A couple weeks ago, we released the new Firefox Support forums. With a redesigned workflow and dozens of new features, bugfixes and tweaks it’s quite a change from the old forum . In this blog post, we’d like to share some of the history of this redesign and take you on a tour of all the things that we did to make user-to-user support easier for both users looking for help and our support community providing help.
At the start of this year, we decided that the tikiwiki based support site needed a complete overhaul and that we’d be migrating it component by component over the course of 2010 to a custom-built django-based system we’ve codenamed kitsune.
Seizing upon the chance to completely rewrite the forum functionality, we started in Q1 brainstorming a PRD for the new system. In particular, we wanted the forum to not feel like a forum but a proper support system. While a forum is very good for discussing topics between users who come back often and have similar interests, the goal of a support system is to answer a user’s question as quickly and efficiently as possible. We looked at a number of sites that had this goal such as Yahoo Answers, Stack Overflow and various systems like Apple’s support site and Amazon support. We then used ideas from these sites to build our new system. Without further ado:
The central idea is that rather than having threads with topics, the forum consists of a series of questions that can have answers. To make sure that the most commonly asked questions get the most visibility, users can vote up a question by clicking “I have this problem too”. The same applies to answers: the helpful answers are voted on and become more visible. This way, if a user has a top issue or if the question that he has already has a known good solution, he can find it right away and move on. Contributors also get credit for helping users who are reading through — not just the user who asked the original question.
Speaking of asking questions, with the expansion of Firefox to include mobile and sync, we’ve also expanded the question-asking process to include categories for these new products. By adding a tag system, we’ve made it easier to filter down the thousands of questions we get a week to look only at one particular category of issue (like crashes) or one particular product (like Firefox Home).
We’ve also made a number of changes that should make life easier for contributors. Since we’ve completely rewritten the backend systems, the new forums should be significantly faster and more performant than the old ones. We’re requiring users to confirm their questions via email before posting, which should cut down on spam and increase the chances that they’ll see notification emails when contributors answer their questions. As part of an ongoing migration, the new forums use mediawiki markup rather than tikimarkup. You can use our handy reference page to see the difference.
While this is just some of the features we’ve implemented for the new forums, the site is in constant development. The next few months will be focused on getting a new KB and localization system but we will be continually adding features and tweaking the new support forum to make it better and better.