Here’s where I came in…

Or, How I got involved with Mozilla

I’m a newcomer to Mozilla, but in some ways that’s a surprise. I’ve known Beltzner since university. Through him I met people like Shaver, Madhava and Johnath. I visited the Toronto office, attended the odd launch party and got to know the people and culture pretty well. My wife even works here, for crying out loud. But through all that, I never thought I’d end up contributing to the project — not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t know I could.

Like Sheppy, I’m something of an open source skeptic. I think Firefox is an amazing product and Mozilla has done — and continues to do — fantastic work for users and the Web, but I’m not sure about open source on the whole or just for the sake of it. It also took me quite some time to even start using Firefox (embarrassing, right?), even as I got to know more and more people working here. I was using Safari, which seemed good enough for my needs, and I didn’t understand how anything could be better or why it mattered. I’m also not big on change, so I wasn’t too keen on learning to use something new. Now please get off my lawn.

Eventually I caved saw the light and made the switch. I was working in advertising at that point, and while I thought it would be fun to work with my friends, especially on a product that I was growing to love very much, I didn’t see a place for me at Mozilla. I consider myself pretty Web and tech savvy, but I don’t know much about code or… whatever it is you need to make a browser (see what I mean?). So that, I thought, was that.

Then “that” changed.

Now that I’m here, I can see that involving the community in marketing generally and writing specifically could be — even has been — very useful and beneficial. Yet I’m still not sure the best way to attract volunteer writers, how to let them know they can get involved or how best to on-board and integrate them into what we do. So as much as this is my story about getting involved with Mozilla, I’d also like to ask for suggestions about bringing volunteer writers on board. How do we better communicate that there are ways to contribute beyond “tech” help? What kinds of projects would be best for volunteers to get involved with?

In my case, if it weren’t for familiarity and being in the right place at the right time (the right place being “frustrated with my old job” and the right time “when Mozilla was looking for a copywriter”), I probably never would have gotten involved with Mozilla — and that, I think, would have been a shame.

On success, arrogance and toolkits…

At the last all-hands, I attended a workshop about sharing personal successes, achievements and strengths without sounding arrogant. It’s something I definitely struggle with (with which I struggle?). I don’t think other people sound arrogant when they talk about the great things they’ve done — well, some do — but for some reason I don’t feel comfortable doing the same. Maybe I don’t think my successes are as worthy. Who knows. Regardless, it was a really useful and eye-opening session. It was amazing to see people think about their strengths in new ways and I think we all left there feeling better about ourselves.

To give you a personal example, I had spent my time at Mozilla before that feeling really humbled by the amazing people around me. More than that, I looked up to them — and not just in that way that I admired them and wanted to learn from them. I realized that I felt like I was beneath them in some way, like I had slipped through the cracks and wound up at Mozilla by accident, but didn’t really belong there (have I mentioned I also struggle with self doubt?). Thanks in large part to that workshop, I started to see things differently. I still believe I work with some of the most amazing people in the world; I still want to learn from them and better myself by their example; I even still feel humbled by their awesomeness; but now I feel like I belong, like I’m one of them. One of us, I should say.

OK, enough soul-baring. On to the point: I now get to put that learning to use again as I present to you the Firefox Brand Toolkit.

This is a project I’m insanely proud of (the pride of which has made me insane?). I first heard about it during my interview process. Back then, it seemed so distant, so theoretical. I was excited to work on it, but honestly, it seemed insurmountable. I thought I’d be working on this thing for years — a bit here, a bit there, but never totally complete. Yet now, a little more than six months into my time here, it lives. And I love it.

I’m proud of the work that went into it. I’m proud of the writing in it (even if some of my favourite lines are actually Sean‘s). I’m proud of the positive reaction it’s been receiving. And I’m simply proud that we did it. We set out to create something and we create it we did. The fact that it’s great doesn’t hurt either.

John Slater has also blogged about it in greater detail, including what you’ll find in the toolkit, how you can use it and how you can help us make it even better (give it read, if you haven’t already). So I’m not going to repeat that stuff. Instead, I’m just here to tell you it exists, that you should check it out and that I’m very, very happy about it.

I think we done good.

