Tag Archives: support

Firefox Manual’s (not so) distant Italian relative

A few days ago, the SUMO community got together to polish the Firefox 3 Manual created by the amazing FLOSS Manuals community and make it ready for publishing. It was a very successful effort and we now have a manual for Firefox 3 that we can be very proud of!


What many people (outside of Italy, at least) might not know is that our new Firefox 3 Manual isn’t the first manual for Firefox produced. In fact, back in 2006, Underpass, tittoproject, and miki64 from the Mozilla Italia community wrote a Firefox manual entirely written in Italian, based on their strong experiences supporting users in their local forum. Nothing similar existed at the time, and the purpose of this manual was to provide solutions to some of the most common issues for Firefox users so fewer people had to visit the forum — just like SUMO works today!

The Italian Firefox manual is called FireFAQ and is available for download in pdf format. It was downloaded by over 30,000 people in the first 10 days and received very good reviews! Later, Mozilla Italia also wrote ThunderFAQ. The content of both manuals are released under the CC license, just like the Knowledge Base articles on SUMO.

Simone Lando (yes, that’s Underpass, one of the authors of the Italian Firefox manual!) wrote to tell me that when they had the opportunity to translate the SUMO KB contents, they decided not to update their manual anymore and instead focus entirely on SUMO. However, the experiences they gained by writing the FireFAQ manual proved to be very important for their excellent team work on SUMO today, which I think is fantastic to hear.

I am very excited that Mozilla Italia will attend to the EU Inter-Community Meetup in Geneva this weekend, where they will share more about their experiences with Firefox support and SUMO. Definitely expect a blog post about the inter-community meetup soon. :)

Not everyone wants to search

I’ve talked before about the so-called Support Funnel and how the Knowledge Base is the heart of SUMO, ensuring that people find solutions to the most common problems without necessarily having to interact directly with our support community. The reasons why this is important are many:

  • It ensures that the solutions to the most common problems are written in a clear, concise, and straightforward language that is easy for our users to understand.
  • It reduces the pressure of our community of volunteers since most users are self-served.
  • It gives us a powerful way of tracking which problems are the most common with the help of metrics.

The Support Funnel. For more information, see The vision for SUMO – Part 2: Understanding the bigger picture.

So, how do we ensure that people find the solution to their problem in the Knowledge Base? Well, one way of finding the solution is by searching for it — something we try to make very obvious on the start page. The reason why we think searching is the best way of finding the solution is because the Knowledge Base is big. Really big. While we have a list of the most popular support articles right there on the start page, it’s hard to make it obvious that there is a lot more content in the Knowledge Base than what is shown on the start page.

The start page of Firefox Support, clearly emphasizing on the search function.

So, is everyone really comfortable searching? Actually, the almighty and ever so wise chofmann and I have started to see evidence that some people prefer to browse for the solution rather than searching for it. Among the people that visits the Firefox Support start page and doesn’t instantly leaves the page, only roughly half of them actually searches. The other half either clicks on one of the hand-picked popular support articles, or clicks on some other link on the page.

We’re not sure what the reason for that is, or if there are several reasons. It could be that people are unable to accurately describe the problem they’re seeing — considering how many people that are using Firefox today, this is not surprising. Even my older brother, who has been using computers for at least ten years, has problems describing some of the problems he has with his computer, and usually I have to pay him a visit, have a nice cup of coffee, and fix the problem myself.

Another reason could be that people simply prefer to browse a categorized list of articles instead of searching — essentially just clicking on a few links instead of actually typing. I talked to our creative genius John Slater a few weeks ago and he said that he’s usually a little skeptic about internal search engines and that he prefers to just browse.

Francisco Picolinni from the Mozilla Hispano community provided a third possible reason why people are unwilling to search — because they might not think anyone else has the same problem.

Regardless of why not everyone searches, it seems like we should work on providing a good way of browsing the Knowledge Base. We currently have a link at the bottom of the list of popular support articles saying “Browse all Knowledge Base topics.” However, the page that link takes you to is just a long list of all articles ordered by hit count — not exactly easy to navigate.

chofmann, John Slater and I recently brainstormed around how we could ensure that as many people as possible find the solution to their problem in the Knowledge Base with minimum effort. Since the Knowledge Base articles are loosely connected with tags like “bookmarks,” “location bar,” etc., one interesting possibility would be to show these tags in a tag cloud that would provide a better sense of the diversity of the content while still pointing to specific, popular topics. Clicking on a tag would filter the list to only show the articles with that particular tag.

Tag cloud

A tag cloud around the topic Web 2.0.

