The road to SUMO 1.0, in retrospect

David Tenser

16

Tomorrow night (pacific time), SUMO will reach that magical version number 1.0. Although we already have a grand roadmap leading up to 2.0, today we’ll be looking back at all the work that took us where we are today. There is one particular achievement we’ve made that I would really like to emphasize on; I’ll get to it shortly, but first, some background.

How it all began

After Firefox 1.0 was released, the user base rapidly expanded — not just in the sheer number of users, but in types of users as well. Firefox quickly went from an early-adopters’ browser for the tech savvy (not because Firefox was hard to use, but because early adopters tend to have an affinity with technology) to a mainstream browser used by everyone. Meanwhile, some people in our naturally very tech savvy support community started to realize that we were struggling to keep up with the load. Both in terms of number of the volume of users that needed support, and the different kinds of users. Also, the web server itself was noticeably struggling with the increased web traffic.

After exploring different options and discussing within the community what we should do to improve the situation, it became clear that the new situation demanded a support platform that was better suited to our needs. One that would allow us to gauge the frequency of the most common support issues our users were having with Firefox. One that would allow the support documentation to be available to those other 50% of Firefox users that are not speaking English. One that would allow us to hack and improve upon the platform. One that could scale to meet the demand of over one hundred million users (at the time; today, that number has more than doubled). Most importantly of all, one that would enable the Mozilla community to contribute how it wanted to.

As a result, the SUMO project started.

What followed was a bunch of decisions that had to be made. What platform would we use to build this support website? Would we take something tried and true, like phpBB and MediaWiki? After careful examination of our options, we decided to pick something untried and new: TikiWiki. It had a wiki (our Knowledge Base) and forums integrated in one package, it had a nice plugin system that would allow us to extend the functionality to make the package more user support oriented. Also, the TikiWiki community was eager to collaborate to help us build SUMO faster.

In retrospect, choosing that path took us more work, and we still haven’t delivered on all things we want to improve with the platform. However, we are certainly getting there and SUMO 1.0 feels like a great achievement and a solid foundation for our ever-improving open source support platform.

Aside from choosing the technical platform, we also had to make tough decisions on things like the scope of our support documentation (what exactly do we support?), what kind of support experience we would like to present to our users, how localization should work, how common support issues would be reported to the development and QA teams, and so on.

Where we are today

SUMO deserves the 1.0 version number today because we are finally in a state where the platform can scale to meet the demand of our massive user base. We have a solution in place that can give us insights about which problems users are most frequently having with Firefox. We provide step-by-step solutions to over 200 known problems, and for any problems we don’t have the answer to already, we offer both e-mail support via our forum, and a way to get personal help via Live Chat.

Weekly unique visitors of support.mozilla.com

Weekly unique visitors of SUMO since Firefox 3 was launched.

Every month, support.mozilla.com sees over 12,000,000 unique visitors. Every week, about 2,000 people get their problem solved in our support forum and Live Chat. Every day, over 1,000 people actively tell us that their Firefox problem was solved by an article in the Knowledge Base — note that that’s likely a small number in comparison with all the people that are getting help without letting us know!

Our biggest achievement

Part of the Mozilla community. Photo by Tristan Nitot.

Decisions, theory, and technology aside, our biggest achievement with SUMO is without hesitation our community. It’s really the amazing people in our community that made all this possible. Without them, we wouldn’t have a Knowledge Base with over 200 articles for common Firefox support issues. We wouldn’t have a support forum where users can have their problems solved. We wouldn’t have anything to offer for users who want to get in direct touch with a Firefox expert. We wouldn’t have anything to offer for users who don’t speak English.

Simply put, our community is what makes the Firefox Support website help thousands of users every day. I think that is the most important lesson learned in our road to 1.0 and something for everyone in our community to be truly proud about.

16 responses

  1. mconnor wrote on :

    Question about the Tikiwiki choice. You said it meant more work, but didn’t provide a comparison. I’ve talked with Laura and others about this in the past, and it’s generally seemed that while it’s been hard at times, it’s still a lot less pain than the other options that were on the table, assuming the goal was to have an integrated system between forums and KB.

  2. morgamic wrote on ::

    This seems to come up quite a bit, but there was some due process there:
    http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pnnxzqhCygtc_zRTAr0C-VQ

    Worth noting that a lot of this happened before David, Laura and the rest of the team had even joined the project.

  3. skierpage wrote on :

    But after all the analysis developer.mozilla.org chose a different wiki (MindTouch Deki), SUMO chose TikiWiki, while the straight wiki.mozilla.org continues with MediaWiki. Local optimizations led to a tricky outcome for someone like me who occasionally contributes to all three.

