Is the Offline First Community Ready for an Offline First Foundation?

Exploring options for pushing the movement forward

A common theme at Offline Camp has been conversations about building the Offline First community. After Offline Camp Catskills, Maureen McElaney provided a writeup of a discussion about building the offline first community. The conversation about where we want to go with the Offline First community continued at Offline Camp Berlin.

The conversation in Berlin centered around the idea of creating an Offline First Foundation. The consensus was that we don’t necessarily need a foundation yet, but that it’s something we will likely need in the future, so we should begin the conversation and planning now.

Weighing the Benefits and Challenges of a Foundation

In addition to having the best acronym of all time, an Offline First Foundation (OFF) would provide a number of benefits to the community. One advantage would be to mitigate trademark problems, such as ambiguous or confusing usage of the term “Offline First” or related terms such as “Offline Camp.” It’s a common practice for open source projects to protect their trademarks, often through organizations such as the Apache Software Foundation.

Of course, one disadvantage of a foundation is the associated bureaucracy. We discussed alternative models to the traditional nonprofit approach. For example, the JS Foundation is a trade association with the purpose of “[driving] widespread adoption and continued development of key JavaScript solutions and related technologies” (among other purposes). It tends to be easier to set up a trade association as compared to a nonprofit organization. Likely an Offline First Foundation would be created within the United States, which would make it easier to receive donations and other resources from companies based in the United States.

The next step in beginning to form a foundation would be to engage the Offline First community in finding out what the community would and would not want from a foundation. Whatever governance model is chosen, it should follow the spirit of “nobody owns, everyone benefits.”

Engaging Corporate Players

Beyond the creation of an Offline First Foundation, we also discussed the state of the Offline First community more broadly. Big players such as Google, Microsoft, and IBM each have a stake in the movement, and to date each has supported the growth of the community by sponsoring at least one edition of Offline Camp. Interestingly, though, each company uses different language when discussing topics related to Offline First. IBM, for example, regularly refers to Offline First, while Google’s terminology places a strong emphasis on Progressive Web Apps. (Disclaimer: I work for IBM as a Developer Advocate.)

IBM, Google, and Microsoft have all been Offline Camp sponsors. (Photos by Bradley Holt, Myles Borins, Mike Broberg)

As a community, our goal should be to have an inclusive movement where industry players with similar interests are collaborating and spreading the message around Offline First using similar language to increase public awareness. One of the tasks of an Offline First Foundation would be encouraging companies to champion the Offline First community under a common vocabulary.

In order to attract and retain the support of corporations, we should track and publish metrics about the Offline First community. Additionally, having metrics available on the business value of an Offline First approach would help bring companies into the movement. Case studies, for example, could be published and presented that document the benefits gained from Offline First apps. This could help generate interest and attract collaborators. There are likely case studies that have already been created by individual companies which we could curate and republish.

Stickers and swag at Offline Camp Berlin from Google Cloud, IBM, Hoodie, and others. Photo by Myles Borins.

Offline First as a Social Movement

The conversation about demonstrating business value in order to attract corporations led us to take a careful look what the Offline First movement is all about. Is Offline First more about common business interest, or is it more of a social movement? While there is corresponding business value, the core motivation and aspiration behind the Offline First movement is to make the internet more accessible to more people at more times. In a separate Offline Camp Berlin session about Offline First as a Social Movement I proposed the following language to describe the overarching mission of the Offline First movement:

Balancing social power, regardless of level of connectivity.

In order to fund and sustain our community-building efforts, we need to find the common denominator between the business case for Offline First and the social movement that motivates many of us to pursue this technology. Finding and cultivating this balance could be the work of an Offline First Foundation.

Several of the participants in this conversation have experience growing developer communities and open source communities. However, Offline First is different from your typical open source project. Offline First is about much more than code and software developers. It also involves user experience designers, product managers, and many other perspectives. If we approach our Offline First community-building like an open source project, we may only attract people who already participate in open source projects, while unintentionally excluding people with other perspectives who haven’t contributed to open source software before.

Next Steps

What are the next steps in making an Offline First Foundation a reality? There are a number of directions we could go in. The first steps likely include beginning a conversation with representative stakeholders from the Offline First community and from corporations with an interest in the Offline First movement. This conversation needs to address some key questions about an Offline First Foundation:

  • What is the scope? I imagine that an Offline First Foundation would take responsibility for events such as Offline Camp (and possibly an Offline First conference in the future), trademarks such as “Offline Camp” and “Offline First,” and outreach & education through the offlinefirst.org website and the Offline Camp Medium publication.
  • What is the governance structure? Likely a trade association will make the most sense, but we need to ensure that this works for our goals.
  • How will it be funded? Without funding there is little that an Offline First Foundation could accomplish. Critical here is finding a funding structure that serves both the corporate and community interests within the Offline First movement.

What do you think? What would you want out of an Offline First Foundation? Let us know! Join the Offline First Slack team, then head on over to the #foundation channel. Comments are also welcome on this post!