Communicating Channels…

As you may or may not know, there’s more to Firefox than the mainstream browser that most of our users are on. Before it reaches that Final Release stage, it goes through Nightly, Aurora and Beta as the various features get tested and polished (you can learn more on our Nightly and Future of Firefox pages).

Internally, we refer to those stages as “builds” or “channels” of the development process, each with its own use case and users. The problem comes when we write about them in outbound communications. Since Firefox has versions of its own — as do Nightly, Aurora and Beta — it introduces ambiguity if we refer to them as versions of Firefox. On the other hand, the terms “build” and “channel” may not carry a lot of meaning for people outside of our Active or Casual Contributors.

So what to do? I think of the above options, “build” and “stage” are the most descriptive, even if the average user may not associate those words with a browser. But I’m curious what you think. Do any of those words ring true to you? Do you have other suggestions for how we should talk about these things? Am I just completely overthinking this?

On second thought, maybe just stick to the first two questions.

Us and us…

I’m not sure how this post got away from me and became such a behemoth, but my apologies in advance. For those wondering whether or not you’ll find it interesting, here’s the gist: We’re all one Mozilla and we have to work together to make localization awesome. And yes, I did just add copy to apologize for this being too long. I’m helping!

At Mozilla, we have one audience: users. Sure, you can split them up in various ways — demographically, psychographically, geographically, linguistically, ecumenically — but when it comes down to it, we make a product for users. No matter where they are in the world, they should have the same experience with Firefox and any communications aimed at them. This is relevant to a number of different areas of what we do, but I’m particularly interested in how it relates to our localization efforts.

We’re incredibly lucky to have community members who undertake the important, difficult and largely thankless task of localizing our copy (a massive thank-you to all who do!). I come from a family of translators, so I know the unique challenges involved. I’ve even done some translation myself. It’s not easy, but when done well, it’s pretty amazing. It’s the kind of thing that becomes more invisible the better it is. That’s no small feat when dealing with idioms, pop culture and wordplay (among other tricky bits).

(Excuse me for this aside, but imagine translating Month Python’s Spamalot! into Czech, as my father did, and dealing with an opening number where the joke is based entirely on the similar pronunciation of England and Finland. For those who don’t speak Czech, that’s Anglie and Finsko, respectively. Cue brain explosion in three, two…)

There is work currently being done to improve the localization process for all. It’s still early days, so it’s very much a work in progress, but you can check it out to get an idea of what’s on the horizon. In the meantime, here are some general thoughts I came up with as a starting point for localizers:

1) Make it your own. This can be difficult given deadlines and the like, but we’re working on getting localizers involved in the process early, so you won’t just have more time, but also more input. Ideally the copy wouldn’t be a literal translation, but it would capture the same meaning and sentiment. So feel free to pull it apart and put it back together; replace an English expression with one from your native language; Mozilla-fy it for your region.

2) When in doubt, ask. If something isn’t clear — or even if it is but you just want to be extra sure — speak up. You can find us on irc in the #marketing channel (I’m matej, by the way). I, for one, am more than happy to chat about the finer points of grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, idiomization, awesomization or the weather. And I’m always curious to know what kinds of problems you’re running into, which leads nicely into:

3) Help us help you. Pardon the cliche, but this is an important one. We can work to fix the problems we know about, but we can’t do a thing about those we don’t even know exist. (Put another way, it’s not what we don’t know that’s the problem, it’s what we don’t even know we don’t know. You know?) So tell us what recurring issues you’ve run into, what works and what doesn’t — it could be a language thing, a cultural issue or something to do with tone (especially when dealing with languages that have both formal and informal forms). Whatever it is, please pass it on.

Finally, we can’t treat localization like an extra step in the process; it is the process. (I’m not saying we do, but this is a reminder that we’re not just all on the same team, we are the same team.) Although our copy is generally written in English first, that doesn’t mean that localized versions should be perceived any differently. Even calling them versions is problematic. As I said in the intro, everyone everywhere should have the same experience with Firefox, regardless of their native language. If they don’t, I’d consider that a failure. In fact, we all should.

Owning awesome…

We have an awesome problem. I don’t mean that we have a problem and it’s an awesome problem to have. I mean that we have a problem with the word awesome. (I’m trying to be cheeky here. Work with me, people.)

