Planet Mozilla needs humans?

How do we grok the Planet Mozilla firehose? Mozilla community member and open journalism expert Phillip Smith has written three extremely thoughtful posts that are must-reads for anyone interested in the Planet Mozilla firehose challenge:

What’s the problem?

In a word: growth. As Mozilla’s grown, it’s become increasingly difficult to get a birds-eye view of what everyone’s working on. We need to ensure Mozilla’s openness continues to drive meaningful engagement, instead of drowning ourselves in posts and data we can no longer meaningfully keep up with.

I’ll admit: I no longer read Planet Mozilla. It’s simply way too much stuff.  I find keeping up with the aggregated blog from my own team difficult enough.

Growth has also lead to questions around what is and is not appropriate for Planet Mozilla, which generated a large amount of spirited debate recently. But for me, the firehose problem is the most interesting one. As Phillip puts it, some core questions are:

  • 1) What’s the best way to package and amplify great Mozilla stories?
  • 2) How do we reach new audiences with those stories? In ways that drive participation.
  • 3) How do we showcase everything Mozilla is doing “beyond the browser?” As we go big in new spaces like mobile, apps, privacy and identity, education, etc?

Reporters covering Planet Mozilla as a beat

I’m not sure this problem can be solve by simply tweaking the tech. Maybe we need a dedicated human or humans to help us summarize, filter and storify the best of Planet Mozilla. Essentially: professional reporters who cover Planet Mozilla as a beat. As Phillip puts it:

When I think about Mozilla, I think of a city that is growing….

Like any city, I believe that Mozilla-ville needs a smart, scrappy news organization to help its citizens understand what’s going on around them.

In Superman’s city, Metropolis, that was the Daily Planet. In Mozilla-ville, I think that the job should go to Planet Mozilla.

Some of the most interesting technology news stories are happening right here in our city, Mozilla-ville, so why are we waiting for other news organizations to cover them?

We have the scoops. We have the experts. We have the technology. So what are we waiting for?

Digg Nation: weekly episodes from Planet Digg

Other orgs are already doing it

“If Tumblr were a city of 42 million,” [new Editor Jessica] Bennett said, referring to the number of Tumblr blogs that exist, “I’m trying to figure out how we cover the ideas, themes and people who live in it.”

Storytelling matters. For openness, agility, and collaboration.

But wait — wouldn’t hiring reporters violate Mozilla’s whole DIY spirit? I don’t think so. Phillip captures it well:

Sources going direct” is both empowering, and limited. Some people are great at public speaking, giving interviews, producing rapid prototypes, writing lengthy essays on governance in newsgroups…

But, as a generalization, most people are not mind-blowingly excellent at telling their own stories. Call it humility, call it being busy, or maybe chalk it up to just not having gotten the hang of “talking out loud” — the important point is that we’re currently missing a lot of the most interesting stories and work in Mozilla because they’re not being told well, or not being told at all because we simply don’t know about them.

Reading and summarizing Planet Mozilla — so you don’t have to?

Here at the Mozilla Foundation we’ve been experimenting with our own firehose problem via these new weekly updates. We sprint and document together in our weekly community calls via etherpad, then have dedicated storytellers turn that grist into more polished update posts that real humans can read.

What if we were to do that for all of Mozilla? Feeding the best work from Planet Mozilla into a multimedia package and digest that gets presented and amplified in Mozilla’s weekly all hands meetings?

What do you think? Has Mozilla-ville has grown large enough — and Planet Mozilla so full of great stories — that we could use a reporter covering it like a beat?



  • I absolutely agree with the premise of the article.  It’s a necessary outcome of Mozilla’s growth.  Manage the info flood, or it drowns you.

    /me updates resume…

  • A weekly podcast like TWiT could work. When I was at Mozilla I wanted to do one, just never had time. Would there be enough content for maybe 30 minutes?

    • Thanks for adding that example to the mix, Ryan.
      This Week in Tech:

      Could start with a simple summary blog to start. Then definitely grow into something more multimedia, using tools like hyperaudio and Mozilla Popcorn, etc.

  • I agree Matt.   Let me know what Air Mozilla can do to help push this vision forward.

  • My thinking goes in the same direction, Matt. We need an editor (or more) for the
    Planet Mozilla. Mostly, because a lot of people from “outside” do need
    coherent updates about the project (products, programs, events etc.). But also hear community stories: highlighting people’s ideas and thinking from around the project.

    Communication is at the earth of “working in open”. As you mention, it’s hard to start working in open at first, finding your way to polish/communicate everything through your blog is a challenge that takes time (and yes, this is my case too).

    And I’m sure that Mozilla has the people w/ the vision and knowledge to move this forward: Air Mozilla is an example, Developer Engagement has been experimenting with the “weekly updates” etc. Plus tools such as Popcorn or Universal Subtitles that would make content both interactive and accessible to everyone.

