Mozilla as a Media Organization (part 2!)

For the past few years, Planet Mozilla has been one of Mozilla’s more important media channels. While simply an rss aggregator that people can opt-in to, it has been one of the primary ways in which Mozillians, volunteers and external interested parties alike have been able to keep in touch with what’s going on in and around the Mozilla Foundation.

Through the years, and especially recently, Planet Mozilla has become a firehose of information and has lost much of its utility as a result.

Ongoing discussion on the topic thus far.

via Philip Smith

Rethinking Planet Mozilla: The challenge of too much signal

I believe that Mozillaville needs a smart, scrappy news organization to help its citizens understand what’s going on around them.

In Superman’s city, Metropolis, that was the Daily Planet.

In Spiderman’s city, New York, that was the Daily Bugle.

In Mozillaville, I think that the job should go to Planet Mozilla.

Some of the most interesting technology news stories are happening right here in our city, Mozillaville, so why are we’re waiting for other news organizations to cover them?

We have the scoops. We have the experts. We have the technology. So what are we waiting for?

Is it time to throw the Planet out with the Universe?

What role does Planet Mozilla play in the Mozillaverse?

Reading through the various Mozilla governance newsgroup threads provides sausage-factory-level insight into how Mozilla’s governance works — it’s an awesome thing to behold, but betrays the inherent challenges of governance in a distributed organization that has an institutionalized meritocracy behind the official org chart. (But it also provides an inspiration example of “open governance” — kudos!)

An information-delivery system made by Mozillians, by Mozillians, about Mozillians

So the opportunity ahead, the one that I’m excited to see a conversation unfold around, is:What would be required to bootstrap the best information-delivery system for Mozillians, made by Mozillians, about Mozillians?

I have some ideas, I’m hoping you do too.

Matt Thompson responds with: Planet Mozilla Needs Humans

Maybe we need a dedicated human or humans to help us summarize, filter and storify the best of Planet Mozilla. Essentially: professional reporters who cover Planet Mozilla as a beat.

After reading this post, I started thinking about Mozilla’s ongoing transition in focus from tech programming to social programming. It occurred to me that Mozilla is quickly becoming a media organization and decided to explore that theme from a higher level in Mozila as a Media Organization (now part 1).

Here’s one of the recommendations I made after my bit of exploration:

In the short term, Mozilla should consolidate its internal communications/storytelling initiatives (Planet Mozilla, the temporary oneMozilla etc) into channels that share both creation and distribution infrastructure with its other major programs (WebMaker, WebFwd, etc).

In future posts I will go into more detail regarding short term development opportunities toward the global Mozilla Media Empire.

So here goes!

I think both Phillip and Matt are on the right track in suggesting some form of curation to be the answer. Hiring a journalist to cover the ‘Planet Mozilla beat’ would be a solid step in this direction.

Phillip however seems to lean toward suggesting something more radical: Planet Mozilla should evolve beyond being a glorified rss aggregator to a full blown news brand.

What does this mean? I’d like to suggest that Philip’s question: “What would be required to bootstrap the best information-delivery system for Mozillians, made by Mozillians, about Mozillians?” is might as well read: What would be required to bootstrap the best information-delivery system for people, made by people, about people?”

 Now we’re talking about the future of journalism, and the future of the web. (Go team!!)
Ok, let’s get bootstrappy! Reeling it back in…
Media channels are meant to direct flows of information. In the olden days, this meant broadcasting media outward to the masses. Today, communication flows both ways as social media makes our organizations permeable.

Mozilla has historically been all over the place when it comes to media channels. It’s only recently with the new strategic focus on Web Makers that these channels are beginning to consolidate. (One Mozilla ftw!)

Planet Mozilla specifically has served a very important role up to this point: As key internal(ish) communications infrastructure! Mozilla Planet is a major component in the communications ‘glue’ that has enabled collaboration to occur within and around the organization.

So, I’m thinking about Planet Mozilla within two tightly woven contexts: as a brand, and as an environment for internal(ish) communication + collaboration.

Philip suggested five creative constraints in coming up with a solution. I’d like to add three more:

  1. Build infrastructure that supports multiple storytelling channels.
  2. Embrace hyperlocality.
  3. Let’s not turn the firehose down, let’s turn it UP!

Let’s take these one at a time.

Build infrastructure that supports multiple storytelling channels.

Planet Mozilla isn’t Mozilla’s only media channel. Whatever solution is created should be applicable to as many of them as possible.

As I see it, Mozilla is in the process of consolidating down to six primary channels of engagement across three dimensions:  Communication vectors, orientation of production, and production lifecycle.

‘Communication vectors’ refers to whether a channel is meant for internal engagement or external engagement.

‘Orientation of production’ refers to whether technology or media are the primary creative focus.

‘Production lifecycle’ refers to the Alpha, Beta, Release cycle of Firefox. I think the idea of branding Firefox’s production lifecycle as channels is utterly brilliant. It not only sets expectations, but aligns internal processes with external engagement.

