Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dev4good, Mozilla Foundation and a lesson learnt

I have learnt a lot while running the dev4good events (registration is open for 2012 – and sometimes you learn something that makes you stop and think.
Last week I was left speechless, which doesn’t happen very often, I was up in London meeting Desigan Chinniah (@cyberdees) who is a firestarter at Mozilla (possibly the coolest job title ever) to talk to him about the Mozilla foundation and if there was anything they could help me with for this year’s dev4good event.

I arrived early so did the normal thing in that everyone who has time to kill in London does and found the nearest US-style branded coffee shop. Grabbed myself a coffee and wasted a 45 minutes thinking about how I could have arrived a little later.
At a few minutes before the appointment I headed into the unassuming building and was met by a burly security guard, after the generic, who/what/where conversation I was issued a visitor badge and escorted to the lift and swiped in….
I arrived up to the Mozilla reception on the 3rd floor and waited a bit as there was no one there, then signed myself in and emailed Dees to say I was here but there was no one on the desk.

A few minutes later Dees wandered through to the reception, my preconceptions of Mozilla were about to be blown apart.

I have been to a number of tech offices in the past and there is always the feeling that you shouldn’t be there, you are just a visitor, you are a small dude in a big fish tank etc.
Mozilla have been around for ages, since Netscape released their source code and I always assumed they were just another big tech company with loads of staff cubicled up tapping away at their keyboards, powering the corporate engine.
I honestly thought I would be filtered off into a meeting room hidden amongst the cubicles to talk shop, get a few obligatory t-shirts and asked kindly to leave, oh how wrong could I have been.

To start with Dees arrived without any shoes on and let me know there wasn’t a receptionist and to make myself at home, I kind of liked the approach that silicon valley chilled feel.
We went through to the main space where Dees explained how the Mozilla foundation works and what a mozspace was

“So, let me get this straight, this place is free to use and anyone can come and use the space at any time?” – ‘yep
Pause, while I took this all in, “And I can use this for dev4good?” – ‘yes your event fits in with what we are trying to achieve here

In 5 mins I had just wiped over £2000 off the setup costs for dev4good… stunned, more pausing for thought…

Mozspace is a new concept here in the UK, there are other spaces all over the world that work really well, but it will interesting to see what the uptake will be. As it is a new venture there is still a lot to work out like a scheduling system (I think we can help out with this at dev4good 2012), written fair use policy, access out of hours etc. The Mozilla community is pretty strong (a lot stronger than I imagined) here in the UK so I can’t see this being a problem as the mozSpace grows in use, it is really up to the people using it now to build the framework for the venue.

I personally think the mozSpace idea could really be a game changer for other places in London that offer this sort of environment at the normal London short term rates.
Places like were a fantastic idea until I found out about mozSpace, even if your average coffee shop is becoming a little more lenient when it comes to people with laptops hanging out for extended periods of time.
Even with the advent of the new centralworking space at google campus, which as a sceptical entrepreneur I can see being an interesting place for google to find new tech while its cheap. The mozSpace has no corporate buy out feel to it, yes they expect the people using the space to hopefully take part in the Mozilla community, some will some wont and it is a gamble for them.

This is when I started to realise this simple idea of allowing anyone to use a free space could seriously change the way people like me (freelancers of no real fixed abode) work and run their businesses, not just IT freelancers either, architects, designers, musicians anyone!
I now had the opportunity to use my time in London better, any time that would normally be wasted drinking coffee, being made to feel like a trespasser (some coffee shops are hopeless) could be used to my benefit in an awesome environment with like minded people.

Community space
This kind of concept is also a big reminder/kick in the pants to the other tech companies/organisations who want to have their own active community – (speculate to accumulate?) you really need to give back before you get anything in return.

I remember when the .Net framework was launched and Microsoft was spending a fortune on the MSDN road shows every year and other big developer events, they needed a UK community of people to be passionate about their products.
There was rich pickings (freebies, swag, networking etc) for any developer happy to go along or join the community and use their tools, maybe we pillaged too much all those years ago?
These days the MS developer community is really run by the community leaders, there is very little in comparison coming from Microsoft to what we used to get, please don’t get me wrong Microsoft are still 100% behind the community. It’s just the offers and availaibity of those perks we used to get are no longer there. To be honest this probably isn’t a bad thing, it has forced MS developers and MS themselves to take on different avenues to ‘be good at what they do’

I realise Mozilla and Microsoft run completely different business models and Mozilla is a web thinking company, however there are still a lot of things Microsoft, Google and Yahoo can learn from this open work/community space concept, I mean if a non-profit organisation can rent a space like this and then make it available to everyone, is there any reason larger corporates can’t do this as well?
If you were a big corporate and you had office space in London that what going to waste, the idea of inviting Joe Blogs and his mates in to use the internet would be scary. But what if Joe was a great software developer and was able to help us out with a tricky problem, do you think Joe would charge you for his all of his time if he had been using your office for free? – interesting position to be in….

More on mozSpace London
Basically the entire floor of the building is the mozSpace, which the Mozilla Foundation are using as part office for their staff and part ‘open working environment’ for anyone else who wants to use it. The mozillians (as they like to be called) hang out and work where they want, the rest of us just fit in wherever we can (and there is a lot of options).
Along with the main space there are 3 big board rooms and from memory 5 smaller rooms, plus a couple of smaller breakout rooms as well.
The main space will have a full AV setup, plus if you run events you might be able to stream live to the web and/or record video too.

Whoever turns up can meet/interact with the Mozilla staff and with anyone else using the space. A fair use policy is in place (community enforced), that is if you think you are going to turn up every day and run your startup/business from this space you should probably find somewhere else before you get a tap on the shoulder.

To use the space I think everyone needs to remember a few things;
-          It’s a free environment, don’t abuse it
-          Respect the people who are there already
-          Use it as much as you want, but not too much
-          Tell people about the space, but use it yourself first so you can pass the right info on to them
-          You never know who you will meet there, be good
-          Treat the place like your parent house, just without the keg party (well….)

I am not a mozillian, not yet anyway, but I can see why their community is a strong one and why it will continue to grow, they engage young people (I met
Everything is centralised around a single idea ‘keep the web open’ and now they have a central space to call home I can see their numbers growing fast (they have a new community member, me at least).

If you are in London and want to check it out, mozSpace is on St Martins Lane, you can miss it if you are looking for a big sign that says ‘Here’; 101 St. Martins Lane,Suite 300,London,WC2 United Kingdom  
Next time you need a space to run an event in London, don’t hesitate get a hold of them MOZSPACES@MOZILLA.COM if it fits with what they are doing, or if they like the idea you could be the next event on their calendar

All in all I am very impressed with what Mozilla are doing, who knows how it will go in London, if it is not abused I really think we could be seeing some awesome community event take place and projects developed all because of the free open space they are making available to us all.

The next dev4good event is on the 7/8th of July, if you can write code, design stuff or know your way around a database – we need you!

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