The Mozilla project is an enormous worldwide community of people who choose to work together to produce and share technology, products and a passion for the web. The Mozilla Foundation is the official home of the Mozilla project. It has certain special abilities and responsibilities with regard to leadership of the Mozilla project and stewardship of the project’s assets.
In some ways the Mozilla Foundation is like the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.” It’s the easiest part to see, it has a size and structure that is easy to understand. But the heart of the Mozilla project is the enormous, highly motivated, loosely structured set of communities that make the project vibrant. Like the tip of an iceberg the Mozilla Foundation is a good marker for the larger reality and a good place to start an understanding of the project. And like an iceberg, one needs to go far beyond the surface of the Mozilla Foundation to understand the breadth and depth of the Mozilla project.
In other words, the Mozilla project is larger than the Mozilla Foundation and its employees. This fact should be reflected in the way the Mozilla Foundation organizes itself. Employment with the Mozilla Foundation is not and must not become the source of all authority within the Mozilla project. Contributors must have a voice within the Mozilla project unrelated to employment.
In the days before the Mozilla Foundation existed a group of people known as “mozilla.org staff” provided this voice. Mozilla.org staff was a virtual organization which governed the Mozilla project in general, and did so increasingly unrelated to any employment relationship. Some of the functions that mozilla.org staff used to fulfill now live in the Foundation — stewardship of the assets, release of products using the Mozilla name, as examples. So the old model of mozilla.org staff cannot continue unchanged in the world of the Foundation.
Nevertheless, we need a mechanism to recognize, organize and legitimate the leadership of key contributors and community members unrelated to employment status. This mechanism should both (a) organize and amplify this contributor voice and (b) give this voice input and participation into the Mozilla Foundation’s activities.
We have proven policies for ensuring authority unrelated to employment in the development of code itself. We need a way to maintain and update these policies that doesn’t put all leadership in the hands of Mozilla Foundation employees. We also need to ensure contributors can provide leadership in Mozilla project activities other than writing code.
Some may ask “why?” “Why doesn’t the Mozilla Foundation simply take on the leadership and governance role through its employees?” there are many answers to this. First, the Mozilla project is an open source project. We build software through distributed authority based on reputation, peer review, proven results and ability to lead others through results rather than title. This system produces great results, allows new contributors to appear from unexpected places and join us, drives technical excellence and prevents group-think from making us complacent. The operating style of the Mozilla Foundation must reflect this DNA.
Secondly, the Mozilla Foundation does not and will not employ all the great contributors to the Mozilla project. There are far too many contributors for this to be the case. And it is an explicit goal to have volunteers and people employed by different organizations contributing to get broader perspectives into the heart of the project. Expertise and dedication will exist outside of the Mozilla Foundation’s employee base. It is critical that these contributors have an understood, identified, accepted way to participate in the Mozilla Foundation’s activities.
Those people who have been involved in the project for along time have a short hand phrase for this — we say that “mozilla.org staff needs to be revitalized to provide this role.” Framed more generally the question is: We need a way for participants to exercise leadership and moral authority in the governance and activities of the Mozilla project that is unrelated to one’s employment status. We need to articulate the scope of that leadership and authority and create a mechanism by which that voice is involved in Mozilla Foundation activities.