Expanding upon this idea is largely what inspired me to create following diagrams illustrating the primary engagement channels I see emerging at Mozilla: Mozilla Firefox (Mozilla Products channel?), Mozilla Web Maker, WebFWD, Planet Mozilla, Mozilla Labs and Mozilla Aurora.

I’d like to note that the ‘Mozilla Aurora’ channel should not be confused with the ‘Firefox Aurora’ channel. Mozilla Aurora doesn’t exist yet. A proposal is forthcoming. 😉

Whatever the primary engagement channels end up being, the organizational (people + practice) infrastructure and technology infrastructure that is created for Planet Mozilla should be generalizable across first the media/communications channels and then the technology focused channels.

Embrace Hyperlocality

Mozilla is not a city. Mozilla is EVERY city! As a global organization leading the charge toward an open mobile web, embracing hyperlocality is a must.

With regard to Planet Mozilla, this implies that the primary ‘news beat’ is not one project or another.. but one city or another. One office or another.

If the evolution of Planet Mozilla involves hiring/engaging teams of journalists then these teams would best serve the organization’s communications and storytelling needs by primarily focusing on local efforts they have physical access to. This will not only serve to expose the diversity that exists within Mozilla, but create a stronger sense of shared global culture. (I could actually go on for hours on why hyperlocality is awesome!)

And as far as infrastructure sharing between channels is concerned, hyperlocal news correspondents could very well become beacons for local engagement across the full spectrum of Mozilla activity. (I’m thinking about Webmaker programming in particular, but Mozilla Spaces seems to hint things are already going in this direction.)

But wait.. doesn’t this create even MORE noise than before?! I’m glad you asked.

Onward toward my third proposed creative constraint.

Let’s not turn the firehose down, let’s turn it UP!

So far, we’ve been talking about Planet Mozilla as a brand.. but at the moment it is also a tool. A single tool. I’d like to recommend that while we explore new possibilities for Planet Mozilla, we leave the glorified feed aggregator alone for now.

Instead, let’s talk about about the real issue at hand: There’s so much happening at Mozilla that it’s difficult to align the organization optimally due to a knowledge gap. This knowledge gap doesn’t exist due to lack of information, but largely because of far too much!

In discussing the future of Planet Mozilla, let’s consider more than just the opt-in feed aggregator. Let’s consider everything. Let’s bring more data to the table. Better data! Richer data!! BIG DATA!!! 😀

If the future of Planet Mozilla is journalism and the future of journalism is data journalism.. I’d like to posit that exploring the future of Planet Mozilla starts with the discussion on data journalism. I see some of this happening in the Planet Mojo feed already!

What sources of information can we give our glocal teams of Mozilla journalists access to? Social media filtering tools are a good start, but what about the wealth of historical data constantly being generated from within Mozilla? What tools can we give them to mine this raw information in order to create the stories that Mozillians and the world need to hear?

My take on where Planet Mozilla should go

I think Mozilla ultimately needs its own newsroom that bridges best practices in ‘traditional’ journalism with social media and trends in big data storytelling. This newsroom should initially be built around the needs of Planet Mozilla and work toward becoming the main communications and storytelling hub stewarding each of Mozilla’s primary engagement channels as well as the center of Mozilla’s global news network. Most importantly, the focus should not be on tools, but on the people building the tools. Oh, and as I mentioned in a previous post, the peeps working on Mozilla Marketplace totally need to be in on this action!

What’s next?

The Knight-Mozilla partnership is a strong starting point for exploring these ideas and questions further!

One opportunity on the people side might be to switch the polarity on the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellowship program! Instead of sending coders out to news organizations, let’s bring some people inward to create a cutting edge newsroom at Mozilla!

And then there’s the ongoing Knight News Challenge:

The Networks challenge round seeks projects that use the best of existing software and platforms – those already integrated into people’s lives – to find new ways to convey news and information.

Now we’re talking! I know at least one project submitted to the Knight News Challenge is ready to deploy today: ThinkUp!

ThinkUp itself may be a hugely valuable tool for Mozillians that can be used to filter and track ongoing conversations about Mozilla out in the Twitterverse and Facebookland.  strong next step in the discussion regarding Planet Mozilla’s future might be to deploy and start playing with it. (In fact.. I might do just that.)

I also want to note that ThinkUp is an open source project entirely in line with Mozilla’s mission. And I’m sure there are others just like it out there! Perhaps we could bring in some WebFWD scouts into the discussion to find existing projects like ThinkUp at the intersection of storytelling, big data, and the open web. Such projects could have a hugely symbiotic relationship with Mozilla through engagement with WebFWD and Planet Mozilla.

To end, here’s a guiding question I’d like to ask: Given currently accessible resources, what kind of “newsroom” can be created behind the Planet Mozilla banner within a two week time period? Who are the people, who/what are the data sources, what are the curation tools, and most importantly.. what does ideal storytelling media look like when produced?

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