The vision for SUMO – Part 6: Knowledge Base

The Knowledge Base is the heart of SUMO and consists of a large collection of support articles largely written by the community. The key focus and scope of the Knowledge Base is troubleshooting — solving people’s problems with Firefox — as well as teaching people how to use Firefox and, by extension, the web.

The Knowledge Base is meant to be the primary method of getting support, since it already contains the answers to the most common Firefox issues. Because of this, the articles in the Knowledge Base need to be:

  1. easy to find,
  2. easy to understand, and
  3. easy for contributors to edit.

Let’s cover them one by one — easy as 1-2-3!

1 – Better search

Searching is central to the support funnel –- we want people to search for their problems first. Because of this intended flow through the funnel, it’s critical that the search function is working well and serving the right results.

There are some problems with our current search engine. Most importantly, we don’t have fine-grained control over its behavior, and we can’t control the frequency of its reindexing (the process of making sure all articles are searchable). This means that it might take weeks after a new article is created until it appears in the search results, which is really not ideal.

  • The search engine should index the Knowledge Base article on a daily basis to ensure up-to-date search results.
  • When a new article is published, the search engine should automatically re-index to include it. Being able to quickly ensure new information is accessible to our users is critical if e.g. a new issue is discovered after a new release.
  • Search rating should primarily be based on the frequency of the reported problem, the article tags it contains, and its description. It should also support manual tweaking to ensure new and critical issues are getting a top search result listing even before they’re naturally picked up by popularity.

We could also do a better job of integrating the provided solutions to problems from the Support Forum with the search results. For example, when a user searches the Knowledge Base, we could offer a simple way to extend the search to include answered threads in the forum as well.

Another area of improvement is with locale specific searches. Today we include matches in English articles too, but there’s no clear distinction between the content available in the local language and the English (still untranslated) content.

All in all, this should make articles easier for users to find.

2 – Screencasts

Some users resort to the Support Forum or Live Chat simply because they don’t understand the contents of a Knowledge Base article and need some hand-holding to solve their problem. Screencasts (essentially videos) is a powerful visual medium that helps translate and communicate technical concepts to a wider audience. Even for users who are perfectly capable of following written instructions, watching a screencast can speed up the problem solving process significantly.

Frequent readers know that we already have a bunch of screencasts ready to be used in the Knowledge Base — we just need to get the infrastructure up so we can actually provide them to our readers. Specifically, we need:

  • an easy way to upload and embed screencasts into Knowledge Base articles, and
  • an elegant way of presenting them in the articles themselves, for example a simple “Show me how” link, expanding into a full screen video view upon clicking; no annoying pop-up windows; all embedded into the page à la Web 2.0.

Once we have this up and running, articles should be easier for users to understand.

3 – Streamlined article editing

Since the Knowledge Base is our most powerful tool to provide efficient support for our users, it’s equally important that this tool is as simple for contributors to use as possible. We have some ideas:

  • What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editing — editing a Knowledge Base article should be as simple as writing a blog post. This is easier said than done, but it’s definitely worth investigating the possibilities, as it would dramatically simplify things for casual Knowledge Base contributors that just want to correct a typo without having to learn a whole new wiki syntax language.
  • No-nonsense editing process — remove buttons and options that are just confusing. Right now there are a lot of them, and they’re laid out in a somewhat confusing way.
  • Other ideas? This is where you come in. Chris Ilias started a thread to discuss this item more thoroughly, and we’d love to hear your feedback!

With these improvements, Knowledge Base articles should be easier for our contributors to edit, allowing more people to participate.

And that ends part six. As simple as Do Re Mi.