Mozilla Location Services – A story of intentionality and growth

Since the start of this year I joined the Community Building team with a task (among others) to abstract community building best practices and apply them to teams that haven’t had any dedicated community building resource, forming a strategy around community with them.

Over 7 months ago the Services team of Mozilla announced a new project. The Mozilla Location Service (MLS for short). Given the priority of the project, community excitement and my passion about geo-related projects I was assigned as a community builder in a supportive function.

Since it started, over 4 thousand people have been contributing to the project. What is interesting about this contribution activity is that although engagement of potential contributors was relatively low, and the call to action was not widely advertised, the influx of people was steady and global. Though we can speculate in general about the source those contributions, we can also safely say that the vision behind the project and the low barrier to entry contributed a lot towards this influx of people.

As the months went by, location services team wanted to understand better the contribution that was happening, assess it, and act based on a community building strategy. The immediate need was the definition of a contribution path. Given the structure of the program that was fairly straightforward. A contributor downloads MozStumbler, installs it and then starts walking around. The next step for a contributor would be to opt-in for a nickname associated to his/her contributions so that he/she participate on the leaderboard and for us to have more meaningful contribution activity data. Articulating a pathway also helps on identifying bottlenecks and the overall health of the community, and we are now in the process of defining the active contribution thresholds.

At that point onwards, the question that was raised within our community building meetings for MLS was around the “intentionality” of the community building. It is one thing to have a program open for contributions and a totally different one to facilitate and encourage contributions, assessing the community health in parallel. The shift towards intentionality for community building, requires a significant resource commitment that any team within an organization would naturally be reluctant to make. As a supportive community builder I proposed a community building pilot approach to evaluate the community engagement and contribution possibilities.

Quoting Erin Lancaster, one of the key drivers of this effort:

A community builder is essential in order to connect the technical team directly to the very people who care enough about the project in order to devote their free time to helping us out. [A community builder is] also key to ensuring that the community is empowered with the details so they can hit the ground running and contribute while being able to distill information back to the dev team.

Our fantastic community in India was selected as the host for the first pilot. For our first event we would try to get people together for a stumbling-party in Bangalore and assess the contribution rates, spikes and ripples that the event would create, against our investment towards the event. Deb, Vineel and Galaxy, our awesome local leaders organized the event and by tweaking existing event-in-a-box templates from older Mozilla projects and using Mozilla Reps for supporting the event set the date for 26th of April.

14167122357_37c2ff0e53_bThe event was really successful. 30 people showed up and started stumbling and the local team made some slight twists on the event structure to facilitate better community engagement. (extended stumbling period, assigned areas for stumbling etc). What was really important for our pilot was to evaluate the contribution activity that we got from this small scale, low on resource event, and the result was stunning. We saw a 10x spike in our contribution rates in India for the following 2 weeks, and once the spike was over we were already 3x from the rates before the event (contribution activity ripples).hanno_data_2There were some concrete learnings from our first pilot, especially regarding the format, structure and communications needed before and after the event. In order to fortify our learnings and fine-tune the event format (for larger scale implementation) we decided to run a second pilot in three Indian cities (8th of June) in parallel with the same core team. Our first pilot clearly showcased the value of community contributions in MLS and based on the combined results of those two events we will be forming a community building growth strategy for MLS team transitioning towards a fully intentional approach.

All this would not be possible without the help of the fantastic people in MLS team (Vishy Krishnamoorthy, Erin Lancaster, Asa Dotzler, Richard Barnes, Hanno Schlichting, Ravikumar Dandu, Doug Turner) that have been really supportive since the early discussions around MLS community. A huge thanks, to all of you and onwards we go!