This paper began as a collaborative project at the fifth Rebooting the Web of Trust^1 workshop, held in Cambridge MA in October 2017. We reinterpret Christopher Allen’s Rebooting the Web of Trust user story,^2 through the lens of the Information Lifecycle Engagement Model (described in Appendix A). We present a human-centric illustration of an individual’s experience in a self-sovereign, decentralized realization of the Web of Trust as originally conceived by Phil Zimmerman for PGP.^3
In our scenario, Amira is a successful programmer working in Boston at a prestigious multi-national bank. Outside of working hours, Amira wants to give back to her community by writing software that matters. On the advice of her friend Charlene, Amira joins RISK, a self-sovereign reputation network that connects developers with projects while protecting participants’ anonymity, building reputation, and sending & receiving secure payments.
This facilitated design workshop (“DesignShop”), hosted by Christopher Allen, is focused on the creation of the next generation of decentralized web-of-trust based identity systems. The goal of this event is to generate 5 technical white papers on topics decided by the group that will have the greatest impact on the future, followed by a hackathon early in the new year to implement those ideas.
From July 14-20th, I was in Mexico City for Wikimania 2015 with the MozillaWiki team. I’d been disengaged for a number of months and was excited to re-engage that week to help figure out our long-term plan.
The work done by the MozillaWiki Team this past year and a half has been a labor of love, but like so many things at Mozilla, love alone unfortunately isn’t enough to sustain forward momentum. The MozillaWiki is currently at a crossroads, and we want to ensure it has a chance at a strong future. Before I get into the details of what’s next, I’d like to share some recent history.
For a number of years, the MozillaWiki lacked stewardship. It fell into disrepair. Spam was rampant, the deployed version of MediaWiki was rapidly approaching end-of-life, integrations were beginning to break, and wiki gardening best practices around metadata and namespacing were non-existent. And yet it remained one of the most accessible comprehensive records of work at every level of Mozilla and a significant entry point for contributor participation.
While the former Community Building Team seems to have been swept under the historical rug as a failed effort, it did have a number of successes. The MozillaWiki is one of them. As the lead of CBT’s Education Working Group, Christie Koehler recognized that the MozillaWiki was a critical piece of participation infrastructure needing some serious TLC. In the past year and a half, she built a team of Mozilla staff and volunteers, established a product roadmap emphasizing collaboration and participation features, and brought the MozillaWiki into modern times.
In the year since, the MozillaWiki team has: streamlined the deployment process, closed all open security bugs, audited and adjusted user group rights to improve security and usability, deployed widget capabilities which enable Google Doc embeds, added flowchart and diagram creation capabilities via the GraphViz extension, and added the ability to create pages from Etherpads.
At the outset of 2015, the following executive summary slide deck was created outlining MozillaWiki’s usage statistics across the org as well as the MozillaWiki Team’s accomplishments and long-term goals.
Recently, life changes have made continued progress difficult. Gordon Hemsley and I, both module peers for the Mozilla wiki, have been disengaged for a number of months as he found demanding work and I’ve been focused on personal development projects. Christie Koehler, module owner for MozillaWiki, joined the MDN team and has new staff responsibilities that don’t include stewardship of MozillaWiki. Other team members have had similar developments. We find ourselves facing the fact that there is no one able to commit to actively push things forward, nor passively maintain responsiveness.
Given the lack of resources and firm commitment on the part of staff and volunteers, the MozillaWiki team has decided it makes more sense to dissolve its current form and prepare for future stewards to take ownership of the MozillaWiki.
For our last hurrah in Mexico City, we launched a mobile interface for MozillaWiki! We also began taking steps to freeze active development, maintenance, and administration of the wiki. We are preparing a transition document so the next team of people, whoever they might be, can build upon the foundation we’ve established without having to start from scratch like we did.
We also visited the Teotihuacan pyramids outside of Mexico City.
I hope this development can help fuel discussion on the role of critical participation infrastructure (such as MozillaWiki, Mozillians, the Heartbeat dashboard, the Reps portal, etc) in Mozilla’s future and the critical need for it to be resourced and aligned/integrated with other Mozilla infrastructure.
There is so much opportunity for continued work on the MozillaWiki that would make it a better tool for participation and cross-team collaboration at Mozilla. Things like a mobile interface, real-time collaborative editing, and tighter integration with other Mozilla infrastructure are realistic opportunities for a small technical team. Additionally, there’s also plenty of work left undone that aligns with emerging Mozilla Participation and Learning strategies in the areas of leadership development, curricula+workshop dev, and building collaborative bridges between volunteers and staff.
This wiki page has a section, ‘How is the Wiki a critical resource to the Mozilla Project?‘ which succinctly explains what motivated my participation on the Wiki Team. My personal story with Mozilla started with years of lurking on MozillaWiki, and I know others feel as strongly about it as I. It holds so much of our history, and this is an active living history with a great many people relying upon it as their primary resource for understanding Mozilla, where it’s going, and how to get involved.
