Author Archives: Matthew Middleton

Live Chat at the Summit Science Fair

I hosted a presentation about realtime support at the awesome Mozilla Summit in Whistler. Live Chat tends to be one of the most popular areas that new support community members assist with, so it’s a great place to actively work with a wide variety of people who love Firefox. Anyone with an active account can answer individual questions from users, but we highly encourage everyone to discuss what is being asked and to offer suggestions for other helpers’ questions. It is likely that another contributor has already helped with any given problem, so we solve questions a lot faster by sharing advice. When we find a new solution to a frequent problem or one which has been filed as a bug, the person currently leading makes sure it’s shared in the right places.

People who receive help through chat are most often very grateful for getting personalized help, and in some cases we have had satisfied users come back to help others. It’s easy even for people without support experience to help out – we have a wide variety of questions and an even wider variety of people to collaborate with. Expert community members, even those who don’t have time to participate in individual live chats, likewise play a valuable role by advising newer community members on more difficult questions.

Our purpose is to empower participants to talk to Firefox users, figure out the problem, and offer solutions. To achieve this, we have a wide variety of tools available – easy access to commonly cited snippets and links, an ability for interested contributors to request access to watch all chats, and a quick guide for answering almost any Firefox question. We also apply tags to chat sessions, which can be done while the chat is ongoing or while reading a previous chat log – we then use these tags to track trending issues and keep track of which solutions have worked.

The next thing we’re working on is integrating with the new knowledge base platform. Our goal is to focus Live Chat on the types of users where chatting is most successful, such as users suffering from issues where the documented instructions don’t help. More details are included in my slides from the summit, for everyone who couldn’t be in Whistler. If you have ideas about what we should focus on or ways you can help, we’d love to hear them on this blog, in the contributors forum, or in IRC.

Adding flexibility to Live Chat operating hours

Live Chat allows Mozilla community members to connect in real-time to a Firefox user seeking help.  We currently set three to four hours per day, based on community input, during which both volunteers wanting to provide help and users with questions are encouraged to come online.  Around 20 people per week usually help out each week, during which between 500 and 800 users are able to chat.

The system of setting aside official hours works well, as we are able to make sure experienced helpers are available during those times in order to help newer contributors and assist with questions that we don’t have documented solutions for yet.  Many users and contributors want to chat outside these rigid hours, so we want to allow users to chat anytime an experienced helper wants to help.

By showing users the current status of the chat queue and how many helpers are available, we can make sure more users who need personal support can get it.  When the expected wait time is high, users who would rather receive a reply by e-mail will be encouraged to ask a question using the support forum.  Volunteers can limit the number of chats they accept, and the queue status will be updated once the question limit is reached.

Queue status example

Queue status example, Live Chat full

We will still specify official hours for Live Chat, so that both users and new contributors can plan to come online when experienced helpers are usually going to be online.  The added flexibility will let questions be asked at other times, as long as enough contributors are online to help.

If you’re looking for a way to get involved with the SUMO project by helping Firefox users and other volunteers, we’d love to have you in the Live Chat community.  It only takes a few minutes to get started!

Connecting with hundreds of Firefox users each week

Since Live Chat started, over 1000 people have helped us in at least one chat, and over 200 have been regular helpers. We have answered almost 50,000 total chats (between 600 and 1000 each week), with 10 to 20 people answering chats weekly. As we get close to two years of offering Live Chat support, there are many great Live Chat community members that we would like to recognize. Tobias Markus (Tobbi) and Tanner are two Support community members we’d like to mention specifically for their continuing contributions throughout the project.

Tobias got started with Live Chat in January 2009, and since has become an active contributor to the Support knowledge base and the German localization community.  Earlier this month, he met up with dozens of other Mozilla project contributors at Mozcamp EU 2009 in Prague, and he has recently been working on creating add-ons for Firefox.  Tanner has been helping with the support project since starting with Live Chat in October, 2008. He has since become active in introducing new community members, in helping the Quality Assurance project by testing and investigating bugs, and in moderating our Support Forum. Tobbi and Tanner: thanks for being a great part of the Support community and the Mozilla project!

For people wanting to get more involved with Mozilla, helping with Live Chat is a great way to make a difference and connect with others. If a question isn’t documented on our Knowledge Base and the helper doesn’t know the answer, it’s easy to get advice from other people who are signed in. One of the best aspects of Live Chat is that you don’t need to be an expert to make a big difference, as it’s usually easy to find someone else who is already familiar with most any issue. All you need is 1-2 hours and a genuine willingness to help!