    Meanwhile MediaWiki now has 17 forum extensions (including the two that Wikia uses) and 12 chat extensions. It’s the Firefox 1.0 beta of wikis :)

  4. kkovash wrote on :

    SUMO continues to be one of the most critical activities within the greater Mozilla community and this is an amazing milestone to see. Congrats to the SUMO team/community!

  5. John Slater wrote on ::

    Awesome work…SUMO is such a great example of the direct benefits that the community provides. Kudos to all who are involved!

  6. Majken “Lucy” Connor wrote on :

    We weren’t aware of Deki when choosing software for SUMO, and I’m not sure how closely MDC considered Tiki. I’m actually very eager myself to hear a comparison between the two projects. Though as I understand it, they use mediawiki for the wiki component.

    The big drawback with choosing mediawiki was upstreaming any changes we wanted to make, l10n capability wasn’t very good and didn’t offer a good mechanism for requiring approval of changes before going live.

    Though not to focus on one part of the blog post, it is definitely an interesting topic and is probably worth having a post mortem on especially comparing with Deki and Drupal use on other Mozilla sites.

  7. Stephen Donner wrote on ::

    Congrats to the SUMO team (of which I’m proud to be a part) for launching 1.0; looking forward to the road to 2.0, and increasing our testing efforts along the way.

    Cheers!

  8. Patrick Finch wrote on ::

    I am genuinely inspired by the SUMO project – I think a lot of us are. It is an example of how the people in the Mozilla community manage to achieve unexpectedly great results when driven by passion. Well done to everyone in the SUMO project!

  9. William Quiviger wrote on ::

    Community, community, community ! Your blog post is spot on David ! Congrats to the whole SUMO team for the fantastic work and for this milestone. The road to 2.0 promises to be a really exciting one, i’m looking forward to our european community tour this year ! By the way, I was in Milan recently where I hung out with our friends at Mozilla Italia. They got everyone so excited about SUMO, it’s almost indecent :) . Maybe you could ask Simone Lando to write a guest blog post on the SUMO blog, his enthusiasm for SUMO is totally contagious :)

  10. Simon wrote on ::

    William you’re too kind… :D
    I simply believe in this project and I enjoy very much partecipating and seeing it grow. ;)

    Thanks to David and all, and congratulations to all of us! :D

  11. Nelson wrote on :

    Congrats from the TikiWiki team to SUMO. We are behind you all the way to 2.0. Looking forward, we want others other than Firefox Support to be using TikiWiki to do support the open source way. Now that I am not directly involved in the day-to-day development within SUMO (thanks ecooper, paulc and laura for stepping in), that’s what I can focus on, extending the community and ecosystem from the TikiWiki end. Right now, am busy admin’g GSOC for TikiWiki, and working on setting up the upcoming Tiki Software Foundation.

  12. David Tenser wrote on ::

    Nelson: Thanks to you and the TikiWiki team (I sent an e-mail to you guys too; hope you got it)! Extending SUMO to other project is a hot topic and I’m looking forward to collaborating with you on that.

    Simone: Thanks for being a vital part of SUMO. Really looking forward to meeting you again soon!

  13. JT wrote on :

    Great work guys– very impressive to see how far this has come!

  14. SIdds wrote on :

    Dear Sir,

    I have been using Firefox from quite some time now and have been an absolute fan of it. lately i have noticed that while surfing some sites firefox has been getting too slow and ends up hanging the desktop. it consumes full RAM power and finally programme has to be ended by CRTL+ALT+DEL method.

    I use windows vista sp2. the site on which i noticed the peculiar problem occurs everytime with firefox is http://www.hotklix.com the same site runs smoothly with i.e. 7. The same also happens on my laptop [DELL 640M Windows XP Home Edition SP3].

    see if you could fix the problem, otherwise the software rocks, all salutes to you guys.

    Regards,
    Sidds.
    [India]

  15. John Hayes wrote on :

    Why publish only positive comments? Support is notoriously difficult due to large volume.

    Still no answer on why the upgrades to Firefox keep crashing – unlike the earlier 1.5 to 2.0 versions. Yet the discussion thread has been closed on the grounds that the problem has been solved!!!

    I understand the impossibility of manually answering the 1,000+ questions that come in every day. Leave the discussion forum open and the problems will get solved if we all work together. Thanks JH.

  16. Alan wrote on ::

    I just wanted to thank you guys for turning me to TikiWiki. It was through your pages I discovered this gem.
    Thanks and keep up the good work.