Recognizing Add-on and Marketplace Contributors

Sometimes while I’m driving or brushing my teeth, I will suddenly be seized by the thought that we have overlooked someone’s contributions. I will worry that perhaps a volunteer has been toiling away at something, and we’ve failed to recognize his or her efforts. Reflexively, I’ll begin a mental run-down of recent conversations and ongoing projects to check if we had forgotten anyone.

Routine community-building tasks at Mozilla can be a challenge sometimes because of the nature of our organization. We don’t have a central database collecting information on everything our volunteers are doing. A community manager cannot log in somewhere and pull down a list of all the things someone has done for a project. Many non-profits deal with this by relying on volunteers to log their own hours, but not all contributions can be captured by a measure of time. Recently, a volunteer from the German community came across a potentially unsafe add-on and flagged it with the AMO team. An entry of “15 minutes” in a time log wouldn’t do justice to the importance of her contribution.

Over the years, we’ve developed work-arounds to overcome these limitations. One of them is nurturing a culture of recognition. By creating habits and rituals around thanking people publicly, we can better ensure that volunteers are properly recognized for their efforts. (We recognize contributors in other ways as well, but this post will focus on public recognition). At the beginning of every weekly team meeting and bi-weekly community meeting, we’ll ask whether anyone should be recognized. Everyone is encouraged to report their own contributions as well as the contributions of others.

Each month, we create a fresh public wiki to keep track of things. At the end of the month, this becomes the official nomination list for the title of Friend of Marketplace or AMO, and the newest honoree is celebrated in a blog post and several mailing lists. We also take advantage of the public Monday project meeting to thank our contributors. Every meeting is recorded, so people in other time zones can easily tune in. The most rewarding thing is when people ask me to help them recognize a contributor they’ve been working with, because they see people being mentioned and want the same for their volunteers.

We do have some tools available that automatically log contributions, such as Bugzilla, One & Done, and the add-on and app reviewer tools. Having these tools in addition to a community that actively appreciates each other’s work helps to make my moments of worry a little more manageable.

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Add-on and App Reviewer Meetup at MozFest 2014

Every app submitted to Firefox Marketplace and every add-on submitted to AMO is reviewed by a person; 60-80% of the time, that person is a volunteer.

Each year, the AMMO team endeavors to meet a few of the top volunteer reviewers in person to talk about the past year, get feedback, plan for the coming year, and have a pint or two. This year, we arranged a meetup at MozFest in London.

welcome dinner

We kicked things off with a welcome dinner and drinks, then spent the following day at the London MozSpace having more in-depth discussions. The group was extremely diverse—ten countries were represented among the 12 people who attended. Some reviewers joined in the past year, others have been reviewing for nearly a decade.

One piece of feedback that really stuck with me was that many people think being an app reviewer is the only way to contribute to Marketplace. This means we need to do more to get the word out about the myriad ways one can get involved. But it also means the reviewer program is strong, and widely known, and these are reasons themselves for celebration.

Reviewer Meetup

Notes from the meeting are available on this etherpad. We got some great feedback, and I am really looking forward to tackling some of the action items in the coming weeks.

Afterwards, we attended the MozFest science fair kick-off together, then dispersed over the weekend to explore the event, letting serendipity and our own unique interests guide us.

My interests and chance meetings guided me to make an LED robot, learn how to pick locks, and have fascinating discussions about communities and web literacy. Though I was weakened by flu at the conclusion of the weekend, I came away feeling invigorated by the spirit of Mozilla.

Cultivating Community by Working in the Open

Back when new versions of Firefox were released every year or so, many of Mozilla’s paid contributors came from the volunteer base or other open-source communities. Mozillians not only had the time, but the natural inclination to engage with volunteer contributors.

Today, new versions of Firefox are released every six weeks, and many new products exist that didn’t before; products that require working with partners historically outside of Mozilla’s comfort zone. Firefox Marketplace is one of them.

Marketplace faces several community-building challenges. Not only does it push new code every week, but release schedules are often driven by business contracts. Managers are under pressure to deliver on deadlines with limited resources, leaving very little time to engage with volunteers. Deadline-driven work is also harder for people to contribute to in their spare time.

The team’s rapid growth means former volunteer contributors are now in the minority. With fewer paid contributors from the open-source world naturally inclined to cultivate relationships with the community, and more from the business world uncertain of the community’s role in meeting deadlines, phrases like “Leverage the community,” and “Line up contributors to help,” begin cropping up in meetings.

Mozilla couldn’t have been built without the people who believe so passionately in its mission. People who code, document, translate, and evangelize—often in the free time between leaving their day jobs (or schools) and getting into bed—because they care. Because they’ve created bonds with other Mozillians. They are anything but free labor—they are partners in the mission.

So how do we continue nurturing and cultivating our community in light of our current realities? One way is to embrace a culture of working in the open.

Working in the open means structuring your work in a way that is discoverable and transparent to anyone interested in contributing. It doesn’t require a lot of extra work on top of what you do, as much as it requires a certain mindset.

If you’re a developer, are you designing your project so that it’s easy for someone to take a piece of it and work on it? If a non-technical contributor shows up looking for ways to help (as I did, in 2009), are you ready with a list of opportunities and simple steps for getting started? Are you holding public meetings and posting public status updates?

It’s about making your work inviting and accessible to people who want to join the fray. When they do jump in, making yourself available to guide them increases the likelihood that they will become engaged. Engaged contributors become leaders who will cultivate the next generation of leaders.

Working openly and transparently doesn’t take much extra effort, and it is not only essential, but a minimum requirement, to keeping our community healthy.