The Clubhouse Atop the Summit


Last week marked that time of the year again: the week where everyone heads to the Mozilla Summit, and the Mozilla Project all but shuts down.

This was the second year the Summit was held in Whistler, BC.

It has a reputation for being a raucously great time, even if getting home can be a bit… complicated.

Mozilla began holding summits in Whistler after my tenure, so I’ve never attended. I know my name has been submitted to the proposed attendee-list1, but I’ve never gotten an invitation. I always just imagined it had just gotten lost in the mail.

But maybe not?

Recently, the project manager for one of the Mozilla’s core projects, SeaMonkey, unceremoniously announced he would not be attending the Summit this year, despite being one of the Mozilla project’s oldest, most involved and committed members. This was not by his choice; Mozilla’s project leaders “vetoed [his] being invited.”

Disallowing a core member of one of your community’s own projects2 to attend a summit being held for your community certainly seems antithetical to the purpose of such a gathering.

It also raises an interesting, but seldom discussed issue: how, exactly, does one pass the gauntlet to get on the Summit-approved list?

For a company who continually touts3 its openness4, and an open source project, it’s a detail of the Summit’s planning that is surprisingly opaque.

An oft-cited reason for the secrecy around this selection process is that paying for each person’s flight, room, and board for a week is expensive.

That’s certainly understandable.5

But it’s also an easily solvable problem.

If the goal of such a gathering is to build bonds and increase communication within the Mozilla community, the project could provide clear, objective, succinct criteria by which any and all community members who actively contribute6 would be able to attend.

For those contributors Mozilla Corporation doesn’t feel it appropriate to sponsor, a “summit fee” could be calculated, just like any other conference. Those individuals would be responsible for their own transportation costs; the hotel can give them the same discount it provides to Mozilla Corporation. The Mozilla Foundation could even win bonus points by offering a couple “scholarships.”

But with this current closed, black-box process, it doesn’t feel like an open source project hosting a gathering that is interested in and welcoming of everyone’s ideas, discourse7, and participation.

It’s much more like a corporate retreat8.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But if Mozilla has decided it only wants certain individuals involved in its main showcasing, planning, and community-building event, I suggest they follow @randsadvice, and stop trying to sell the Summit as anything else.

1 By multiple people
2 SeaMonkey is listed prominently on the Foundation’s website, right behind the products its corporate arms steward
3To achieve these goals, we use a highly transparent, extremely collaborative process that brings together thousands of dedicated volunteers around the world
4 And, indeed, whose mission is The Open WebTM
5 Figures for the Summit’s cost aren’t public, at least that I’ve ever seen; it wouldn’t surprise me if it were upper-six digits, though. Maybe a 7th digit?
6 in the myriad colorful ways Mozilla community members contribute
7 Even if “lively”
8 With “special guest appearances”