The road to SUMO 1.0, in retrospect

David Tenser


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

Weekly unique visitors of SUMO since Firefox 3 was launched.

Every month, 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.