If you’re looking for a way to get more involved with other Mozilla volunteers, or if you enjoy helping others solve problems, we’d love to have you as part of the support community. You can join Live Chat directly, or see all the ways you can help Mozilla Support.

Live Chat on Firefox 3.5 Launch Day

During the Firefox 3.5 launch, the Mozilla Support community opened Live Chat extra hours to help people experiencing problems after the release. In all, we were able to answer over 1000 users with over 40 community members involved. Chatting with users right after a release lets us share feedback with the Quality Assurance and Launch teams, helping identify any new bugs that are affecting users. A number from the Mozilla Quality Assurance team were also available to assist with more difficult chats during launch week, and several were able to respond to chats when Live Chat was busy.

Overall, support during launch week was a huge success, and we’d like to thank everyone who helped make 3.5 the best Firefox release yet! Almost 50% fewer chat sessions were requested after Firefox 3.5 than after Firefox 3.0, which let us chat with over 90% of people requesting help. We were only able to chat with about half of users requesting help after Firefox 3.0, so this was a huge improvement! The top issues we saw following the release involved how to use new functionality in Firefox 3.5, add-on compatibility with 3.5, and a bug fixed in Firefox 3.5.1 that caused slow start-up times for some users. We regularly keep track of which issues are being seen often in Live Chat, and the full data for the 3.5 release is available in the SUMO Contributors Forum.

Since we have received positive feedback about the revised Live Chat schedule from the release, we have decided to keep some of the changes permanent. The changes have been announced in the Contributors Forum, and we would be glad to get more feedback about which times are best for the community. Since Live Chat requires users and helpers to be online at the same time, spreading out the times that Live Chat is open lets us reach as many people as possible.

Help make Launch Day a success!

The community is really excited for the release of Firefox 3.5 tomorrow (Tuesday). The quality of support in the hours following a launch is important to ensure a great upgrading experience and a successful release overall, so we’re organizing an effort to answer as many user questions as possible on Launch Day, Tuesday, June 30th.

Most users on are able to get help via the knowledge base, but some people still need individual help. They may be reporting a new issue or may need help understanding or finding an article. We have two primary ways for these users to ask questions and have a community member (that’s you!) answer- the Forum and Live Chat.

To make this even easier and coordinate efforts, we are also maintaining a list of issues expected to be common in our Contributors Forum. This list contains links to knowledge base articles, bugs, possible solutions and other resources to help with Firefox 3.5 issues. We’ll make sure to update it often so keep that page open. If you are helping with Live Chat, we also have a post with tips for making Live Chat a success on release day.

To get started helping, join #sumo on We’ll have a number of people from the Mozilla Quality Assurance team helping to answer questions, along with Support Team members to answer any questions you have. Thanks to everyone who is able to help make Firefox 3.5 the best release yet!

Making the Live Chat experience even better

As the Live Chat community on SUMO ( continues to grow, we are working on ways to make the experience even better for Firefox users and for our community members. Live Chat allows us to chat directly with users of Firefox, troubleshooting problems and helping users get the most out of their browser. Our community has been doing a fantastic job over the past few months, handling between 600 and 1000 chat sessions each week. We’re really grateful to everyone who has helped us out, as well as to the numerous community members who have shared ideas for making SUMO even better. As we get ready for Firefox 3.5, we’re working on ways to make Live Chat even more rewarding for both users and for our community.

Last year, we started asking users about their experience when asking a question in either Live Chat or the Support Forum. Each week, approximately half of users who respond say that a chat session already fixed their problem, while another 10% indicate that they will follow up later. The remaining 40% indicate that their problem was not resolved, so we ask these users why we weren’t able to solve their problems. The reasons users pick are graphed below from week to week, along with the people who have solved their problem or will follow up.

Consistently, the top reasons for problems not getting solved have been chat sessions ending early and cases where the helper “was not responding”. Reducing the number of unsolved cases has been a top priority for improving the Live Chat experience. As a result, the SUMO 1.1 release (scheduled for Tuesday, June 2) will fix two bugs that are causing some users to disconnect early, and the next release will focus on allowing users to follow up after a chat session more efficiently. While a user may leave Live Chat before solving an issue, such as to restart Firefox, we want to keep tracking each user via the Support Forum until the issue is resolved. Since only about 10% of users respond that they are using the option to follow up, we also want to make this feature easier to find and use. If we can increase the number of users following up, we will increase the number of people who eventually solve their problem, as well as reduce the need to stay online for lengthy chat sessions.

