More Evidence of the Need for a “Trusted Mozillians” Forum

The Internet storm-in-a-teacup surrounding Jono Xia’s post about his frustration with regard to the Firefox update system and UI changes (response from johnath) is another demonstration of why the Mozilla project needs a more-open-than-employees but less-open-than-public forum for people to talk, with entry gated on some form of “trusted” status.

We are a high-profile project, and everything we do is watched. This comes as an inevitable consequence of the fact that we changed the world once, and are lining up to do so again. I would much prefer this to irrelevance! However, in a situation where “public” is the only way a non-employee can communicate with the rest of the community, it has a dampening effect on our ability to converse freely.

Jono is a hard-working contributor and a great guy. He would clearly be one of those with this “trusted” status, were it to exist. And if there was a ‘trusted’ forum, he might well have chosen to express his frustration among his fellow Mozillians without the possibility of it appearing on Forbes, Reddit and HackerNews.

As a Mozillian blessed enough to be paid to work on Mozilla, I see the employees-only communications mechanisms (e.g. our Yammer instance, and the now-mostly-silent Intranet forums). They have been host to posts which are controversial like Jono’s, on other topics. For example, some people questioned our stance on H.264 (which subsequently changed), and the discussion may have included some choice words about the action or inaction of some of our partners. Can you imagine what would have happened if that had taken place in public? But a productive discussion was had, without attendant drama – but also without non-employed community members.

We need a forum for all our trusted contributors to communicate, question, and express their true feelings without their views becoming Internet famous.

23 thoughts on “More Evidence of the Need for a “Trusted Mozillians” Forum

  1. Definetly yes, my wish would be turing mozillians site into some kind of a mozillian social network where we can comunicate this way.

  2. I think that Mozilla is at a point where they have to decide whether they want to be mozilla.org or mozilla.com. Both won’t work in the long run…

  3. Yes, definitely, such a forum would be a good thing. I’ve posted controversial statements on my posts before, and seeing the results when these attracted attention outside the Mozilla community (ehem… Reddit) was certainly no fun. Open project or not – some topics definitely need to be discussed without the clueless masses waiting to join the next shitstorm.

  4. I’ve seen similar complaints to Jono’s on planet.mozilla many times before. Why his was picked up by forbes and caught so much attention on reddit is a mystery to me.

    The H.264 discussion was also very heated in public. For a while every post on reddit and slashdot about Mozilla turned into a shouting competition between people who thought excluding the format would kill mozilla and people who thought it would save the web.

    • Yes, the H.264 discussion was heated in public, but that discussion on reddit and slashdot was discussion between people who didn’t have all the facts. You would not have seen brendan, or roc, or blizzard, or asa posting their true, unvarnished, unedited opinions in a public forum.

      • You would not have seen brendan, or roc, or blizzard, or asa posting their true, unvarnished, unedited opinions in a public forum.

        Robert O’Callahan certainly posted on the issue, multiple times. In fact, he hosted a significant part of those discussions.

        Brendan has also posted his share of opinions wrt JS, Dart, and other topics on Hacker News on more than one occasion.

        Asa? Asa?

        Could you elaborate, because I don’t know what you’re talking about.

        • All I can say is that I saw all of those people post significant things on the internal discussion that they would not have said in public. Of course, I can’t tell you what they were :-)

  5. The annoying point in your proposed mozillian-only forums is they will probably NOT be used by the community as much as ideally expected. Why? Because in recent previous episodes whenever community members (here I don’t mean employees but contributors) tried to voice their opinions they were practically ignored (one of the things that Jono recognized with a remarkable honesty). So I doubt we will indulge once again in trying to explain what we think of this or that Mozilla governance option when the call to internal discussion looks pure communication without any other goal than trying to silence criticism. I wish I were wrong.
    Moreover, the way communication is handled with recent mails to Mozillians is rather awkaward according to me. But that is another story.

    • If the voice of community members is being ignored, that’s a separate problem to solve. But it’s certainly the case that when community members voice an issue in public, it’s not always possible to respond properly in public, because it involves saying things which would be Slashdot-fodder. So I think such a forum would allow for more candid and better communication.

  6. I think this is very awkward regarding the freedom of speech. Jono has expressed his own, valuable opinion on his own weblog — what’s wrong with that? Are you suggesting that Mozillians should not feel allowed to express their own feelings about the project, even if they aren’t part of the paid staff?

    And if our contributors feel like they’re ignored, why would they express their opinion on a semi-closed forum instead of their own weblogs in the first place? I understand we could be more efficient if we all spoke with one voice (at least publicly), but I think the way to achieve this goal would rather be to pay more attention to our contributors than trying to limit their public expression.

