so that they don’t have to. Can Drumbeat apply that same philosophy and secret sauce to stewarding the open web?

Whaddya think?
Please post your answers and thoughts here in the comment thread, browse some of Mark Surman’s great slides, documents, and doodles, and jump in at Mozilla Drumbeat.

Download a PDF version of this report here

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