As we approach the release of Firefox 3, it’s time to focus even more on the future. What can we do with our products and our community-based processes that moves the Internet further toward our vision? The release of Firefox 3 is a giant step forward, bringing improvements in almost every area that the browser touches. We’ll do more releases of Firefox, as there is plenty of room for innovation left. But it is not enough to think of our future in terms of Firefox and Thunderbird releases.
We should ask the bigger questions: how do we use our products and product development cycle to improve overall life on the Internet over the next few years? What can we do that moves the Internet towards our vision?
It’s a broad question. That’s a mark of success, and reflects the size of the opportunity before us. It’s also easy to imagine how a discussion could be interesting but fail to result in good goals. “Good” goals need to be broad enough to be meaningful over several years and yet formed enough to motivate action and lead to concrete tasks. Maybe we should think as far forward as the next ten years. But at the least we should think of the next two or three years.
We have some experience in doing this. Just about two years ago Mozilla employees spent some time figuring out what we would like to accomplish over an approximately two year period ending in mid 2008. Those goals became known as “Summer 2008 Goals.” This was an early attempt attempt to create long term goals and it wasn’t a public process. At the time it was hard enough to have this discussion even among the set of Mozilla employees. We were just learning how to talk about goals bigger than “fix these bugs for this release.” It required a change of mindset, longer term thinking and a bit of audacity to set difficult stretch goals. This time we’ll look at long term goals as a community process, involving the broad set of people who are critical to making our products great.
The Summer 2008 Goals are a good set of goals. They are good in their scope and good in expressing big ideas rather than specifying implementation plans. And even better, they were forward-looking goals when we set them and provide a means for evaluating the scope of the progress we’ve made to date. On the other hand, these goals aren’t measurement tools. Anyone looking for specificity will be disappointed. They are directional goals. They are intended to describe the kind and scope of accomplishment we wanted to see.
Broad aspirational goals are a good starting point because Mozilla as a project needs to motivate many thousands of people (tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, actually) to move in the same general direction, most of whom aren’t full time, aren’t employees and may not even be known personally to the project leadership. We won’t know and don’t seek to control all the things people will do that make us more successful. Articulating a broad, commonly shared set of aspirations helps many disparate groups of people organize themselves and work towards very practical, concrete tasks that make our aspirations real. Sometime during the summer of 2008 I’d like to have a good draft of our goals for how we want to promote the Mozilla vision of the Internet through our products during the next few years.
In my next post I’ll look at the Summer ’08 goals and what we’ve accomplished over the last couple of years.