Archive for July 7th, 2008

Concentric Circles of Community

July 7th, 2008

I’ve come to think of Mozilla, or “the Mozilla community” as a set of concentric circles of communities. Actually, I’m thinking of Mozilla as concentric spheres of community, but I’m going to stick to circles for this post.

For me the ability to be more precise about “community” is important in thinking about what Mozilla is, what more we might do, what the Mozilla Foundation might do, what the essence of Mozilla is that we want to be very careful about changing, and which areas we should try to go wild in and try lots and lots of new things.

I’m going to borrow a set of terms from the Wikipedia discussion of “community.” There’s some risk in this because these terms may have academic background and meanings associated with them. But I need some set of terms and this seems a better start than just making them up.

Specifically, I’m thinking of 4 concentric groups: a Community of Practice, a Community of Action, a Community of Interest and our User Community.

I’m very interested in whether people living and working Mozilla feel these distinctions describe the different communities in which you participate and with which you interact. Let me know!



According to Wikipedia, the word “community” is “derived from the Latin communitas (meaning the same), which is in turn derived from communis, which means “common, public, shared by all or many.”

Community of Practice

At the heart of the Mozilla world is a set of people who share many things. We share code. We share goals. We share a set of values (the Mozilla Manifesto). We share specific means of collaboration (from Bugzilla to IRC to wikis), information repositories (source, documentation, website), a decision-making structure (module ownership), and a clear set of basic rights (the Mozilla Public License). We share activities — distributed creation and adoption of specific products that promote choice, innovation, transparency and participation in Internet life.

That’s a fair amount to share. So on my own I’d add some adjectives and describe this as a dense or cohesive community. But rather than make up adjectives I’m going to borrow the term “Community of Practice.” Wikipedia describes this as “social learning that occurs and shared sociocultural practices that emerge and evolve when people who have common goals interact as they strive towards those goals.”  I like this definition because it is not focused on a particular group or activity. We have many different types of activities that are part of this Community of Practice.

Community of Action

The next concentric circle is a set of people who take action to move the Mozilla mission forward but do so in more open-ended ways. For this set I’m adopting the term Community of Action. The people in this group may share our values, our goals, our decision-making processes for example, but develop their own ways of collaborating and their own sets of activities.

Wikipedia describes these as “structurally more open” and possessing both “some of the characteristics of communities, such as the development of a common language and mutual learning in the course of action . . .  [and] characteristics typical of more associative social relationships, such as the “voluntary” nature of association and the importance of “common goals” in directing collective activity.”

I see the boundary between this and our Communities of Practice as fluid. Sometimes these activities become so important and scale to such a size that they become more formalized. In this case some of the spontaneity may be exchanged for additional resources, scale and better integration into the core.  The long term history of localization is an example. In the early 2000’s localization of Mozilla products was extremely distributed, with many different groups working on their own. Today internationalization and localization are a fundamental aspect of the core of what we do; deep into our Community of Practice.

Community of Interest

Beyond this there’s a set of people who aren’t actively involved in creating Mozilla artifacts but are very supportive of our product or our mission. This group my not share our means of collaboration, our decision-making structure or our basic statement of rights. But they share in goals (sometimes general goals; sometimes  specific goals), in the use of the code, and they may share the activities of finding and helping others use our code.

Loosely borrowing from Wikipedia again, I’d call this the Mozilla’s Community of Interest: “A Community of interest is a community of people who share a common interest or passion. These people exchange ideas and thoughts about the given passion, but may know (or care) little about each other outside of this area.”

User Community

An ever larger circle is the set of people who use our products. Some of these people are also in earlier concentric circles. But a number are not. They use Firefox because it’s a great product that meets their needs. Maybe do not know that Firefox is created as a public benefit asset; many know little to nothing about the way Mozilla operates or the goals that motivate the Communities of Practice, Action and Interest. I’m calling this our User Community. This is not a Wikipedia term; I’ve added it because it’s important to us. This group of people gives our efforts weight and effect, helping us move the Internet towards greater openness.

All of Mozilla exists within broader contexts, such as the open source world or the Internet space, etc. That’s a lot to say there. But for now I’d like to get some shared terms for the Mozilla communities. This will help us figure out what parts of the Mozilla community we’re talking about or trying to address in different circumstances.

I’m very interested in whether these circles and the labels is useful in thinking about the Mozilla community. Any form of feedback welcome — here, email, talkback, twitter, you name it.

Skip past the sidebar