Apr 062014
 

First, let’s start with this: if you want to know what’s really been happening at Mozilla, you should read this blog post, written by a fellow Mozilla Corporation employee. It’s got details from staff meetings, internal discussions, public meetings, and more, and it’s the most accurate representation of the truth of the past two weeks you’ll find anywhere.

Next, let’s recall my previous post, and I will re-iterate that I strongly favor the nationwide legalization of gay marriage, and that I disagree with Brendan on this issue (while also strongly defending his right to hold his opinion as long as he keeps it out of Mozilla business, which he always did).

Now, let’s get into what I personally want to say about the last few days.

In March of 2006, I was the father of a baby girl less than a year old, and had just been let go by my employer—a game development company in Southern California, for whom I was doing Mac programming. Despite a previous arrangement, they decided they wanted me to relocate, which I wasn’t interested in doing. So we parted ways. My old friend David Miller had been working at Mozilla on the Bugzilla project (and doing IT work) for a while, and he suggested I apply for a job as a Mac programmer at Mozilla Corporation.

When Mozilla got wind that I had spent years as a technical writer, I found myself instead interviewing for a job on the developer relations team as a writer for the Mozilla Developer Center site. On April 3, 2006, I started working for Mike Shaver, alongside Deb Richardson, as a technical writer.

I joined Mozilla as someone that didn’t use Firefox. Heck, I didn’t even like Firefox. I also didn’t give a rat’s ass about open source software; indeed, I generally looked down on it across the board as inherently inferior.

I would never have dreamed that someday I would consider myself part of a “community” of Mozilla users. I was not someone that would be a Mozillian. I walked the walk and acted the part, generally, but if you read through my early blog posts, you’ll find clues that I was just in it for the paycheck.

Fast forward to March of 2014. I’m days shy of my eighth anniversary as a Mozilla employee, and I find myself a changed person. I’m an ardent fan of Mozilla and its mission. It’s important to me. It means something to me. It’s part of who I am. I feel every sting when something goes wrong, and exalt in every win Firefox and Mozilla achieves.

I’m not blindly faithful, no. I have my doubts now and again, about specific initiatives or projects, and goodness knows I’m not afraid to say so. I have a well-earned reputation as a bit of a complainer. When I’m troubled, I tend to say so (usually at length). But Mozilla’s mission is my mission: to bring the open Web to everyone, to do it well, and to be sure that everyone knows how to build upon its potential.

I’ll admit: when Brendan was selected as CEO, I was surprised. I had been quite certain that Jay Sullivan would become our permanent CEO, after a long and successful “interim CEO” run. When Brendan was announced, I was somewhat puzzled. Not because of his political beliefs, but because Jay was already in place, doing a good job, and had long experience in more “business management” roles, rather than just “project management” roles.

But I quickly got behind Brendan. As a technical wizard and cofounder of Mozilla (having saved the Mozilla project form the dying embers of what was left of Netscape within the AOL behemoth), Brendan knew and loved the project more than anyone else. Who better than to lead us into the technical challenges that lie ahead? With Li Gong as our new COO to help him, we were in great hands.

Then everything went straight to hell in the media. Taking bits of reality (yes, Brendan donated in favor of Prop. 8, and yes, he didn’t apologize for doing so, and yes, a scant handful of employees tweeted that they wanted him to resign), the press and social media turned reality into some kind of hyper-reality, in which a few basic facts were tossed into a blender with a healthy dose of bullshit and a little wishful thinking on their part.

Soon, we were in the midst of a crisis, with the voices of reason so overwhelmed by outright nonsense that they couldn’t be heard. Several of us tried. We failed. Brendan, overwhelmed by the waves of negative press and outright hate mail he was getting, gave up and resigned. The mob won, and Mozilla lost its founding father.

The press (including the Wall Street Journal) is reporting that Brendan was pushed out by the board. This is not true. Mozilla’s board of directors begged and pleaded for him to stay with us in some capacity. He declined.

