User Education

When I started working on our support documentation back in 2010, our users found it helpful about 50% of the time. So we went to work on creating a better manual. That involved a lot of things including changing they way we wrote and the way we organized things. Today users say our articles are helpful 75% of the time.

That’s a pretty great improvement (we think we can do even better) but one thing I noticed was that there was another important factor at work – where and when someone is pointed to an article. By far, the biggest spikes in our helpfulness rating come when someone points a reader to one of our articles. When you already have a person engaged in a topic and then say, “you should look at this because it will help” they not only do, they often find those articles helpful 90% or more of the time. These are classic teachable moments and I think it’s incredibly important to make use of them whenever possible.

Here are two examples of things that people hadn’t gone out of their way to learn about but when they were pointed to the articles in another context, they responded enthusiastically. Back in February, The Den blog pointed to an article about choosing passwords. Now people don’t really ever look for this article on our support site. But when they read about it in this one blog post, 88,000 people clicked though and rated it helpful 95% of the time.

And more recently, Facebook started linking Firefox 3.6 users to this article in an effort to get them to upgrade. Over the last two months more than 1.1 million people have visited and rated that article helpful 95% of the time. We’ve also seen this kind of response when linking to articles about new features on the page that Firefox shows you after updating.

It’s important to have a great user manual. Kathy Sierra made the point over and over again that the way to create passionate users is to teach them how to kick ass. And, especially for something like a web browser that people expect to open up and have it just work, it’s critical to incorporate that teaching (in the browser or externally) in the right context – at the moment someone wants or needs it. That’s a much better experience than stopping what you are doing and trying to sift though an entire internet full of information. Who has time for that?

This is something that I’m extremely excited to be working on over the next year as part of the Support Team’s goal of creating an amazing support experience for all of our products.

Explorations

I’ve thinking about all of the ways we can teach people about Firefox (that deserves a post sometime). I’ve also finally gotten around to learning how to use popcorn.js after being inspired by this NPR piece and this tutorial. So today I played around with what a page that we could show to a new Firefox user might look like using popcorn. This is more of learning exercise for me than an actual prototype.

Awesome help apps

Planet Mozilla viewers – you can watch this video on YouTube.

I’ve always loved the Apple help system from the 90s. I loved the way it could guide you step-by-step though actually performing a complicated process. Yesterday, Michelle Luna was describing her dream of a help app for Firefox OS that could fix or change things for you. “One app to rule them all,” she said. That reminded me again of the Apple system. So I dug out this old PowerBook that I have and booted it up. I wonder why Apple dropped this? This is one of the things that made me love my first Mac.

The new Reset Firefox feature is like magic

Planet Mozilla viewers – you can watch this video on YouTube.

Update: This feature is available in the latest Firefox. Download it now from mozilla.org/firefox

A little more than two years ago when I joined the support team, one of the first things that struck me was that most every support procedure we had involved a long list of troubleshooting steps. The idea seemed to be, let’s try to identify the exact cause of the problem and just fix that. That sounds reasonable but the practical implication of that often isn’t: Is your software up to date? If yes, let’s turn off your plugins and see what happens. Did the problem go away? No? Does the problem happen in safe mode? If no, let’s try turning half of your extensions back on. What about a new profile? Great, now just copy places.sqlite from your old profile to your new profile.

What a mess. What mere mortal has the time, skill and patience to work their way though all that? And if the thing that needs fixing isn’t easily reproducible? Forget it. It’s now become a part-time job. I suspect that for many people, it’s just easier to switch to another browser since you’ve already got one installed on your computer. Problem solved.

So the support team worked with product and engineering to create the Reset Firefox feature. The first implementation of this is a button on the Troubleshooting Information page (about:support). What is does is create a new profile and migrate your bookmarks, passwords, cookies and form data. Everything else gets set to the defaults.

I have to say, this thing is like magic. You basically get a brand new Firefox installation without the penalty of losing all your data. This is especially useful as a quick fix for the thousands of posts we see on social media where people often express vague complaints about Firefox. “Firefox is slow.” “Firefox crashes too much.” “Firefox sucks.”

The big gap in the current implementation is that, for the most part, people won’t know about this feature unless we tell them about it. Future plans involve making it discoverable. Soon we’ll give users the option to reset Firefox when it crashes on startup for the third time. And the really big thing will be giving Windows users this option when re-installing Firefox. Maybe one day the phrase, “I tried re-installing Firefox but it didn’t do anything” will go away.

Read more about Reset Firefox on the support site and then download the latest Firefox and try it out.

    Notes:

  • It only saves bookmarks, passwords, cookies and form data. You will lose your add-ons, Sync settings, open tabs and tab groups.
  • It only works with the default profile. If you’ve opened Firefox via the command line or shortcut with a profile that isn’t the default, you won’t see the Reset Firefox button.

Ask Toolbar is changing the Firefox add-on process

Note: This is my personal opinion and is not meant to reflect Mozilla’s views.

We’ve done a lot of work to help Firefox users have control over their add-ons (for example, bug 596343 and follow-ups 693743 and 693698) but some software companies are hard at work circumnavigating these protections. A while ago I filed bug 721258 concerned about the way the Ask Toolbar changes our 3rd party add-on confirmation screen. Today, in a follow-up comment I posted this screencast which shows an example of it in action:

Planet Mozilla viewers – you can watch this video on YouTube.

Some suggested that this isn’t that bad or that it could be worse. As someone charged with looking out for our users it’s pretty frustrating to run into that kind of opposition – just take a look at our support forum. Ask is known for this kind of stuff. And in fact, “how do I uninstall the Ask toolbar” is their top support question. It looks like we can’t do anything technical to prevent this at the moment. Maybe by drawing attention to it we can come up with another solution that protects people.

Clarification: At the end of the video, when I’m trying to fix the location bar search – the problem is that “domain guessing” is happening when it shouldn’t be (documented here).