Last week I attended a community building meetup in Toronto, where I had the opportunity to meet with individuals who are driving volunteer participation across different areas of the Mozilla project. Together we discussed the things our teams are doing to engage volunteers, and we brainstormed ways that we can continue to grow Mozilla. These discussions gave me lots of ideas about what we can do to grow our Firefox for Android community, but most of them boiled down to three main points.
1. Improve communication. The first part of getting involved in a project is figuring out what’s going on. Our team tends to have lots of discussions on IRC and in Bugzilla, which is great if you’re following those channels closely, but it can be hard for a casual observer to keep up. We’re already trying to address this issue with a new mailing list for development discussions, as well as Twitter and Tumblr accounts for more lightweight updates. Mark Finkle just wrote a blog post covering these communication channels in more detail.
2. Diversify opportunities. When newcomers show up, we help them set up a build environment and point them at a list of mentor bugs. This is a great way to get started, but it doesn’t provide a path to becoming a core contributor, or a path toward other types of contributions. I’d like us to encourage more advanced contributions, such as helping debug difficult crashes, or working on bugs that will help us complete a feature we’re targeting for a given release. I also want us to do a better job advertising all the different ways someone can contribute to Firefox for Android, especially testing and support. Our “Get Involved” page mentions some of these opportunities, but there’s probably more we can do.
3. Manage expectations. Even though we do our best to make it easy, writing a patch is hard. New contributors need to remember that it can take a significant amount of effort to get a patch accepted, and core team members need to remember that it takes time for newcomers to develop the knowledge that we often take for granted. We also need to recognize that newcomers are volunteering their time to help improve Firefox, and that mentors are volunteering their time to help grow our community. It’s a lot of work all around, but no one ever said open source software was easy!