Let’s be clear: Brendan Eich left Mozilla because a virtual mob got whipped up into a frenzy and harassed him and Mozilla until he felt the best way to serve Mozilla was to leave. Brendan quit his job because he felt that leaving the organization he loved was better than watching it be dragged down into a cesspool of bullshit.

This situation arose because one man—a key member of Mozilla’s technology team and its community as a whole—exercised his legal civil right to donate money to an unpopular cause (and one that is now, thankfully, a lost cause). That’s the real tragedy here.

But we’ll figure out how to move on. We will mourn for a time. We will do some soul-searching. And then we will get our hands firmly planted back onto the tiller, tack into the wind, and continue our journey. Because we are Mozilla.

Updated at 3:53 PM EDT on April 6, 2014: I got a couple of corrections recommended to me by email, so I applied them above. My apologies for overstating a couple of points in my 3 AM drama mode.

 Posted by at 1:35 AM
Mar 292014
 

There’s been something of an uproar over Brendan Eich’s promotion to the role of CEO of Mozilla Corporation due to the fact that many years ago, he donated money to support Proposition 8 in California. I’m not going to link to any of the blog posts, tweets, or news stories about this, since I don’t really want to give more traffic to rumormongers, especially since a lot of the stories are mostly speculation.

Since I work for Mozilla, I obviously have opinions on this. I’m going to share them, but first I’m going to be sure to point out what I’m not:

  • I’ve never reported to Brendan either directly or indirectly.
  • I’m not gay, so his opinions in the area don’t directly affect me.

With that out of the way, let me say this: in the more than eight years I’ve worked at Mozilla, I’ve never known Brendan to treat anyone differently based on their gender, sexual orientation, color, religion, eye color, height, weight, or anything else (sorry for being slightly flippant there; it’s how I handle this stuff).

I felt then, and feel now, that Prop 8 is a mistake, is unconstitutional, and is a moral catastrophe. Freedom to marry the consenting adult of your dreams is a core human right and should be protected as such. Now with my feelings on the matter exposed, let’s press on.

While I, too, would like him to make a statement clarifying things further, I also don’t think it’s any of my business. As long as Brendan’s feelings don’t impact his work functions, I honestly don’t care what he thinks. As far as I can tell, all he cares about is whether or not you can deliver the goods when you’re working on the project. That’s all that matters to me.

He can be cranky and dismissive at times when he thinks you’re wrong (or less right than he is), but everyone can be that way (I know I can). Whatever his personal feelings are on gay marriage (or homosexuality in general, or anything else), Brendan is a brilliant developer and manager, a great leader, and an avid supporter of open source software and of the free and open Web. In those respects, he’s the best possible person for the job of CEO of Mozilla.

Mozillians are a diverse community. Brendan knows that; he’s known that since he first helped create Mozilla a decade and a half ago. He’s never once been involved in controversy related to that diversity; becoming CEO doesn’t, I think, make him any more likely to be so.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and get back to rockin’ the open Web.

 Posted by at 4:04 AM
Feb 212014
 

The most important rule of contributing to the developer documentation on MDN is this:

Don’t be afraid to contribute, even if you can’t write well and can’t make it beautiful. It’s easier for the writing team to clean up information written by true experts than it is to become experts ourselves.

Seriously. There aren’t that many of us on the writing team, even including our awesome non-staff contributors. We sadly don’t have enough time to become experts at all the things that need to be documented on MDN.

Even if all you do is copy your notes onto a page on MDN and click “Save,” that’s a huge help for us. Even pasting raw text into the wiki is better than not helping at all. Honest!

We’ll review your contribution and fix everything, including:

  • Grammar; you don’t have to have perfect (or even good) writing skills—that’s what the writing team is here for!
  • Style; we’ll make sure the content matches the MDN style guide.
  • Organization; we’ll move your content, if appropriate, so that it’s in the right place on the site.
  • Cross-linking; we’ll add links to other related content.
  • Structure and frills; we’ll ensure that the layout and structure of your article is consistent, and that it uses any advanced wiki features that can help get the point across (such as live samples and macros).

