With Firefox 3 Beta 5 just released, a lot of people have probably noticed that we’re no longer using the built-in product help, but instead linking to help content on the web. I’d like to take the opportunity to clarify why we did that in case there are people who weren’t aware of the decision, or forgot why it was made in the first place.
First, though, a clarification: what you’re seeing today in Firefox 3 when selecting Help from the menu is just a temporary, static page that acts as a placeholder for the real help content hosted on SUMO. We’re still working on the performance issues that hit us last week, but should soon be able to link to the actual documentation again. We’re also still working on finalizing the English help content so localizers can start translating it. More on that later.
So, why are we moving product help to the web? There are actually several reasons for it, and they’ve even changed over time. To me, the three top reasons are:
- Lower technical barriers for volunteers who want to improve the content
No need for a CVS or SVN account, or using complicated programs and commands to edit content — just click “Edit this page” on an article directly from your browser and start improving it. This also has the potential of reducing the workload for the main content contributors, who often work on their own with documentation, requiring lots of time.
- Dynamic content
By putting the content on a wiki-like web site, we’re no longer strictly tied to Firefox releases — if a typo is discovered on a page, it can easily be fixed right away, instead of having to wait until the next point release. In addition, this makes the documentation more organic; continuously improving and changing based on user’s needs.
- More exposure to the SUMO project
As the project manager of SUMO, listing that as a top reason might come across to some people as rather selfish, but it’s really anything but. By getting more eyes on the project, the number of people getting involved with it increases. In the end, this leads to higher quality Firefox support, which benefits everyone. That’s our main goal here: to improve the support experience for our users.
Of course, there are other benefits as well, such as the ability to serve richer content like video tutorials, but the three reasons above are definitely the most important ones in my opinion.
One concern/objection I’ve heard a few times is of what use online support is if a user can’t connect to the internet in the first place. Let’s talk a little bit about that. This is indeed a problem, but it’s actually something that has been a problem in Firefox for a long time. Even if Firefox 2 has product help available when the browser is offline, there’s no troubleshooting information for connection problems bundled, so you’re still out of luck if you can’t connect. So my answer to this concern is that it’s more or less moot, since we’re not making the situation any worse by moving Firefox 3 product help to the web (but we’re admittedly not improving it either). Ideally, Firefox should do a simple self-diagnostics when it can’t connect, to determine or suggest the solution to the problem and present that on a page similar to the other in-product error pages. This has been in the plans for a while, but I don’t know about the status of it today.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of why we moved the help back online, and please don’t hesitate to comment here or in the mozilla.support.planning newsgroup if you have any thoughts or questions.