    That being said, I think it would be a very nice move if such a “Trusted Mozillians” forum *replaces* our intranet forum and Yammer instance and if it becomes *the* place where key features of the project are discussed.

    • “Are you suggesting that Mozillians should not feel allowed to express their own feelings about the project, even if they aren’t part of the paid staff?”

      No; I am suggesting that some times, given what happens when controversial opinions are posted publicly, they would choose to use a more private forum. From what I have read, Jono is certainly very sad about what happened – this storm of net criticism was not his intention.

      “And if our contributors feel like they’re ignored, why would they express their opinion on a semi-closed forum instead of their own weblogs in the first place?”

      Because they are more likely to get a complete answer.

      “That being said, I think it would be a very nice move if such a “Trusted Mozillians” forum *replaces* our intranet forum and Yammer instance and if it becomes *the* place where key features of the project are discussed.”

      That is the hope. I mean, the trusted forum could _be_ the Yammer instance if we could figure out how to let the right people, and only the right people, in.

    • There’s nothing wrong with it.

      Except for the fact that Jono now feels like he has to apologize to people. Which kind of sucks for _him_.

  7. Thanks Gerv for this proposal, which I fully support. Since I’m not employed I never had access to the Intranet forums or the Yammer instance. It’s just a feeling and might be totally wrong, but over the last years I increasingly got the feeling that important discussions were held there (or somewhere else corporation-only) and only the results were presented on the public mailing lists. On those, at least further discussion was possible in theory.
    Now with the increasing use of the Mozillian Newsletter, even this possibility of directly starting a discussion is gone (newsletters are inherently one-way). This lack of a bakchannel might also have played a role in the Thunderbird-announcement-incident last week.

    So I think such a “Mozillians-Forum” could serve two purposes: a) close the gap between employees and non-employees a bit more and bring the community back into important discussions; b) give a backchannel to the Mozillians Newsletter announcements, without having to discuss everything in public.

    • I can’t speak for Yammer (since I don’t care to follow it), but I can tell you that important decision making is certainly not happening in the intranet forums or anywhere else that I’m aware of. It’s certainly possible that important decision making is happening in meetings that are not public, but if it is I’m not party to those either!

  8. It’s worth noting that while Yammer is apparently a thing, it’s not even a thing all employees use, or care about. I have chosen to deliberately ignore it since its introduction, because I don’t have the time to follow yet another info stream. And I don’t feel like I’ve missed much of anything for that choice. Maybe some random office chatter, but nothing much more than that.

    (I used to keep up with the intranet forum, but I haven’t done so in awhile. I don’t think I’m missing much for that lack, either, and from what I hear the intranet forum is kind of a ghost town these days anyway. Why it’s that now, when it wasn’t so much in the past, I dunno.)

    • Oh, I also ignore Yammer partly because of its closed-off nature, when I think there are usually adequate, more-open substitutes. This isn’t to say I’m categorically opposed to private info channels — sometimes they make sense and have value — but it puts a finger on the scale toward making me care much less about watching or participating in it.

  9. Yes, this was the plan for mozillians.org. We really need this. It could either be the mozillians.org itself or it could provide the access mechanism to tie into and provide access to other systems like Yammer, Rypple, etc. Unfortunately it has taken longer than expected to get in place. In the meantime we’ve been manually using the registrations to send out email communications, but that’s clearly a stop gap and doesn’t address this need. I expect we’ll have an updated roadmap and rollout schedule within the next couple of weeks. Aakash Desai (https://mozillians.org/en-US/aakashd) is the product lead for this on the contributor engagement team, so please do send him any thoughts, suggestions or offers to help.

  10. I think you’re wrong. The reason I stay with Firefox instead of swapping over to Chrome is because of the open nature of discussion around Gecko as opposed to Webkit’s Apple/Google hegemony. Yes I know it’s messy, but this openness is good for everyone.

    p.s. Firefox really did bungle and mangle rapid release when it first started out. The decision in Firefox 10 to make add-ons auto-compatible and the new service-based update mechanism rolled out over Firefox 12 and Firefox 13 have greatly helped. That said, you still have to admit that Firefox 5-9 sucked horribly in the update department. Mozilla should probably do some press releases and community outreach now that things have been fixed up more.

  11. “The alternative is publicly getting annoyed with various partners, which really would not help matters.”

    Of course, the real solution is to fix these problems properly, but that may be easier said than done.

  12. Pingback: A Layer of Trust for Mozillians | about:community