It’s not your job to make awesome documentation. That’s our job. So don’t let fear of prevent you from sharing what you know.

 Posted by at 10:15 AM
Jan 062014
 

Getting back to work after a long break is always odd. It’s especially strange this time, since all of Mozilla was closed for two weeks. Takes a while to get a big ship moving again after being in dry dock for a while.

Looking forward to a very crazy busy and productive month: a couple weeks of catch-up work and work on the MDN user guide materials, then on-site writer staff meetup for 2014 planning (I expect to do some video meetings too, for community involvement). Then a couple days visiting family before returning to the SF office to hang with a multi-team dev work week for a couple days, to give insights on the writing process and ways devs can help make docs processes go better.

My personal goals for MDN, content-wise, for the coming year revolve largely around ease-of-use: improving documentation about how to use MDN, guiding the development team toward making MDN easier to use, fixing site organization problems, and encouraging more developers and development teams to be more actively engaged with the documentation process.

I also hope to do more blogging about working in documentation as a field, how to be a technical writer, and the like. I feel that I have insights there that might be useful, and that I should try to share them.

It’s going to be a great year for MDN — I fully expect that people are going to be really impressed with, and excited by, all the improvements we’ll continue to make over the coming months.

On a personal note, my ability to get back up to speed is being seriously impacted by my being at a high point in my pain cycle. It also doesn’t help that my pain goes up faster the more I type. Next week, I will be seeing an orthopedic surgeon to investigate the possibility of a structural problem of some kind in my shoulder. That would be lovely, to have that on top of the existing nervous system problems, but it would at least be something that can probably be fixed!

 

 Posted by at 1:25 PM
Dec 132013
 

We’ve pushed a number of updates to Kuma (the software that powers the MDN web site) lately. Here are a few of the more interesting changes:

  • Our redesigned user experience has launched! Key features include a new, more attractive look and feel, sidebar navigation in several areas of the site to help you get around specific APIs and technology areas, and more.
  • A new search engine is in place, which not only searches better, but provides filters to let you narrow down your search more easily.
  • Pages’ tables of contents no longer have numbers next to each item, and items are indented by heading level. This will make the TOCs much more readable.
  • A bug causing menus to be cut off on mobile devices has been fixed.
  • A bug causing horizontal scrolling on mobile devices has been fixed.
  • The initialization of “Tabzilla” (the unified Mozilla tab at the top of the page) is now done in a different place, which will improve page load performance.
  • We’ve removed some unused CSS and JavaScript, which hopefully will help load times a little bit.
  • The “Interested in reading this offline” link that took you to a page suggesting you download some apps that just provide a different way to read MDN has been removed. This was an experiment that somehow never ended.
  • When editing profiles, the correct email address is now displayed.
  • Several legacy files have been removed.

There’s a ton of nice improvements! The team will be focusing on fixing performance issues for the next few weeks. Other stuff will be happening too, but we’re going to make a big push to try to improve our load times.

 Posted by at 5:15 PM
Dec 092013
 

Today we launched the new design for the Mozilla Developer Network Web site. We’ve been working on this for a long time, with discussions starting as much as a year ago, and actual coding starting this past summer. It was a huge effort involving a ton of brilliant people, and I’m thrilled with the results! Not only is the new design more attractive, but it has a number of entirely new features that will help you find what you want—and read it—more easily, and in more places, than ever before.

Updated home page

The new home page has a completely revamped organization, with a large search box front and center. Below that are links to key areas of the MDN Web site, including much of our most-used documentation, such as the JavaScript, CSS, and HTML docs, content about Firefox OS and developer tools, and the brand-new Mozilla Developer Program, whose goal is to help Web developers learn more and more quickly.