Another problem to solve is making sure that people really understand that they can browse for solutions as an alternative to searching. We want people to understand that Firefox Support has the answer to their problems and that they should stay on the site until the problem is solved. This probably means we have to take a closer look at how the start page is designed to see how we can better communicate this. If you have ideas on how we can achieve this, we are interested in hearing them!

What we really want a user with a problem with Firefox to feel when visiting Firefox Support is: “These people are here for me, and they won’t give up until my problem is solved.”

We just started to work on this, so stay tuned for more…

The vision for SUMO – Part 2: Understanding the bigger picture

A critical piece in having a community-powered project run successfully is that all participants understand the bigger picture. In the case of SUMO, there are actually two pictures, and with part two of this blog series I will try to explain both of them.

Picture 1: The truly big picture

Looking at how SUMO relates to the rest of the Mozilla project, this could be called the macro version of the bigger picture. This picture was made for a presentation I gave at FOSSCoach (OSCON 2008, Portland, Oregon) and is intentionally a little busy, and friendly. :) It does highlight some very important things, though:

  • We’re not just helping our users solve their problems with Firefox so they can keep using their favorite browser; we’re here to listen to our users as well. Past readers of this blog series know that part 1 covered exactly this.
  • The data we can gather by looking at stats for the Knowledge Base articles combined with incoming support requests in the Support Forum, Live Chat, letters and e-mails all help painting a better picture of what our top issues in Firefox are.
  • The support and QA teams can work together and combine their findings from channels targeting different types of users and reach a shared understanding of which bugs we should be working on first.
  • Knowing which features and bugs to focus on will be invaluable information for the development team. It will lead to a better product, and a better understanding of what our users want.

That’s the most important way support interacts with other parts of the Mozilla project, but far from the only ones. There are other aspects of the bigger picture, for example that the QA and development teams usually have information about known issues prior to releases gathered from the beta testers. This knowledge should be shared with the SUMO team prior to releases, so we can, among other things, prepare for a better support experience for our users.

In some cases QA might be working hard to track the cause of a known issue down; if the SUMO community is aware of that bug, they can confirm this with the users reporting it and get a unique chance to do some direct QA testing with a user. People from the QA team could even be logged on to the Live Chat component using a Jabber client of their choice, and the SUMO team could invite a QA tester to a chat session whenever a good chance to solve a known issue comes up.

Picture 2: The “support funnel”

This could also be called the micro version of the bigger picture, or the internal picture. As many people are already aware, SUMO is a support project consisting of three major components: the Knowledge Base, the Support Forum, and Live Chat. Many contributors provide support in more than one component. For example, Bo regularly helps out in the Support Forum, but occasionally he also writes Knowledge Base articles for new solutions to Firefox issues. Another example is myles7897, who regularly helps out with Live Chat. Just as Bo, he sometimes writes or edits Knowledge Base articles too.

However, not everyone helping out with SUMO will be aware of how the three components relate to each other, or how the site should work for users. The “support funnel” is a way to describe this:

  1. The Knowledge Base should contain the solutions to our most common problems. Users should start by searching for their problem here. Ideally the vast majority of our users find the solution to their problem here; it’s critical both for performance reasons and for quality of support. Using the funnel metaphor, the user would go straight through the funnel without hitting the sides.
  2. If they can’t find the solution to their problem in the Knowledge Base, the forum should show if others have already reported the problem. (We’re working on making this step simpler — more on that later in this series.)
  3. If neither the Knowledge Base nor the forum contains the answer, the forum or Live Chat should be available to the user. These two components should be viewed as fallbacks when the Knowledge Base fails to solve the user’s problem. Which of the two fallbacks is best for the user depends on the situation. The forum has the benefit that the posted question is public and can be read by many people, thus increasing the chance of getting answered, while Live Chat offers a direct communication with a Firefox expert, if the user is willing to wait for it.
  4. Frequent or serious issues solved in the forum or Live Chat should be documented in the Knowledge Base, to ensure that the support quality and performance remain consistently high, and to allow us to get better data on which issues are the most commonly reported.

It’s important that everyone contributing to SUMO has a clear understanding of how the Knowledge Base, the Support Forum, and Live Chat interact and relate to each other. That way we can ensure that the “support funnel” works.

Finally, the insights we will gain from this collaboration will be shared with the rest of the Mozilla project as well. A better knowledge of what our users want in our product would be incredibly powerful information to the marketing team, which SUMO is proudly a part of. Similarly, getting better information about what security issues are most commonly reported would likely be valuable for the security team. Et cetera, et cetera; I think I made my point. :)

In other words, support is vital to the success of Mozilla, or any open source project for that matter.