The vision for SUMO – Part 7: Support Forum

David Tenser

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The Support Forum is a way for users to ask direct support questions about problems not (yet?) covered in the Knowledge Base, as described previously as the support funnel. It is also an important place to detect new or emerging issues and make sure those issues are dealt with in the best possible way.

The Firefox 3.0.2 release is a very good example of this importance; shortly after the 3.0.2 update started to roll out in Europe, Carsten Book from the QA team noticed early signs of users having problems with the Password Manager from various places such as support forums on Heise, and Hendrix. It was then quickly confirmed to be a frequent issue in the Support Forum of SUMO as well.

In a matter of hours, this went from early signs from our different user channels to a solid plan to release an update of Firefox (due out today or tomorrow) to fix it, as well as a new Knowledge Base support article about the issue. SUMO was just one player in this great and efficient teamwork, but it highlights well our ability to “extend our tentacles” during releases to ensure that we keep doing what we do so well: listening to our users — in this case as an early warning system, if you will.

For contributors, the Support Forum is an exciting place to be, since you can take part of this early warning system, while at the same time making other people happy by helping them with their problems. It’s a good place to start helping since you can simply browse through the posted questions and see if there is anything you know the answer to. There are no obligations to respond if you don’t know the answer.

Reaching out to the people in need

One of our current challenges with the Support Forum is that while we have an incredibly helpful community answering a large number of questions, we don’t have a good way of ensuring that the user asking the question actually comes back to read the answer. This means that we don’t really know if the user’s problem was actually solved or not, only that we at least tried to help.

Question asked in the Support Forum.

We’d like to change this by making it easier for users to find their way back to the forum thread they posted. When a user asks a question in the Support Forum, we should offer the ability to get an e-mail notification when someone responds to the question. This way, people don’t have to worry about how our support site works or what page to bookmark — we will reach out to the user instead of the user finding its way back to us.

Making the forum easier to use for our community

Of course, in order to reach out to our users we need to make sure there are people who want to help others in our forum. :) We already have a group of really amazing people in the forum who help a lot of the users who turn to the forum with their Firefox support questions. However, we definitely need more contributors to cope with the load.

One important thing to focus on in order to make it more pleasant to hang out in the forum is to make the site easier to use for our contributors. We have a few ideas:

  • Give contributors credit for solving problems — Allow the user posting the original question to tell us whether or not an answer from a contributor solved the problem, giving contributors credit for their help. Readers of the earlier parts of this blog series might remember the discussion about a contributor karma system in part 3.
  • Highlight the solution to a problem — Some forum threads quickly grow long, making finding the actual solution to the posted problem hard to find. Other people who stumble across the thread in search for a similar (or same) problem typically want to get straight to the solution, which could be buried on page 4 of a very long thread. We should make that solution easily discoverable at the start of the thread, by allowing the original poster of the thread to mark a particular response in it as the solution to the problem. This will benefit not just our users, but our contributors as well.
  • RSS feed for incoming support questions — Instead of having to log in to SUMO in order to read the latest incoming support questions, a convenient alternative would be to just subscribe to an RSS feed (also known as Live Bookmark in Firefox). This way, people could set their mail client (e.g. Thunderbird) to notify whenever a new question is posted.
  • Smart forum thread filters — When browsing the forum today, all questions are listed, including the ones that are already answered. Many contributors are more interested in looking at threads that haven’t been answered yet. Others might want to see only the threads they’ve responded in. We should allow for an easy way to filter the forum view based on what’s relevant for our visitors.
  • Localization — This is a big one. We currently only have an English support forum and we’re starting to get more questions posted in other languages as the visibility of SUMO increases. For the locales that have enough contributors a need for it, we should definitely create a support forum in that language.

What other ideas can you think of that would make the forum more pleasant to use for you? We would love to hear from you about your experiences with the SUMO Support Forum so we could use your feedback to improve the site for everyone.

5 responses

  1. Thomas wrote on ::

    For some locales with already very active “inofficial” support forums, it would be better to link to these support forums instead of creating a new one. Creating new ones will have the negative side effect of dividing contributors into several forums and already fixed problems in one forum can’t be searched in the other one.

    regards, Thomas
    from the German community (www.firefox-browser.de/forum)

  2. don wrote on :

    Can you fit 3.02 it stars to update and then lockup I nead to fix it help
    Don PS I have removeed it and reinstall it four times.

  3. David Tenser wrote on ::

    Thomas, good point. We should think about how to integrate the local forums better with SUMO. Maybe on the “Ask a Question” page we’d link to that forum as well as the English SUMO forum?

  4. Kadir wrote on :

    Let me echo Thomas’ words. Creating centralized forums for locales which already have them is the complete OPPOSITE of what you want to do. It takes years to build up a community. Things like that don’t come easy or cheap. So, please, speak to the locale communities, before even bringing up such ideas, it really hurts your creditability and spreads fear, uncertainty and doubt among us, which I’m sure is not what you intended.

    Let me also give you one advise about community building in forums: After almost 10 years in this field (4 as moderator in a forum, 6 as a forum administrator) from what I can see, the most important forum is: Off-Topic. If people don’t get payed they need other incentives, giving them credit is great, but only if there is a community which they care about. And if it is about support and support only, without room for off-topic or advanced magic of extending Mozilla, building up a community will be really hard. People want to show off, show what they are able to do, help really advanced users (their own kind) and engage in off topic discussions with people they like. That’s why they come back. Those people are defining the feel of a forum. Take them away and your forums are dead.

  5. David Tenser wrote on ::

    Kadir, thanks. Indeed, we don’t want to spread fear and uncertainty. What I meant was basically for the locales that have a need for it, we should offer support forums in their languages. For example the Japanese community have expressed interest in having a Japanese support forum on SUMO.

    For already existing forums, it would be a better idea to link to them from SUMO rather than reinventing the wheel (sans the community).