MDN home page screenshot

Zoning in

You may notice the new concept we call “zones” in the screenshot above. A “zone” is a new concept we’ve added, wherein we can construct a special topic area that can accumulate documentation and samples from across MDN to cover that topic. For example, the Firefox OS zone provides documentation about Firefox OS, which involves not only Firefox OS-specific content, but information about HTML, CSS, and so forth.

Screenshot of the Firefox OS zone landing page

Here you see our new zone navigation bar along the left side of the screen, promotional boxes for specific content, and lists of key articles.

Search and ye shall find

Search has been significantly improved; we now have an on-site search powered by Elastic Search rather than using Google, which lets us customize the search in useful ways. One particularly helpful feature is the addition of search filters. Once you’ve done a search, you can narrow the search further by using these filters. For example, here’s a search for “window element”:

Screenshot of search resultsWell. 5186 results is a lot. You can use our new search filters, though, to narrow those results down a bit. You can choose to restrict your search to one or more topic areas, types of document, and/or skill level. Let’s look for articles specifically about the DOM:

Screenshot of search resultsIt’s worth noting here that these filters rely on content being tagged properly, and much of our content is still in the process of being tagged (especially regarding skill level). This is something we can always use help with, so please drop into #mdn on IRC if you’re interested in helping with this quick and easy way to help improve our search quality!

Responsive design

An area in which MDN was sorely lacking in the past was responsive design. This is the concept of designing content to adapt to the device on which it’s being used. The new MDN design makes key adjustments to its layout based on the size of your screen.

 Screenshot of the Firefox zone landing page in "desktop" view.  Screenshot of the Firefox zone landing page in "small desktop" view. Screenshot of the Firefox zone landing page in "mobile" view.
Here’s the Firefox zone’s landing page in standard “desktop” mode. This is what you’ll see browsing to it in a typical desktop browser environment. Here’s what the same page looks like in “small desktop” mode. This is what the page looks like when your browser window is smaller, such as when viewing on a netbook. And here’s the same page in “mobile” view. The page’s layout is adjusted to be friendlier on a mobile device.

Each view mode rearranges the layout, and in some cases removes less important page elements, to improve the page’s utility in that environment.

Quicklinks

The last new feature I’ll point out (although not the last improvement by a long shot!) is the new quicklink feature. We now have the ability to add a collection of quicklinks to pages; this can be done manually by building the list while editing the page, or by using macros.

Here’s a screenshot of the quicklinks area on the page for the CSS background property:

Quicklinks in the CSS reference.

The quicklinks in the CSS reference provide fast access to related properties; when looking at a background-related property, as seen above, you get quick access to all of the background-related properties at once.

There’s also an expandable “CSS Reference” section. Clicking it gives you an alphabetical list of all of the CSS reference pages:

CSS reference page with expanded links to other pages in the reference.

As you see, this lets you quickly navigate through the entire CSS reference without having to backtrack to the CSS landing page. I think this will come as an enormous relief to a lot of MDN users!

To top it off, if you want to have more room for content and don’t need the quicklinks, you can hide them by simply clicking the “Hide sidebar” button at the top of the left column; this results in something like the following:

CSS reference page with the left sidebar closed.The quicklinks feature is rapidly becoming my favorite feature of this new MDN look-and-feel. Not all of our content is making full use of it yet, but we’re rapidly expanding its use. It makes navigating content so much easier, and is easy to work with as a content creator on MDN, too.

Next steps

Our development team and the design and UX teams did a fantastic job building this platform, and our community of writers threw in their share as well: between testing the changes to providing feedback, not to mention contributing and updating enormous amounts of documentation to take advantage of new features and to look right in the new design, I’m enormously proud of everyone involved.

There’s plenty left to do. There are new platform features yet to be built, and the content always needs more work. If you’d like to help, drop into #mdn to talk about content or #mdndev to talk about helping with the platform itself. And feel free to file bugs with your suggestions and input.

See you online!

 Posted by at 3:12 PM