Looking further ahead, we are developing a web client for Live Chat that will allow community members to participate in Live Chat from anywhere with Firefox. Our goals for the web client include streamlining the process of getting help once a chat session ends, which will increase the number of users we are able to successfully help. We’re also asking the community what we’re doing well and how we can make Firefox Support even more rewarding in a survey that we’re wrapping up next week. Thanks to everyone that has provided feedback and ideas so far! (Thanks especially to Ricardo (ricmacas) for sharing great ideas and design concepts for the Live Chat web client!)

If you’re looking for a way to get more involved with the Mozilla community and enjoy troubleshooting or assisting users, you should consider helping with Firefox Support! Check out the top ways you can make a difference by helping with SUMO. If you have more ideas on how we can make Mozilla Support even more effective and rewarding, we’d love to read your comments on this blog, on our mailing list, or in the Contributors forum.

Designing a Live Chat web client

Over the past few weeks we’ve been working to collect ideas and feedback for the SUMO Live Chat web client. Contributors currently use the open source Spark client to help in Live Chat, but we’re working on a web-based client to allow everyone to participate from any standards-compliant web browser. This web-based client will allow Live Chat to be tightly integrated with the SUMO Knowledge Base and Forum, streamlining the chat process for both users and contributors.

Spark has a lot of neat features that we will want in our web client, and we’re planning a number of improvements based on feedback from the community. To guide development, we’ve focused on some of the best ideas we’ve received to create mock-ups of the new Live Chat interface.

Live Chat web client mock-up

Much of the new functionality is intended to decrease the length of chat sessions, increasing user satisfaction while allowing contributors to help more people in less time. Communication following a chat session will be streamlined, and transferring chats between helpers will become more efficient. We will also be able to integrate with the new SUMO search engine, allowing helpers to find solutions to most issues without needing to open another window.

More details and implementation requirements for the Live Chat web client are on the project requirements page. We’d love to get feedback on these concepts or on implementation ideas — the best place to get in touch is the SUMO Contributors forum. (If you’re a Java developer and are interested in helping with this project, you can find the SUMO development team in #sumodev on

Live Chat, the most social way to help with Firefox Support, allows contributors to chat with Firefox users and with each other to help people use Firefox. To see more ways to get involved with SUMO, check out our guide to getting started.

One year of Live Chat

This month marks the one year anniversary of the launch of Live Chat as part of the SUMO project. During our first year, over 20,000 chat requests were answered by over 200 community members, ranging from new Firefox users to software developers. Live Chat is unique both in its ability to troubleshoot new issues quickly and provide a way for people to get interactive help with the instructions in the knowledge base. Live Chat contributors were able to help the Mozilla QA community quickly diagnose new issues after Firefox releases, as well as find parts of the SUMO knowledge base that needed to be updated. Congratulations and a huge thank you to all the community members who made our first year such a big success!

As we begin the new year, we are working to resolve some of the outstanding Live Chat bugs and on collecting data to see how well Live Chat is solving users’ issues. Last month, SUMO 0.8 introduced support for user satisfaction feedback at the end of each Live Chat session. The data from these surveys, along with all the other metrics from SUMO, is updated weekly on our Weekly Metrics page.

CSAT screenshot

Of the 20% of users who answer the Live Chat survey, around 50% say that their problem was solved, and another 10% say they are planning to follow up after ending the chat session. Of the remaining 40% who respond that their problem was not solved, over 50% answer that the chat session ended before it was finished. Based on this feedback, we are focusing Live Chat development for the SUMO 0.8.2 and 0.9 releases on reducing disconnections and helping users follow up when they do lose their connection. To prevent situations in which too few contributors are available to answer the questions in the queue, we will be changing the queue behavior to automatically close when there are too many questions for the number of helpers.

Future development efforts will focus on improving the experience for helpers, primarily by transitioning to a web-based client for Live Chat contributors. We are looking for ideas on how to develop this web client and integrate it with SUMO – this will be discussed in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned! If you can program in Java and want to contribute to the Live Chat project, feel free to submit a patch for any of the remaining unassigned bugs.

