The new magic SUMO tool for frequent questions, and an interview with its developer, Tobias Markus

For a few weeks now we have been replying to almost every single question that is asked in the Mozilla support forums. That is up from about 50% last year and it shows the dedication of our community. Also over the last few month we have made a number of changes to SUMO to reduce the flow of simple questions that have answers in the KB already. That has been quite succesful, not only are we getting really hard questions now, but they are solved at a higher rate than before too.

The challenge now is that we have to ask for more information before we can solve an issue. Repeating those questions is quite tiring, so we decided to build a tool to help out our community and gather all the important questions to ask in one place.

We had actually planned to work on it later this year, but one of our great community members, Tobbi, saw an opportunity and offered to try his hand on it.

The result went online a few days ago, and is amazing. Sign into SUMO, and check it out for yourself:

  1. Chose a question
  2. Click on the response tool (the magic hat symbol)
  3. Select an answer or a request for specific information
  4. Customize as necessary and send!

Over time this tool will hopefully gather all the shared wisdom of our community and help us solve issues in as few steps as possible.

Interview with the developer, Tobias Markus.

This is not the first time a community member has been helpful in the development of Kitsune, the software that powers SUMO, but it’s the first major feature. We’d love to see much more of this, and I asked Tobbi for an interview to ask him how he got involved for anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps.

Tobbi, you have been a SUMO community member for quite a long time. Where did you start and how was your SUMO journey so far?

It was late 2008 when I started contributing to SUMO. My portal to the SUMO world was the Firefox LiveChat, which I joined as I really liked the personal touch that the chat had. Later on, I found out that there was a German localization group for SUMO articles, so I started translating articles into German and helped reaching the goal of then 100% localization coverage. I even gave forum support, although I preferred LiveChat because it was more personal than the forums.

How did you get the idea to help with the development of SUMO?

The idea for development started when I was working on a Firefox add-on together with Propeng. We implemented various features for the old forums to make them more contributor-friendly and add some tools that aimed at making life for contributors easier. However, due to the amount of unfinished code and the switch to Kitsune, the project was stalled. That’s when we decided to split the big project into smaller chunks to make them compatible again with the new forums. One of these smaller projects was the Knowledge Base article autocomplete that was landed a few months ago. I think it was Rosana who suggested integrating the Knowledge Base autocomplete into the Firefox support website directly. That’s when I started contributing to the development of SUMO.

Did you get any help with your project?

The SUMO team and other contributors really helped me a lot. At first I was posting an early draft to the contributors forum to gather suggestions from other contributors and the team. The feedback I got was huge. I spent the next couple of weeks reacting on it and making a lot of improvements to the code to enable things like instant preview, edit mode, and even flags that can limit certain responses to certain groups of contributors. The SUMOdev team also answered some implementation questions.

Once this was done, the next thing was to make the experience perfect for contributors. I brainstormed a lot with Bram [the SUMO UX designer] about best practices in order to get a good user experience design and spent some more weeks making the necessary changes.

The fourth step was a final code review by Ricky Rosario. That went smoothly as well, the necessary changes I had to do were minimal and most of them were about simple code style fixes. Once these were fixed, the code was ready to land.

The final step was to create the canned responses. I asked the community again to get back to me with some frequently used responses and the amount of responses I got was overwhelming. I chose around 10 of the most frequently used ones (based on my own judgement) and rewrote them a little. Kadir then helped me put each response in its own article and create a main article for the category structure that has links to all the individual responses.

What is your advise for people who want to get involved with SUMO development?

Drop by in #sumodev on irc.mozilla.org and say hello. The SUMOdev people answered any questions I had so that canned responses could become a success. Also, there is good documentation available online about setting up a local copy of SUMO. So, if you have a great feature in mind for the support website and want to start developing, give it a go!

Tobi, thank you for this interview, and in the name of the SUMO community: thanks for making everyone’s live so much easier!

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