MDN First steps

This is a guest post by Jérémie Patonnier. This article was originally published in French. For two years now, Jérémie has been an active contributor to MDN. He organizes short doc sprints each Wednesday evening at the Mozilla Paris office. During those events, people ask a lot of questions about MDN and how to contribute. Here are the most common questions with the hope that they will help you to understand how to get involved with MDN.

What is MDN?

Please, don’t laugh, you have no idea how many times I have heard this.

To get straight to the point, MDN is the Mozilla Developer Network. It’s a web site centralizing almost all the documentation about Mozilla products. Basically this site hosts three kind of resources:

  • Articles and links to external resources to learn how to use web technologies
  • Demos of cutting edge Web technologies available in modern Web browsers (Those demos come from the monthly Dev Derby contest organized by John Karahalis)
  • Reference documentation (API, elements, attributes, properties) for Mozilla technologies and more important, reference documentation for all open Web technologies (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, SVG, WebGL, etc.)

The last part, the open Web documentation, is the most important (in terms of volume as well as quality) and the one where Mozilla currently puts its biggest effort. One thing to mention is the fact that this documentation is browser agnostic, with compatibility tables and implementation notes for all browsers, not just Firefox.

Even if this documentation can be considered as one of the best currently available on the Web, it’s far from complete, and you are more than welcome to help with filling the gaps ;)

Is it difficult to contribute?

Not at all, on the contrary, it’s amazingly simple. I even think it is the easiest way to contribute to Mozilla (there is no need to deal with Bugzilla :-P)

Actually, to contribute to MDN, you need two things:

  • The will to contribute
  • A user account on MDN

And that’s all.

The hardest things to do is to find the “Sign in” button in the upper right corner of the site, stuck between the search field and the ugly white Mozilla tab‚ — yeah, yeah, yeah not really the best place. Once you click it, you are prompted for an e-mail address and a password (MDN uses Mozilla Persona/BrowserID). After that, on the next page, you just have to provide a “user name” to identify your contributions on MDN and voilà, you are ready to contribute.

For its part, contributing is also really simple. Basically, MDN is 80% a wiki. So, on each page of the wiki, you’ll find an “Edit” button (in the upper right corner). Click it to load the page content into a WYSIWYG editor (don’t worry, if you want to be hardcore, you can switch to raw HTML editing). Make all the changes you want and save them (by clicking on the “Save” button on the upper left corner). Congratulations, you’ve made your first contribution to MDN and Mozilla: no stupid publication process, no delay, no review (of course, you can ask for it, but it’s not required) — too easy :)

What can I do, where do I start?

The short answer is “whatever and wherever you want”. Unfortunately, experience has shown me that it’s not the answer expected by newcomers.

Basically, you can do two things on MDN:

  • Submit demos to the Dev Derby demos monthly contest, which is pretty cool if you are a developer.
  • Contribute to the documentation if you feel you have the heart of a writer.

Contributing to the documentation can be done in several ways, depending on the time and the will you have to get involved:

  • Writing new articles
    It’s the most time consuming contribution. However, it’s also the most useful to the most people.
  • Localizing content
    If you are familiar with a language other than English it is a good idea to translate existing material into that language. Not everybody uses English all around the world and it’s important to make the Web accessible to anyone.
  • Writing code samples
    Explanations are good, but examples are better. Many times, a good example can make things much more understandable than five paragraphs of rubbish text. So writing code samples is one of the most useful contributions and MDN really needs more.
  • Reviewing content
    As I said before, the review process on MDN is really limited but contributors can explicitly ask for review (through a tagging system). These can be editorial reviews as well as technical reviews. (Look for NeedsTechnicalReview or NeedsEditorialReview tags on pages; remove the tag if the page is OK.) If you have a small amount of time, it’s the perfect contribution that will help a lot of people.
  • Updating compatibility tables
    MDN’s open Web documentation is becoming more browser agnostic. To achieve that goal, there are many pages on MDN with browser compatibility tables. They allow users to know which API, element, attribute, or property is available for each browser. This is amazingly useful and it only take five minutes to add some compatibility data. Without a doubt, it is the easiest and fastest way to contribute to MDN.

One last tip. Documenting the open Web is a huge task that no one can perform alone. As a consequence, it’s a good idea to focus yourself on the topics you are interested in personally. If you want to work on a specific subject, know that MDN has “Topic Drivers” that can help you; feel free to contact them. They will be more than happy to assist you.

To complete this, there two introductory pages on MDN that can be quite helpful:

Conclusion

As you can see, contributing to MDN is quite simple. If you want to know more feel free to ask your question on IRC at irc.mozilla.org on the #devmo channel or through our mailing list/Google group dev-mdc. If you want to speak to someone, the best entry points are Eric Shepherd (aka Sheppy), Janet Swisher and Jean-Yves Perrier (Teoli). Those three people are Mozilla employes dedicated to MDN so don’t worry about contacting them; they signed up for it :-P

Long live the documentation :)

About Jeremie Patonnier

Jeremie is a Mozilla contributor to MDN and personally dedicated to the promotion of the Open Web. He has been working since 2000 with Front End development for the web in France. He also blogs in French at http://jeremie.patonnier.net or http://typographisme.net, tweets as @JeremiePat and loves to share his knowledge with everybody.

More articles by Jeremie Patonnier…


4 comments

  1. Beto Arancibia

    Great article, is very helpful for many of us who want to start to contibute but don’t know where, because sometimes could seem an overwhelming task.
    I have translated this article to Spanish, hoping to more people could now about MDN and that is posible to contribute too. Here is the translation http://betoscopio.drupalgardens.com/blog/primeros-pasos-en-mdn , if you have any correction to do, please let me know.

    May 5th, 2012 at 14:36

    1. Janet Swisher

      Thanks Beto! That’s wonderful :-)

      May 5th, 2012 at 16:47

    2. Jeremie

      Wow… that’s great. Thank you very much :)

      May 6th, 2012 at 13:33

  2. Beto Arancibia

    Thank you both for the inspiring article, made me want to contribute back and i thought that a translation could be a good start.

    May 6th, 2012 at 17:35

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