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.

What Healthy Relationships Teach Us About Healthy Communities

In organizations where communities form (whether around a product, mission, or otherwise), there is often a sense of perplexity or trepidation around how to engage with them. What is the proper way to talk to community members? How do I work with them, and what can I do to keep the community healthy and growing? The good news is, if you know what it takes to have a healthy personal relationship, you already know how to build a healthy community.

Prioritize them

In a good relationship, we prioritize the other person. At Mozilla, the QA team makes it a point to respond to volunteer contributors within a day or two. A lack of response is one of the top reasons why people leave online communities, so it’s important not to keep them hanging. It doesn’t feel good to volunteer your time on a project only to be left waiting when you ask questions or request feedback, just as it would if your partner doesn’t return your phone calls.

Be authentic

Authenticity and honesty in a relationship are the building blocks of trust. If you make a mistake, admit it and set it right. Your tone and word choice will reflect your state of mind, so be aware of it when composing a message. When you come from a place of caring and desire to do what’s right for the community, instead of a place of fear or insecurity, your words and actions will foster trust.

Be appreciative

Strong relationships are formed when both parties value and appreciate each other. It’s a great feeling when you take out the trash or do the dishes, and it’s noticed and praised. Make it a ritual to say thanks to community members who make an impact, preferably on the spot, and publicly if possible and appropriate.

Be their champion

Be prepared to go to bat for the community. I was once in a relationship with a partner who would not defend me in situations where I was being mistreated; it didn’t end well. It feels nice to be advocated for, to be championed, and it creates a strong foundation. When you discover a roadblock or grievance, take the time to investigate and talk to the people who can make it right. The community will feel heard and valued.

Empathize

The processes and programs that support community participation require an understanding of motivation. To understand motivation, you have to be able to empathize. Everyone views the world from their own unique perspectives, so it’s important to try and understand them, even if they’re different from your own. 

Set expectations

Understand your organization’s limitations, as well as your own, and communicate them. If your partner expects you to be home at a certain time and you don’t show up, the anger you encounter likely has more to do with not being told you’re going to be late, than the lateness itself.

Guidelines and rules for participation are important components as well. I once featured content from a community member and was met by an angry online mob, because although the content was great, the member hadn’t reached a certain level of status. The guidelines didn’t cover eligibility for featuring, and up until then only longer-term participants had been featured, so the community’s expectations were not met.

Not apples to apples

I would never want to get anyone in trouble by suggesting they treat their community members exactly the same as their partners. Answering emails from anyone while having dinner with your loved one is not advised. The take-away is there isn’t any mystery to interacting with a community. Many of the ingredients for a healthy community are ones found in healthy relationships, and most reassuring of all, we already know what they are.

The AMO Reviewer Community Turns 10

A decade ago, Firefox introduced the world to a customizable web browser. For the first time, you could use add-ons to personalize your entire browsing experience—from the look and feel of buttons, to tab behaviors, to content filtering. Anyone with coding skills could create an add-on and submit it to addons.mozilla.org (AMO) for others to use. The idea that you could experience the web on your own terms was a powerful one, and today, add-ons have been downloaded close to 4 billion times.

Each add-on listed on AMO is thoroughly reviewed to ensure its privacy and safety, and volunteer reviewers have shouldered much of this effort. To properly inspect an add-on, a reviewer has to dig into the code—a taxing and often thankless chore. Nobody notices when an add-on works as expected, but everybody notices when an add-on with a security flaw gets through. These reviewers are truly unsung heroes.

From the beginning, volunteers recognized the importance of reviewing add-ons, and self-organized on wiki pages. As add-ons grew in popularity, it became necessary to hire a few people out of this community to keep it organized and nurtured. Ten years later, volunteers are still responsible for about half of all add-on reviews (about 150 per week). Our top volunteer reviewer is approaching 9,000 reviews.

As a community manager working with volunteer reviewers, I’m sometimes asked what the secret is behind this enduring and resilient community. The secret is there isn’t just one thing. Anyone who’s ever tried giving away free food and booze as their primary community-building strategy has learned how quickly the law of diminishing returns kicks in.

What’s In It For Me?

To understand why people get involved with reviewing add-ons, and why they stay involved, you only have to understand human nature. Altruism tells just part of the story. People are often surprised when I tell them that many reviewers began volunteering for selfish reasons. They are add-on developers themselves, and wanted their add-ons to be reviewed faster.

Some of these developers authored add-ons that are used by tens of thousands, sometimes millions of people, so it’s important to be able to push out updates quickly. Since reviewers are not allowed to review their own add-ons, the only way to speed things up is to help burn down the queue. (Reviewers can also request expedited reviews of their add-ons.) Also, they can learn how other people make add-ons, which in turn helps them improve their own.

Intrinsic Motivation

People who create add-ons are people who write code, so the code itself can be interesting and intrinsically motivating. In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink writes that self-motivated work tends to be creative, challenging, and non-routine, and add-on reviewing has it all: every piece of code is different (creative), security flaws can be cleverly concealed (challenging), and reviewers contribute at their own pace (non-routine).

Not Just Carrots and Sticks

A few years ago, we began awarding points for add-on reviews and introduced a leaderboard that lets reviewers see their progress against other reviewers. The points could also be redeemed for swag as part of an incentive program.

While this is admittedly a carrot-and-stick approach to engaging contributors, it serves a larger purpose. By devoting time and resources to sending handwritten notes and small tokens, we are also sending the message that reviewers are important and appreciated. When you open your mailbox and there’s a Fedex package containing a special-edition t-shirt in your size, you know your efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

Community and Responsibility

AMO reviewers know that they play an important role in keeping Firefox extensible, and that their work directly impacts the experience people have installing add-ons. Since about half of the hundreds of millions of Firefox users have add-ons installed, that is no small feat. I’ve heard from reviewers that they stick around because they like being part of a community of awesome people who are responsible for keeping add-ons safe to use in Firefox.

The Magic Formula

Online communities are complex, their fabric woven from a mesh of intrinsic and extrinsic, selfish and altruistic motivations. A healthy, lasting community benefits from a combination of these factors, in varying proportions, some of them driven by the community and some by the attentive community-builders tasked with nurturing it. There isn’t a silver bullet; rather, it’s about finding your own magic formula and knowing that often, the secret ingredient is whatever it is that makes us human.

Happy 10th birthday, AMO reviewers.

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.