Building community around Webmaker tools

How do we grow a community of contributors and architecture of participation around Mozilla Webmaker tools?

This post is a synthesis of ideas collectively brainstormed by the Webmaker community in Tuesday’s call. It’s part two of a discussion Mark Surman began with his “Tools for Webmakers” post. The ideas here aren’t mine — they’re everybody’s. 🙂

Contribution is the goal

We’ve said we want to make contribution the metric that defines all our work. That includes building Webmaker tools like Popcorn, Thimble and the X-Ray Goggles. Popcorn already has a growing community of developers contributing code. OpenNews is creating and sharing great code as well. And Thimble is, of course, just out of the gate, with a question around when and how best to build an architecture of participation.

So as we think about our plan for the rest of year and into 2012, where do we go from here?

Four keys to involving contributors:

  • On-ramps.
  • Tasks. Calls to action.
  • Documentation. Training
  • Celebration. Kudos.

What kinds of contribution are we seeking?  

What kinds of contributors do we want to work with and get to know better, over the next 6 – 12 months? We want to grow a community of contributors around building Webmaker tools in particular. And of course also plant seeds and build a community around webmaking in general, with Webmaker as a big tent for lots of different people and groups.

Where do we need to build better on-ramps for participation?

  • Code. We know there’s a small group that want to contribute to the “core” library — of a similar order of magnitude as people who submit patches to Firefox, for example.
    • Make it easier to submit. Build systems that let contributors submit this type of code without our review or evaluation. Via plug-ins, for example? or something comparable to
    • Avoid bottlenecks. We can easily become a bottleneck to our developer contributors. For example, if they need to conform to our style guide, or review a patch while we’re in the midst of an important release. More and better “remix / fork this project” options?
  • Templates.  Easy ways for people to create and share their own Thimble template, Popcorn template, or project. Without less of us getting in the way or be in the middle.
    • One idea: provide easier ways to turn your Popcorn or Thimble project into a template. Like a “save as template” option in the Popcorn and Thimble apps. That way, you could use the Popcorn “Newscast” template, for example, to turn it into a “Call to Action” video for your campaign — then save it as a “Call to Action” template other people could use the same way.
  • Localization. Translation and localization. Lots of requests for this. Many instructors are already doing it, and building curriculum around our tools. Hackasaurus has already been translated into several languages. How do we build on that for new tools and projects?
  • Mentors and guides. Getting others involved. On-boarding. Lightweight mentoring and recommendations for interactions, people to get to know, etc.
    • Work with ReMo here. Build and borrow from what Mozilla is already doing here and here.
  • Instructors. Educators and instructors contributing projects, ideas, and great stuff we haven’t thought of yet.
  • Stuff we haven’t thought of yet…  Anyone working to build a more web literate planet and plant seeds for webmaking.

Things we need:

  • Better documentation and HOW TOs. “Cook books.” Easy step by step instructions on how to contribute. Better FAQs. We have lots of rough and ready etherpads and raw notes — we need more polished HOW TOs for contribution.
  • Great examples. Project galleries, etc.
  • Better on-boarding. Clarifying where to go, what channels to use. Setting expectations. Friendly humans with time to help.

Avoiding the “busyness trap”

“We’re too busy to help!” This was a commonly acknowledged problem. When we’re heads down and focused on shipping and meeting the next deadline, it’s easy to feel like you’re “too busy” to be able to bring community members into the fold.  We need people to feel like we have time for them.  And that they’re  actually a priority.

“Should  we create ‘20% time’ to focus just on creating systems and  documentation for more and better community contribution?”

Get involved: how do we make our current documentation better?

One place to start might be to look at our current contributor documentation for Webmaker tools. Then have you suggest ways it can be improved. Or volunteer to work on it yourself.  All of this is going to see dramatic improvements over the coming weeks and months. But let’s start by listing what we’ve got — specifically for contributing to Mozilla Webmaker tools and software.

(This list is incomplete — please help flesh it out in the comments to this post and I’ll update.)


  • been out of the loop somewhat and finally got around to using x-ray goggles — love it! i will definitely show the kids… suggestion: enable button to go from element of code to whole html structure using thimble…

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