It’s been an interesting week in the Mozilla blogosphere. So much conversation, explanation, accusation, retraction, questioning, talking, talking, talking. One of the clear examples of the leverage that I spent a while writing about on Sunday. It’s one of the brilliances of what mozilla.org set up around a decade ago — conversations are happening in a highly decentralized way, around the whole world (and at every hour of the day, it seems to me). The two most active conversations, of course, are about XULRunner investment and reactions to Chris’ provocative video.
Everyone I know involved with Mozilla has taken both of these conversations very seriously. I think we’ve addressed much of the issue with XULRunner (at least the miscommunication issue, although there are clearly differences of opinion that can & should be discussed more in online forums, in blogs, at Developer Days, etc). But the other issue, I think, not so much.
I believe there are two basic set of issues here: (1) the content & the questions, and (2) the way the conversation is happening. This post is about the second set of issues: the way the conversation is happening.
First, here’s what I know from my experience with Mozilla: everyone I know who’s involved at any level, in any language, in any country, is extremely aware of the place Mozilla sits on the Web. Everyone is incredibly sensitive to what developers think about what’s happening, what users think about what’s happening, and what other voices on the web think about what’s happening. And it’s a very populist movement: everyone I know here wants the web to be open, uncontrolled & free. For the moment that fight is in the browser window, but everybody knows that the edges are moving around.
So when prominent voices put up thoughts about direction, details, intent — most everyone pays attention. Everyone’s first reaction is “I wonder if I did something wrong here. Wonder what I need to fix.”
Tara posted yesterday that one of the first rules of responding to criticism is to try not to take it personally. Obviously a correct point of view, but here’s the rub: Mozilla exists because everyone takes criticisms exceptionally personally, irrespective of whether they’re fair or not, based on fact or not, reasonable or not.
And I’ll assert that that type of personal accountability & reaction is what the world needs, actually. It’s companies that don’t take criticism personally. It’s organizations. It’s individuals who don’t care. But that’s not Mozilla. In the 2 years that I’ve been here, I’ve observed hundreds or thousands of people around the world who take it personally that the web’s not open to everyone, that companies think it can be controlled. And it’s caused a whole lot of people to do unnatural acts to remedy that. Working for days straight to get builds done. Flying halfway around the world to help someone start a community in Taipei or Beijing or Prague. Being available pretty much 24-7 on IRC/IM/forums/…
So in my view what’s happened over the last week or so is a large set of frustrated, personal reaction to some assertions that were almost framed as questions. But the tone of accusation is getting in the way of the conversation.
For example, we should talk more about what’s happening in cities around the world and what’s happening on university campuses, because there’s an incredible amount of activity. But the point was put this way: “dump spreadfirefox; get your focus back. power to the people — not more centralization. where’s the college teams? run it like a presidential but stop asking for donations. events, mash pits… MozCamps… whatever… I know something is happening in Japan with Joi Ito… but that’s about all I know about.” Stuff like this (and more, like professors writing curriculum on open source) is happening! The implication that’s being made (explicitly) is that it isn’t. Posing it differently: “What’s happening on campuses? In other countries?” elicits a completely different response. It should make Mozilla folks reflect on what parts they thought were clearly communicated (but obviously aren’t) and how to make that better.
Anyway, all I know is this: taking things personally is what motivates people to work harder, to make things better. Mozilla people all wear their hearts on their sleeves, and I think that’s the engine for both being proud of where things are and wanting to become more.
Having said that, I’d like to see if we can get moved past that, and focus on the content for a while. I can pick out some questions in Chris’ post and others — questions like “What’s Mozilla’s position/response on Silverlight/Flash/Java FX?”, “What does Moz spend most of its time on now?”, “What’s happening internationally?”, and “What about XULRunner?” Those are all good questions to be clearer on, help get better understanding of everyone’s position on.
But there are a lot more. What are they?