Know Thy Add-on User


Mark Cramer is a guest writer for the AMO blog. He is CEO of SurfCanyon, the creators of the SurfCanyon Firefox add-on.

Creating software in a vacuum is incredibly difficult. While all add-on developers have a general idea of the value they’d like to deliver to their users, without copious and constant feedback it’s like flying in the dark. Knowing what your users want and what they don’t find interesting is incredibly important. It also helps to know what, if anything, they’re seeking and how they perceive what it is that your add-on does and how it works. Even if you’re delivering a valuable add-on, compatibility can also be a major issue since end users’ machines all look different and testing the limitless combinations of add-ons, desktop software and personal configurations is virtually impossible.

Listening and reacting to the people in the trenches can therefore make the difference between success and failure.

While it may seem daunting, you can take heart in the fact that users, when nurtured properly, can be an incredible resource for feedback, helpful advice, technical assistance and, on many occasions, even quality assurance. They can certainly be abrasive sometimes, but with a thick skin you can get tremendous value out of their “tough love.” In the spirit of trying to share a few thoughts, here are some humbly submitted, common sense ideas, along with a few tricks, that might help make the difference.

1. Actively Seek Feedback

The AMO page for every add-on enables users to leave comments. Check once a day for new feedback, post responses whenever appropriate and, when possible, follow up with the commenter if more information is needed. As a general rule, when communicating with users, keep it positive and constructive and control your emotions. While on occasion it might seem otherwise, malicious intent is extremely rare. Most people want to help, so always respond with that in mind.

The AMO page, however, should only be the beginning. For most add-ons, the percentage of people who download and then return to leave a comment is small. Finding other ways to elicit feedback is therefore imperative. Nevertheless, the challenge can be particularly difficult since it is not obviously when, where or how to ask for feedback. You could try to incorporate a feedback mechanism into the add-ons itself, but be careful about being overly intrusive. Real estate is very precious and most people don’t want things popping up at them. We have found, however, that one excellent way to resolve these issues is with an uninstall survey.

A survey page can be launched using an uninstall script. For actually running the survey and collecting the data, SurveyMonkey provides an excellent service. If you don’t mind having to erase the responses and start over every time you get 100 replies, you could run it for free. Keeping the survey very short will help conversion greatly. You might even consider one simple multiple-choice question: “Please tell us why you are uninstalling this add-on.” Allow for an open-ended response and consider making one of the answers “Temporary issue – I’ll be back!” While few people will leave an email, make sure to ask for it as those that do leave one will normally turn out to be very helpful.

Remember to keep your uninstall survey up to date. The open-ended responses will enable users to give whatever feedback they want, but if you use multiple-choice questions, make sure to keep the selections current with the functionality of your add-on. Moving the questions and responses around a bit will also help to remove “position bias” – people have a tendency to select the first choices.

We’ve found that the moment the user chooses to uninstall an add-on turns out to be an opportune time to request feedback. He or she has had an opportunity to evaluate the application and has just made a decision: to uninstall. Unfortunately this doesn’t afford a lot of opportunity for positive feedback (people who love the application will generally leave it installed and thus won’t ever see the survey, so you’ll have to find another mechanism for getting the positive reviews), but hearing from people who uninstall is what you really need to improve your add-on.

2. Meticulously Pursue All Leads

The majority of feedback, whether through the AMO page, the add-on’s website or the uninstall script, will not include contact information for the user. For obvious reasons, people are very reluctant to share their emails. In many cases, this can make the job of debugging or improving your application very difficult, especially when the feedback isn’t anything more than “it didn’t work.” Therefore, whenever a user is gracious enough to provide contact information along with the feedback, it’s important to capitalize on that opportunity to learn everything that you can. People who submit their email addresses are doing so for follow up, so don’t be afraid to contact them. That being said, restrict the communication to the subject matter at hand (their feedback) and don’t send them sales pitches or add them to any mailing lists.

Take pains to profusely express gratitude for their feedback at every opportunity. Pointing out how valuable their contributions are to resolving issues and improving your application, and then thanking them for their effort, turns out to be very helpful. It’s also the right thing to do. As a consequence, we’ve found that some people can be incredibly generous with their time and assistance. In order to debug issues, we’ve had people create new profiles for testing, uninstall and deactivate add-ons one at a time to find compatibility problems and install testing software as well as beta versions of our add-on. We even had one user send a video in order to demonstrate a particular thing he was experiencing.

Many people love problem solving and will look at providing you with useful information as a personal challenge. By offering them avenues for giving feedback, demonstrating respect for their time and offering them encouragement, AMO users will be an amazingly valuable resource for improving your add-on.

3. Relentlessly Make Improvements

Now that you’ve got the feedback and have an army of users helping you out, it’s naturally important to implement improvements as a result. New features and enhancements can take time to realize, but responding to your users should always be a top priority. That being said, just because one user asks for something doesn’t mean that you need to drop everything to deliver it, but with enough feedback you’ll begin to identify patterns. Keep in mind that if five people give similar feedback there might be hundreds out there that are thinking the same thing.

Compatibility issues can also be tricky to resolve since they typically involve other people’s software, although once again, other developers can be very helpful. If you reach out to developers with whom you have issues you’ll most likely find that most are eager to provide assistance. Add-on incompatibility issues work both ways, so it’s in everyone’s interest to work together. If another add-on developer were to contact you, I’m sure you’d do the same. Even if other developers are unable to modify their application in a timely fashion, perhaps they could help suggest a temporary work-around. We’ve found that the odds of not getting some form of assistance is very small and that most developers are enthusiastic about collaborating.

Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to the AMO community for technical assistance. Many issues relating to the development of add-ons are tricky and a lot of the “art” is still being fashioned. Post questions to forums or send emails to other add-on developers. If you have a little bit of money to dedicate to something particular, RentACoder can be a cost-effective means of finding vetted developers with very specific talents.

I’m sure there are many other techniques for working with AMO users, but these suggestions might be a helpful place to get started. If other people have ideas, we’d love to hear them, so please post below. Everyone is always looking for ways to improve!

Categories: developers

4 responses

  1. Vin Turk

    Great post! It can be a little difficult to receive positive feedback during the uninstall survey as you mentioned. Your other points are right on the money!

  2. CAFxX

    Yep, improving the user feedback capabilities of AMO could be a good first step. For instance, allowing an add-on developer to contact someone who left a review is absolutely needed. Sending a “new review posted” alert could be another good idea. Also simplifying the diagnosis of inter-extensions problems could help.

  3. Mark Cramer

    As a quick update to this post, we just had a new first – An especially gracious user who was experiencing a particularly rare and elusive issue granted us access to his computer via GoToMyPC, which enabled us to do the actual debugging on his machine. We imagine that few people would be willing to do this, but you can always ask.

    One more quick note that I didn’t mention above – Set up a Twitter account and then use an RSS feed to monitor anyone who “Tweets” about your add-on. Responding to them and asking for feedback can also be quite useful.

    We hope this helps!

  4. Mike Darnell

    Hi Mark,
    Spectacular read and very useful post.
    Despite an obviously growing need materials about marketing Firefox addons seem to be still rather scarce.

    It would be great if you could perhaps recommend further reading on the subject and maybe post some links for forums and other learning resources on the subject.

    “I tweet @headup” – The semantic web Firefox addon