As I wrote this post, MDN’s documentation wiki hit a remarkable milestone: For the first time ever MDN saw more than 4 million unique visitors in a single month.
I always tell people, if we have a good quarter it’s because of the work we did three, four, and five years ago. It’s not because we did a good job this quarter.
Mozilla’s MDN project envisions a world where software development begins with web development — a world where developers build for the web by default. That is our great ambition, an audacious summary of MDN’s raison d’être. I discussed MDN’s business strategy at length in an earlier post. In this post I will talk about MDN’s product strategy.
Several posts ago I described MDN as a product ecosystem — “…a suite of physical products that fits into a bigger ecosystem that may entail services and digital content and support”, to use one designer’s words. The components of MDN’s product ecosystem — audience, contributors, platform, products, brand, governance, campaigns, and so forth — are united by a common purpose: to help people worldwide understand and build things with standard web technologies.
The efforts we undertake now must help people years hence. But projecting even a few years into the future of technology is … challenging, to say the least. It is also exactly what MDN’s product vision must do. So what does the future look like?
Looking at the future, we see futuristic shapes emerging from fog. We can’t tell yet whether they are riding hoverboards or wearing virtual reality headsets in self-driving cars. Maybe they are piloting webcam-equipped moth cyborgs. Will hoverboards implement web-standard APIs? Will MDN contributors need watch-optimized contribution pathways? We cannot know now.
We can be confident about a few things:
- Future information tools will take a marvelous variety of forms, from fashion accessories to appliances to autonomous vehicles. There is no replacement for the web; it will appear in some shape on all of these devices.
- Future information tools will deliver information when and where it is needed. Digging for information in search results will be less common than it is today, even among web developers.
- The future will have even more demand for capable web developers than the present has. Many of them will read documentation in their own language.
The three MDN products under heavy development now — the mature Reference product (MDN’s documentation wiki) and the new Services and Learning products — will evolve to meet this future:
In the future, web developers will still need a source of truth about open web technology development. MDN’s last 10 years of success have established it as that source of truth. Millions of web developers choose MDN over other online sources because, as a reference, MDN is more authoritative, more comprehensive, and more global. The vision of our Reference product is to use the power of MDN to build the most accessible, authoritative source of information about standard and emerging web technologies for web developers.
In the future, MDN will still be an information resource, but its information will take different shapes depending on how and where it is accessed. MDN may look like the present-day reference product when it is rendered in a web browser; but sometimes it may render in a browser’s developer tools, in a pluggable code editor, or elsewhere. In those instances the information presented may be more focused on the things developers commonly need while coding. Some developers may still access MDN via search results; others will get something from MDN the moment they need it, in the context where it is most helpful. MDN’s articles will be used for learning and understanding; but subsets of MDN’s information may also power automation that enhances productivity and quality. These new uses all share one characteristic: They bring MDN’s information closer to developers through a service architecture. The vision for our Services products is to bring the power of MDN directly into professional web developers’ daily coding environments.
The future’s web developers are learning web development right now. MDN’s present-day material is already essential to many of them even though it is aimed at a more advanced audience. MDN’s new learning content and features will deliver beginner-focused content that authoritatively covers the subjects essential to becoming a great web developer. Unlike many other online learning tools, MDN needn’t keep learners inside the platform: We can integrate with any 3rd-party tool that helps learners become web developers, and we can create opportunities for web developers to learn from each other in person. The vision for our Learning products is to use the power of MDN to teach web development to future web developers.
The power of MDN
The success of all three products depends on something I above call “the power of MDN” — something that sets MDN apart from other sources of information about web development.
I have previously described information about web development as an “oral tradition”. Web development is a young, complex and constantly changing field. It is imperfectly documented in innumerable blogs, forums, Q&A sites and more. MDN’s unique power is its ability to aggregate the shared experience of web developers worldwide into an authoritative catalog of truth about web technologies.
This aspect of MDN is constant: We carry it with us into the future, come what may. For any MDN product to succeed at scale it must implement a contribution pathway that allows web developers to directly contribute their knowledge about web development. MDN’s products advance the field of web development at a global scale by sharing essential information discovered through the collective experience of the world’s web developers.
Together we are advancing the field. In 10 years web development will be concerned with new questions and new challenges, thanks to the state of the art that MDN aggregates and promulgates. We build on what we know; we share what we know on MDN. Here’s to another 10 years!