Figuring out the meaning of “community”

July 3rd, 2008

I’d like to keep improving the ways we describe Mozilla in general. It would be helpful to have some greater specificity around some key concepts we use regularly. “Community” is one such concept.

We talk about “community” at Mozilla all the time. A lot of other people talk about “community” as well. People use the word “community” to mean many different things. Sometimes “community” is used to describe a coherent, structured group and sometimes a diffuse, permeable set of people.

To get greater specificity I started with dictionaries and encyclopedias. The Wikipedia discussion of “community” is very long, and has many sub-parts to it. At first I thought it was too complex to be helpful. But as I’ve started talking more with people about the Mozilla identity and goals, I’ve come to think that some of the Wikipedia characterizations of  different types of communities might actually be really useful. I’m about halfway through describing Mozilla communities and will post that as soon as it’s coherent.

If anyone has definitions of “community” they think are helpful to understanding Mozilla, please leave a pointer.

7 comments for “Figuring out the meaning of “community””

  1. 1

    t_joe said on July 5th, 2008 at 7:35 am:

    Community of practice. One definition:

    “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (from Cultivating Communities of Practice, by Etienne Wenger et al).

    Snappier version:

    “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (from

  2. 2

    Iang (a Community Agreement) said on July 6th, 2008 at 8:22 am:

    Over at a CA we know this exercise was conducted in serious form over a period of 2 years. The audit process required, by means of David Ross’s criteria, that the CA publish the risks, liabilities and obligations of the parties effected by the use of certificates.

    This was good, but lead to a realisation that contractually there was no clear definition of who the users were, so a user agreement was constructed and is being rolled out (click on link). A side effect of this – to get to the point – is that this provides a definition of Community. Those who are agreed are part of the Community and those who do not not agree are not. (For those who are not, there is a separate “open source” style licence that gives them permission to use but not to rely.)

    Mozilla might be able to define its community around a similar concept of entering into an agreement; there is some sense in this as Mozilla is also in a relationship with the users that is likewise impacted by certificates. More likely however you are thinking on the developers+producers, not the end-users.

    In short: maybe a document or agreement can be crafted that defines those who want to be part of the Community?

    Although this might sound like legal blah blah, it doesn’t need to be. I.e., the above-mentioned agreement also incorporates a set of higher, softer principles; Mozilla already has a Manifesto, so maybe the Community is simply those who agree with the Manifesto?

    (Disclaimer: I’m involved with the CA as auditor, etc etc.)

  3. 3

    Johnathan Nightingale said on July 7th, 2008 at 7:14 am:

    Hey Mitchell,

    I’m most of the way through Clay Shirky’s _Here Comes Everybody_ which is all about collaborative communities, and may help frame your thinking, if you’re interested in someone else attempting to do that. 🙂

    In the part I’m at now, he’s talking about the three characteristics of successful communities:

    – The promise. The reason people are drawn to the community, and interested in becoming members.
    – The tools. What it is about the community that enables its members to communicate, collaborate, and produce; how it works around the organizational and oversight requirements that used to require a corporate structure.
    – The bargain. What community members expect of each other and will have expected of them.

    His prose is a bit repetitive at times, as he tries to drive his messages home, but he got me with one quote on a randomly leafed-to page (paraphrased):

    “It used to be that we did big things for money and small things for love. Even a barn raising is a reasonably small thing, and a community that takes care of each other can do that without a profit motive. But the costs of building an encyclopedia are too big to do for love, money must be involved to overcome the friction. Now, though, we have unprecedented abilities to collaborate in a distributed way with less friction. We can do big things for love.”

  4. 4

    Mitchell Baker said on July 7th, 2008 at 1:34 pm:

    Thanks, these are helpful.

    The community of practice definitions are very helpful. In the follow up post I”ve written I borrowed the wikipedia definition, in part because it’s a general reference, but I like these definitions.

    I also like blizzard’s comment that communities are groups of people that depend on each other.

  5. 5

    Roberta said on July 8th, 2008 at 6:46 am:

    Mozilla is among my greatest treasures. I jumped in to computers with all my might, in 1988. Very soon after getting on the net, I ran afoul of Netscape, and spent years trying to go against that heavy fast-running tide (Netscape). If all youse guys ears’ ring with angel chimes, that might be the sound of my joy and gratirude. THANK YOU (ALL) FOR MOZILLA!

  6. 6

    Pingback from 451 CAOS Theory » 451 CAOS Links - 2008.07.08

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  7. 7

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