Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This Koolaid is Tasty

Last month I had the privilege of joining WebFWD, the new accelerator from Mozilla. When I first learned of the opportunity, Mozilla was to me one thing: "makers of Firefox."

Boy did I have a lot to learn (and still do). At this point, while my brain is still somewhat fresh with the "business" (as in, non-open source) way of thinking, I've identified some key areas that many businesses seek to excel at...and what Mozilla has been building on for years already:

Coming from the non-open source side of business, I've been involved in a lot of efforts focused on both employee and customer engagement. In technology, both are key: creating and transferring knowledge require a high degree of information sharing and engagement, both among the developers and the consumers of the software.

At Schwab, we developed a number of programs to engage our IT employees: contests, rewards, events, newsletters, feedback loops, "fun budgets" - any trick short of bribery our HR was ok with, we did it. We monitored, we measured the results, we reported back to senior management.

Flash to the world of Open Source...where, in shock, I learn things like:
  • More than 1,000 volunteers contribute code to Firefox, accounting for roughly 40% of its code. Yes, volunteers: as in, voluntarily.
  • 400,000 people contribute to Mozilla through its project tracking system Bugzilla
So um yes, these are volunteers, people. Unlike the highly-paid IT professionals we had to cajole with "fun budgets," these people willingly give of their time and their talents. There's no better engagement than that which is not engineered. It's internalized. It sticks.

Social Enterprise
When I was at Haas, the Global Social Venture competition was just starting and the "triple bottom line" was emerging as a paradigm for businesses to deliver value on social as well as commercial fronts. This is becoming pretty pervasive today, thanks in part to social media adding an unprecedented level of transparency to consumer decision making, allowing them to select - and switch - vendors using simple scorecards, and spread the word prolifically. Social good is a huge brand asset

When I encountered this huge phenomenon of Open Source volunteerism, I had to know ...why? Why would these talented professionals give their long-developed skills over for free to an open project? I'm learning that, while there are many reasons, the primary ones are the desire of dedicated people wishing to make things better: for themselves through better tools that solve their problems, and for others through increased competition. This results in a different kind of economy: one predicated less on transacting money for labor, and more on exchanging goodwill and knowledge to improve things. It's allowed social enterprise to extend beyond fair labor practices and health products and into the world of technology. It's very cool.

If you've had even one baby toe dipped in the realm of social media over the past 5ish years (and really, who hasn't?), you'll know that "community" is a huge deal. It's the way brands and firms engage (that word again) with their customers. It's Facebook groups. It's Twitter followers. It's Google+ Circles. It's something else next week. But it's important, because it's a way for organizations to draw in and retain customers and influence.

It's so important that brands paid big bucks to firms like the company I consulted with prior to joining Mozilla to create programs to get people to simply click "Like" on Facebook. 

Then I join Mozilla where I learn things like:
  • SUMO, Mozilla’s community-powered support site, helps an average of 10,000 Firefox users per week.
  • Students from more than 600 institutions in 57 countries spread Firefox as Mozilla Campus Representatives
This is community of the best kind: galvanized around a mission that extends beyond their individual needs, and not dependent on any one person or leader and as such, is highly sustainable and durable.

At Schwab we had another initiative: decentralize its workforce (which at the time was concentrated in San Francisco which was perceived as cost-prohibitive), and develop best practices and infrastructure to support this. Remote working policies and technology had to be developed, deployed and broadly adopted. It posed a fundamental shift in how people worked together. Schwab of course is not alone in this endeavor.

At Mozilla, the organization is already global at its core. A few data points that underscore this nicely:
  • Firefox is available in more than 75 languages (covering more than 97% of the world’s online population)
  • Firefox is used in every country in the world
  • Almost every non-English version of Firefox is localized by community volunteers
  • More than 50% of global Firefox users use non-English versions 
 ...and you can read the Mozilla Manifesto in 33 languages. But what really drove this home for me was the crazy corners of the earth I hear Mozillians operate from (most recent being Hanoi). Often in their own homes, leveraging the video and real-time conferencing technologies used by volunteers, staffers and community members alike. What many corporations are trying to build are merely the stuff daily Mozilla life is made of, as well as that of many other open source projects (check out GitHub, which supports over 1 million people sharing code around the world).
Small wonder, then, that Mozilla Chair Mitchell Baker recently encouraged Mozillians confronting an increasingly competitive browser market (thanks largely to Mozilla itself) to "be more Mozilla then ever." Whether they know it or not, it's what most companies want, too.