A last note of interest, Jammer400, who started helping with SUMO last July, had the privilege of answering the 20,000th live chat session in December. The 20,000th question was from a Firefox user who wanted an extension to access page zoom from the toolbar. Congratulations to Jammer400 for hitting this milestone, and to all the other contributors who helped us reach it! If Live Chat sounds like fun, we would love to have you be part of the project. You don’t need any special experience to get involved – see the Live Chat documentation for details on how to get started.

A guide to troubleshooting frequent issues in Live Chat

Over the past few months, the support team has been working to identify top issues and pass this information along to the rest of the community. For Live Chat, we are now keeping weekly summaries on the Live Chat issue guide, a page that documents common issues both for live chat helpers and for QA team members assisting with live chat. This page is useful for anyone wanting to help with live chat, as it contains a brief overview of the most common questions we get. Information maintained there includes background information on symptoms, links to knowledge base articles, links to troubleshooting explanations, the current status of each issue, and suggested steps to troubleshoot each problem.

In addition to being a guide for new helpers, the issue guide allows everyone to quickly see which information we want to collect from users with specific issues. When helpers discover new information, they can let others know by posting in the Contributors forum or by talking to other helpers in #sumo. In either case, room monitors and administrators make sure that useful information is shared in bug reports or on Weekly common issues.

As I discussed last month, people from all over the Mozilla community can help with Live Chat by assisting helpers with new issues. Anyone can get started with this by joining #sumo on irc and configuring your XMPP (Jabber) client. For QA team members or other community members wanting to assist live chat helpers, the Live Chat issue guide is useful to get a glance at what helpers are seeing. If you know of an emerging issue that we should be investigating, let us know by posting in the Contributors forum.

Since we are able to only directly help a small portion of users in the forum or in live chat, it is important that the knowledge base is kept up-to-date as the primary source for help by ensuring that known solutions are documented there. The majority of frequent issues have documentation which is linked to from the Live Chat issue guide for easy reference. To assist with documenting new issues, each undocumented problem in the issue guide is noted as needing documentation, so that documentation can be created when enough information is received.

For more information about Live Chat, read our documentation on getting started. You can assist other helpers using any XMPP client by following our guide to connecting with alternate clients. (If you want to answer your own Live Chat questions, you will need the open source Spark client.) If you have any problems connecting, join #sumo on irc to get help.

How Live Chat fits into SUMO: Community participation

The Mozilla Support (SUMO) project is unique in the way it involves the broader Mozilla community to improve the user experience. The Live Chat component of SUMO, which I started leading last month, is no exception. As a compliment to the Support Forum, Live Chat is best able to investigate new issues that arise and serve users who need help following the written documentation. Live Chat helpers can investigate issues interactively with affected users, obtaining useful data for the rest of the community. Not all helpers actively answer questions – we also need people who can advise other helpers and ensure quality service. People who have helped in Live Chat range from new Firefox users to seasoned support volunteers to Firefox developers.

One great thing about support as a community is that the line between user and helper is blurred. Many of the current support volunteers got started by asking a question themselves, staying around to help other people using information learned solving their own problems. While most users don’t have time to commit regularly, many users have spent extra time to troubleshoot an issue, to let us know what finally fixed a problem, or to post advice about solved issues in the forum. Likewise, many people in the Mozilla community without a lot of time to commit have helped by assisting newer helpers when a new issue arises. The support community allows new helpers to learn about Mozilla and support in general, while actively helping users solve problems.

While SUMO doesn’t define rigid roles for contributors, we need people helping users and those assisting helpers to be available at once for quality help in Live Chat. To regularly achieve this, we are starting a new scheduling system where community members can sign up to fill a ‘role’ in a given time slot.

  • Advisor: Senior helpers and other community members who can assist other helpers, but not accept user questions directly.
  • Helper: The majority of volunteers sign up as helpers, answering questions from users and participating in discussions in #sumo.
  • Anchor: These users commit to an entire block of time, ensuring that users aren’t left without a helper.
  • Room monitor: Experienced helpers who watch chats in progress and document new findings to ensure quality service. They should ensure that correct advice is given and that helpers are discussing issues in #sumo.

A senior helper, for example, might want to anchor two hours and advise five hours in a given week. If you know specific times that you can help, please sign up so that other helpers know when to come.

If you think Live Chat might be right for you, read our documentation on getting started. To start accepting Live Chat questions, you will need to get the open source Spark client. However, you can get started assisting other helpers on irc, joining chat sessions using any XMPP (Jabber) client. If you think another area of SUMO would suit you best, check out our other ways to contribute. Alternatively, simply join #sumo on (or via mibbit) to ask us directly!