The Mozilla project officially re-launched its developer information and
outreach program this week. Previously known as the Mozilla Developer
Center (MDC), it has now been rebranded the Mozilla Developer Network (MDN),
which is a new site with refreshed content, a reorganized and expanded mission, and new community features.
Mozilla has discussed the renovation project in the open for the better
part of 2010 on Mozilla-hosted blogs as well as in its newsletters and
public call-in conferences. The driving principle is to broaden the focus
of the site from the inward-looking MDC — which effectively served
only those developers looking to build Firefox/Thunderbird extensions and
XUL applications — to a wider perspective. The MDN site is meant to
serve developers working on Mozilla add-ons and applications, but also to
be a resource for, as the site's tagline says, "everyone developing for the Open Web."
A "soft launch" of content for this wider target audience was rolled out with the 2009 debut of the Mozilla Hacks blog, which covered web development and open standards topics in addition to Mozilla-specific news, and placed an emphasis on providing demo code instead of text-only discussions. The switch-over from MDC to MDN took place on August 27th.
Former MDC participants will be pleased to learn that their existing account information has been preserved and will allow them to log in to MDN as well. Thus far, an MDN account only enables two features — the ability to post to the discussion forum and the ability to edit documentation.
Now that MDN has been officially unveiled, visitors can see content divided into four main developer categories: Web, Mobile, Add-ons, and Applications. Mozilla feels that these represent distinct and (for the most part) non-overlapping segments of the development community. Each section presents targeted content drawn from official Mozilla documentation, curated news articles and blog entries from external sites, and links to specific software projects. There is some variation between the sections; Mobile, for example, includes both "Favorite" and "Recent" article categories, and the Add-ons section includes a "Latest Comments from Our Community" box not found elsewhere, which suggests that the MDN platform is still evolving.
The Add-ons and Applications sections encompass most of the
documentation content that was previously featured at MDC. For add-on
developers, there are references and tutorials for the major APIs and
languages, case studies for extensions, plugins, and other add-ons, along
with validation and packaging help. The Application section provides an overview of the Mozilla platform, as well as guides to the tools related to building Mozilla-derived projects, including Bugzilla, Mercurial, Bonsai, Talkback, and other utilities.
The Mobile section focuses not only on Mozilla's Firefox Mobile browser, but also on developing location-aware web and mobile applications, and on using Mozilla technologies for other mobile software. A prime example of the latter is Mozilla's own Firefox Home application for the Apple iPhone, which is an iOS program that connects to Mozilla's Sync service.
Emphasizing the Open Web philosophy also ties in to Mozilla's Drumbeat initiative. Drumbeat is an umbrella project that encourages individuals to organize software projects and in-person events that advance Open Web adoption. It differs from MDN in its focus on non-developer community action, however. One of the goals of Drumbeat is to encourage online communities other than the "tech" circle to build their sites using open standards. On the other hand, both Drumbeat and MDN's Web section try to promote practical software projects (such as Universal Subtitles or Privacy Icons) that reinforce open standards.
Currently, all of the MDN sections place the primary emphasis on official, Mozilla-hosted documentation. News articles and blog entries appear lower in the page, and at the moment seem to be drawn entirely from external content sources (although many are from Mozilla blogs, and thus do originate from Mozilla authors). Blog coverage such as Mozilla intern Brian Louie's indicate that the content mix will expand and get better as more features are added to the site.
For example, community-created content is not yet included; even in the
Twitter sidebar, only MDN accounts are shown, as opposed to Mozilla or
MDN-related hash tags. Because most of the news headlines are links to
external blogs, direct commenting on the stories is not possible without
leaving the site. Louie mentions that (among other features), interactive tagging and rating of news stories is on the roadmap.
But potentially the biggest feature of the new site is the community discussion forum, which is already active. At the top of each page is a "Community" link to the phpBB-powered forum. The forum boards do not break down into quite the same categories as the MDN main sections, which is puzzling — there are separate boards for Open Web, Mozilla Platform, MDN Community, Mozilla Add-ons, and Mozilla Labs.
Nevertheless, hosting the discussion forums at MDN is a big step for the
organization. Previously, official Mozilla community interaction has taken
place entirely on mailing lists and newsgroups. The major discussion forum web site is Mozillazine, which is not affiliated with the Mozilla Foundation. MDN is following the lead taken earlier by the support.mozilla.com (a.k.a. SUMO) project, bringing discussion into a central location hosted by Mozilla itself.
There is a wealth of information already accessible at MDN, from the news articles to the documentation. Mozilla says that all of the content that was at MDC has been migrated to MDN; a direct link to the documentation landing page is available in the header of each page.
In addition to Louie's comments, Mozilla's Jay Patel has given a glimpse of where the organization intends to take MDN from here, via his blog. The first order of business is to replace the old, Mindtouch-based documentation backend with a new system built with Django. The effort is already underway for SUMO; MDN will simply "piggyback" on that tool. The plan is to migrate MDN over to the new system over several months, with the goal of moving slowly enough to add new content that is entirely translated and localized.
Further out, user-given article ratings and comments are mentioned, which may indicate either that MDN-hosted original content is on the way, or else that comments on the Mozilla blogs will simply be integrated as RSS or ATOM feed sources. In addition, Mozilla plans to hold topic-focused documentation sprints and hold developer focus groups over the last quarter of 2010 and into 2011.
Hopefully there are more changes coming still further out. It is particularly ironic that Mozilla's "Open Web" emphasis is launched on a site that dedicates its entire sidebar to the decidedly non-open Twitter service, and that its forums do not support OpenID logins. It is also a little bit troubling that the entire focus of MDN seems to be on Firefox and Firefox Mobile, to the exclusion of Thunderbird, Lightning, and other Mozilla applications. Perhaps that simply reflects the organizational divide between Mozilla Corporation and Mozilla Messaging, but it can hardly be healthy for non-Firefox projects in the long run.
Also in the long run, though, Mozilla is doing itself and the open web development community a great service by consolidating its documentation and developer resources into a single, unified whole, complete with the one thing that it has long lacked — a web-based open discussion forum.
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