There are outstanding questions regarding who will do daily maintenance including handling account requests and content related tasks, as well as long-term upkeep so MozillaWiki doesn’t again fall into disrepair. If you’re interested in helping to steward the wiki, check out our in progress transition document and get in touch.
I began the year with a strong plan in place for personal development and skills building. That plan was derailed when the New England snowpocalypse happened. I became homebound for nearly two months, and depression set in. (It’s amazing how losing access to infrastructure impacts mental health. There’s something to be said for the interrelated nature of personal metabolism and community metabolism.)
Once the snow finally began to melt, I reemerged with a serious case of general anxiety the likes of which I haven’t experienced in years. I suffered from anxiety most of my life up until 2010 when I found help and subsequently beat it. This Winter brought it back, and combined with my executive dysfunction issues from my 2002 head injury, there was no way I was in any condition to find a productive groove nor work towards goals with any consistency. So my number one priority became to seek help!
Since I moved to Boston, I hadn’t actually taken the time to establish relationships with new doctors, so I’ve spent the past few months doing just that. The act of engaging the healthcare system with all its quirks has been its own brand of therapy. So far I’ve seen a dentist (and it didn’t work out, so I’m looking for another), found a PCP I like as well as an ENT specialist, and finally found a psychologist I can work with! Hooray! Progress!
I’ll probably be writing more about my health in future posts. There’s a project brewing here that combines my personal health with my professional/activist interests around personal data ownership infrastructure, and I can’t wait to start sharing!
Focusing on my health hasn’t been the only thing I’ve been working on however.
Code for Boston
At the beginning of the year, I had a chat with Harlan Weber to say that I’d be stepping back a bit from my responsibilities as Community Lead to focus on my personal goals. At that point I was feeling a bit burnt out. At the end of April, we had a day long core team retreat to figure out the future of our brigade, streamline our collaborative processes, etc. By the conclusion of the retreat, I felt re-energized and ready to take on new responsabilites that we’d defined that weekend. In addition to many of the same community management activities I’d been doing, I also took on the role of ‘Scribe’, responsible for core team documentation. I immediately took over our collaborative Trello boards and have since discovered I have a knack for project management.
I’m really excited about what the rest of the year holds. After putting on two big events, and losing two of our core team members to life happening, we’ve decided we need to focus the rest of this year on the long-term sustainability of Code for Boston. We’re engaged in conversation with Code for America around the idea of ‘Institutionalization’ which is all about taking our brigade to the next level by figuring out how we can offload many of our logistical activities to paid staff. We’re not sure if this means we’re turning Code for Boston into its own non-profit, finding local partners, or starting a new organization that supports Code for Boston, but we’re heavily leaning towards the latter and looking to existing models in other cities for inspiration. In the mean time, we’re also going to begin working on leadership succession planning, diversity and inclusion efforts, and streamlining our documentation+processes so our members are better supported.
Because many of my contributions to Mozilla have been invisible in the past (and because I have a terrible memory for most of it), I’ve started a blog specifically to track my daily/weekly activity. If you’d like to keep track of what I’m up to at Mozilla, check out http://mozillatracks.captaincalliope.net/
One of the through-lines this year with all of the above has been documentation. I’ve spent a lot of time keeping and maintaining health records, making sure collaborative documentation is accurate and up to date, and documenting my own activities. While I haven’t been doing this all out in the open yet, I’ve been developing good record keeping habits, learning what works and what doesn’t in terms of practices and tooling, and as a side effect leveling up in my ability to work with others.
I haven’t yet revisited/renegotiated the goals I set at the beginning of the year, but I am working towards being more open in my goal setting processes. For the past two years I’ve run my life off of a private Trello board that I’ve recently refactored into a public one: https://trello.com/b/GrOdToFy/captaincalliope-overview
This is a big step for one of my major goals for the year: putting together a support network of peers and mentors. I consult this Trello board frequently as part of my overall GTD process. By making it open, I invite others to join me in my personal and professional development at a deep level with clarity around how it might intersect with theirs.
Expect to see me publishing more frequently in all areas of my work!
I’ve been a volunteer contributor at Mozilla for a number of years now.. and during this time, I haven’t even begun to do the work that motivated me to join to Mozilla in the first place. I’ve made all sorts of excuses like needing to cultivate new skills, or thinking that Mozilla’s organizational culture needs to change somehow.. and then I can finally do the real work I’m here to do.
Well, I’ve been working to level up my skills and in the past year Mozilla has shown strong signs of becoming the organization I’ve been dreaming it could be! All the excuses I give myself are disappearing, and yet I still don’t feel ready to participate where I think I can make the biggest difference.