  • > Phillip Smith has written three extremely thoughtful posts
    No. He started off by talking about Planet Mozilla, but then stated that he didn’t want to reuse the name, the idea, the code nor the scope. Why derail your post by talking about something, that you don’t want to use nor build upon?

    In this post you seem to talk about “about:mozilla”, not “Planet Mozilla”. Not the current implementation however, which is just an annoying digest of selected posts from Planet back to Planet (not “Bonjour Mozilla”-annoying, but still), but the idea behind “about:mozilla”.

    I personally don’t think a reporter is what is needed. They tend to like to write words — and lots of them. But there are already lots of those. My idea of about:mozilla, is probably sort of a grouping of Planet posts, Bugzilla bugs, Newsgroup posts, and Mozilla-Wiki articles into topics. All in one, it would be a Mozilla version of
    – Google news, where all posts/bugs are clustered, so I can see at a glance what is trending, but it doesn’t have its own posts or timebased-editions. When viewing a topic I can be fairly certain that it is complete (if I drill down).
    – Wikipedia, with a neutral point of view trying to summarize the topic (perhaps limiting itself to 1000 characters per topic), evolving its summery instead of creating a series of posts.
    – Google/Yahoo finance/trends, where you can go and see when a topic was started and when it died off, and where it was discussed. Where the timelines was annotated with noteworthy events or periods.
    A place where I could
    – go and look up what the process of the MPL2.0 have been and what the current status is.
    – learn that H.264 was discussed in the newsgroups before roc made a post about it, and learn what the basic argument was without reading 200+ messages.
    – learn that they are replacing the reflow-code and see when they did it last time (and perhaps somebody would nag them about writing a blogpost about it –I really don’t want to hear a reporters understanding of it), who is involved, and where that code lives.
    – go and look up the electrolysis project and figure out why it was halted (I seem to remember that it was de-prioritized for some reason).
    – find the discussion that lead up to the current implementation of “about:mozilla” :)
    It would probably be
    – generated automaticly my clustering based on text analysis
    – crowd-sourced by via a tagging extension to my feed-reader and browser.
    – collaboratively edited to get accurate and updated summaries.
    – staffed for completeness and leadership.
    And please don’t
    – present it as multimedia (i.e. video/audio), which is hard to skim.
    – create digests/snapshots and repost them back to Planet.
    But you seem to have another idea of what about:mozilla should be.

    • “No. He started off by talking about Planet Mozilla, but then stated that
      he didn’t want to reuse the name, the idea, the code nor the scope. Why
      derail your post by talking about something, that you don’t want to use
      nor build upon?”

      Hey there Anders,  :)

      Your response seems to confirm the point: when people hear “Planet Mozilla” — especially people that have an existing idea in their mind about it — the term just serves to confuse the discussion.

      Planet Mozilla *could* be great, if people could stop thinking of it as the Planet Mozilla they know today. But therein lies the biggest challenge — people are too attached to the idea of what a “Planet” should be.

      The rest of your comment then heads right into the “technical plumbing” approach to solving the problem (let me guess, you’re a developer, right?), which — IMHO — is not the right way to go.

      Nonetheless, it sounds like you have a idea, so why don’t you write it up, sketch it out, and get some feedback? I’m not proposing that there’s only one way to solve the issue of “too much noise,” but I’m keen to hear non-technical solutions, as I fear that technical solutions will lead us back to where we started, i.e., a “new and improved Planet Mozilla” that nobody can read.

      Three cents,


      •  You where the one that brought Planet Mozilla up for no apparent reason.

        I didn’t talk about the technical part. I gave some examples of sites that could inspire the direction, some examples of the problems that it could choose to try to solve, and some sources of information.

        (your “bio” seem to mess up the page layout)

        • Hi Anders,

          Sorry if I’ve upset you in some way, that was not my intention. On the contrary, I appreciate your feedback, and I’m encouraging you to refine your ideas.



  • Interesting perspective; manual curation might indeed help with the overload.  Please, however, make sure that whatever this ends up being is not just another PR channel – we’ve got enough of those already.  It needs to take into account the fact that different people want different content – I skip over anything WebFwd or Popcorn, but others probably don’t.  The firehose is bad mainly because of the (personally) irrelevant content, and you can’t please everyone with one answer.

    •  Totally agree. I think you nailed it: different audiences want different content. What’s cool about Planet is the “working open” aspect. That it’s not just PR, but looking over people’s shoulders while they work.

  • I’d be all for this, maybe in a new version of mozillaZine – I was sad when it stopped having news from around Mozilla. Maybe kerz would be willing to hand it over, even.

  • I don’t like the idea of manual intervention since a curator would definitely  project his/her own point of view into the result. Also as a person who tries to read everything on Planet Mozilla I think an approach like Google News(mentioned before in the comments) and/or some application that learns your reading habits and promotes relevant articles based on this data would be a much better solution.

    I don’t have the means for prototypes for these two but I may be able to write something for the second one in the near future.

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