Awesome is a word we use a lot at Mozilla. We have the Awesome Bar right in the browser. We’ve got the Army of Awesome. We talk about awesome features and awesomeness. We even push the limits of the word and create new forms like “awesomized.”

Now I’ll go on the record and say I like it. It’s fun and shows personality. But there are those who would argue that the word is so overused that it starts to become meaningless. And it’s not just that we use it a lot. It’s used in everyday conversation, in popular blogs and TV commercial campaigns.

A further complication arises with localization (a subject for a post all its own). This requires a little etymology, so pardon me while I geek out for a paragraph.

Awe actually meant “terror” or “dread” until the late 1700s, from which point on it retained only the slightly softer meaning of “reverential fear or wonder” (all definitions from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary).  Awesome came along in the late 16th century meaning “filled with awe” and then “inspiring awe” about a century later, both of which are still in use today. The positive colloquialism meaning “outstanding, remarkable” didn’t come along until the mid 20th century (interestingly enough, that came after the adverb form, awesomely, began to mean “outstanding, very” in the late 19th century). All that brings us to today and the late 1900s slang meaning of “excellent” or “marvelous.”

Now imagine that you’re a non-native-English speaker and you see the word “awesome” in some Firefox copy. You go to look it up and you’re presented with a whole bunch of options that don’t seem to make a lot of sense. I’ve even been told (and please correct me if I’m wrong) that this recent, North American usage of awesome isn’t as common in the UK.

These problems aren’t without their solutions, but those solutions aren’t necessarily “stop using awesome.” One strategy is to work more closely with our localizers to teach and empower them to make changes to the copy that don’t affect the meaning, but make it sound better in their language. As part of that, I’m going to be making myself available to answer questions that come up in the l10n process (more details to come on that).

As it stands, awesome is a big part of how we communicate. Ditching it now would probably be as problematic as continuing to use it, just in different ways. I, for one, think we should stick with it, own it, but we need to also keep the above considerations in mind to make sure we’re not alienating anyone anywhere along the way. So I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. What do you think of our use of awesome? Has it caused any problems that you know of? What are some things we can do moving forward?

Oh, and by the way, I hope you all enjoyed my lack of clothing and courage last time. Thanks for being kind and supportive in your comments.

Naked and afraid…

…he’s no good at being uncomfortable
so he can’t stop staying exactly the same
— Fiona Apple, “Extraordinary Machine”

The only way to know your true potential
is to explore what lies beyond your comfort zone.
Sally Hogshead

Change is good — new people, new places, new experiences. But it can also be hard — new people, new places, new experiences. My initial reaction to change tends to be resistance, so I fear I’m more like that first quotation. But it was thinking like the second one that lead me to apply for this job in the first place, so change can’t be all bad.

The biggest change, however, is not the job itself, but how I approach and actually do it. My previous few jobs were in advertising. Before that I worked as a journalist. The thought of writing in the open leads me to make quizzical Scooby Doo noises. Those jobs were all about secrecy and protecting information before it was meant to be released. And that makes sense in those worlds. But we do things differently at Mozilla, and that’s pretty awesome (more on awesome in a future post, by the way).

So the question becomes: how? How do you create copy in an open environment? How do you synthesize opinions and feedback from a huge, passionate community? How do you satisfy everyone? The answer, of course, is that you don’t. You can’t. This job is about making choices as much as it is about writing. They can — and should be — informed choices, informed at least partially by the thoughts and wishes of the community, but sometimes they’re going to be unpopular ones. Not everyone gets their way. Not everyone will be happy. At least not all the time.

I’m not saying I’m going to be right all the time, either. Part of making those choices is a willingness to be wrong, to learn, adapt and change. That’s how things get better. And that process starts right here.

I don’t plan on sharing every last bit of what I’m working on, but I will ask for advice, opinions and feedback from time to time. It might be on a specific piece of copy or a larger piece of overall Mozilla puzzle. It might be bumpy sometimes, or uncomfortable, but it’s all part of the process of learning, changing and being OK with that — even embracing it from time to time.

Thanks for reading.

The beginning…

More to come.