Maybe I’ve been looking a this all wrong. Maybe what’s missing isn’t something intrinsic to Mozilla as a whole, nor something within myself. Maybe what’s missing is a process, a clear contribution pathway for me to participate in the work I’d like to do within Mozilla.
The work I’ve long felt driven to participate in is facilitating the design of new architectures for personal data ownership and sovereignty. I want to help find answers to questions around what the web looks and feels like when your user agent is no longer a browser running on top of an operating system, but a networked ecosystem of devices, data services, physical objects, and contextual identities all tied together securely by open infrastructure you can choose to delegate to companies like Google and Microsoft, or completely host under your bed without loss of functionality or experience.
Like so many of the technical challenges facing Mozilla right now, working towards such a vision requires figuring out whether the chicken or the egg comes first. In Firefox, this often translates to Platform or UX. I see a path towards the web I want that begins with UX, but Mozilla doesn’t really have a viable contribution pathway for volunteers (especially non-coding volunteers) to participate in proposing ambitious new browser features.. especially features tied to a longer-term vision. Rapid prototyping is difficult because not only would I have to recruit a developer, but technical overhead is also a barrier (the dev environment, learning how to create browser extensions which often means learning some XUL, etc) for whomever I recruit. And don’t forget the step of sharing an experiment with Mozilla UX to vet the idea and make the case for getting it into Mozilla’s bloodstream.
Provided a volunteer-driven project could get to that point, would the UX team even have the bandwidth to engage volunteers let alone vet and possibly champion their ideas? For my own efforts, I’m confident I could make this happen. I could totally recruit a team, build some prototypes together, and essentially create my own process for pipelining new experimental features into Firefox. But something about this pathway just doesn’t sit right with me. Other people should be able to participate through such a pipeline, but the process I could surgically create for myself definitely wouldn’t scale. Is there a more Mozilla way to do this that paves a viable path for others to follow?
There are many parts of Mozilla that face challenges like this where by increasing volunteer participation, staff would be stuck with the crippling administrative burden of processes meant to drive innovation. What’s needed is trailblazing participation infrastructure that empowers volunteers to largely self-administer their participation while at the same time transforming how Mozilla staff gets work done day to day. An integration of new processes and tooling that unlocks creative possibilities for volunteers and staff alike.
At the recent Mozilla Whistler Work Week, Mark Surman surreally illustrated the need for new tools by first coming on stage with an axe, and then later bringing a chainsaw on the stage. (Or at least, that’s what I think happened.. I was following #mozwww on Twitter and it basically looked like pure insanity. Never change, Mozilla.) To use Surman’s metaphor, the surgical process I described above is an axe I could build to personally accomplish my mission at Mozilla. (And no one should ever do surgery with an axe.)
For the past few weeks, I’ve been collaborating with Jonathan Wilde to build an experimental chainsaw!
2010 was something of a digital and spiritual reboot of my life. I created a new online/public identity and along with it made a commitment to personal growth made possible the the realization that doing things for myself first wasn’t counter to making the world a better place. As 2015 approached, I began to sense that it would be a similar year of renewal for me. Not one in which I throw everything out again to start from scratch but a time to grow on top of the experiences and relationships I’ve cultivated in the past five years.
Last year I realized that I’ve plateau’d in how far my current abilities will take me. I lack skills I need to accomplish the big picture goals I’ve set for myself. It’s time to level up.
My priority in 2015 will be on the personal development necessary to set the stage for the next 5-15 years of my life. Professionally, I’m aiming for a product management trajectory. Practically, this means cultivating greater facilitative and technical capabilities.
I want to become a better facilitator. I’ve spent much of the past decade being a community organizer and in that time I’ve come to realize that going from being a community to an intentional community of practice that other communities can rely upon is hard! I want to be more effective at helping the people around me work together toward common goals. So far, I’ve gotten by learning through trial and error but it’s time for me to find guidance in this area.
The overall learning path for me this year may go something like this: web design -> UX design -> API design -> service design. I’m not seeing these as sequential, but as technical and interpersonal skill layers that build on top each other. My big goal for 2015 is to become more impactful by deepening my technical autonomy while broadening my collaborative capacities.
Although personal development is my priority this year, this doesn’t mean I’m stepping away from my work at Code for Boston, Mozilla, or in advising creatives and young organizations around Boston. My activities within these communities have put me in the perfect position to learn and practice these new skills I seek to cultivate. My roles within these organizations and across my networks will be evolving this year and I’m really looking forward to see what that looks like!
I plan to document my activities more consistently (for once in my life) this year. As much as possible, I’d like to follow a connected, project based learning approach to everything I accomplish. I want to share everything I’m learning, and invite others to join me as peers and mentors. Stay tuned for more!