The most common concern people in the Mozilla community seem to have about SUMO (support.mozilla.com) is its scope — Firefox Support. Therefore, I thought I should take a moment to address the background of the project, the current scope, and finally my personal view of its future.
Ever since the beginning of the Firefox project, there has been an enthusiastic user-to-user support community around it, helping countless people with things like hacking userChrome.css to installing Java. The majority of the Firefox users back in the day had enough computer skills to find their way around the independent help sites, hosted at various places (most notably back then, the mozillaZine forums and the “Firefox Help” website I personally created). Before Firefox reached the 1.0 release in late 2004, Mozilla moved the Firefox Help content to its own servers at mozilla.org/support/firefox, where it remained relatively unchanged.
Since then, the Firefox user base has exploded. I’m not just talking about the sheer number of users here, but also the diversity, ranging from web developers and geeks (like myself), which were far more represented among the early adopters; to people with little to no interest in computers other than as a tool to get the job done — the so-called mainstream users.
As the number of Firefox end users increased, so did their frustration over the level of support Mozilla provided for the product. The number of angry support letters, e-mails, and voice mails increased, and it became pretty clear that the support offered by Mozilla wasn’t scaling to match the popularity of the product. Something had to be done to improve the support resources and make them easier to find for all kinds of users.
As a result, the SUMO project was created, after planning and evaluation of the current situation by (among others, I’m sure) Chris Hofmann, JT Batson, and Samuel Sidler. Later, I was hired as the project manager to help lead the project.
Back to the original reason for this blog post. As everyone knows by now, the initial launch of SUMO is focused on Firefox support. The reason for that is pretty natural: with over 125 million Firefox users around the world, it is by far the most used product from Mozilla today. The second most popular Mozilla product, Thunderbird, doesn’t even come close (its user base, while respectable on its own, is less than a tenth of Firefox). Among all Mozilla projects today, Firefox is undoubtedly the one that would benefit the most from a centralized, high quality support channel.
It’s not just that, though. By focusing on getting an updated support solution live for Firefox only first, we are able to move much faster as a project. This leads to more efficient discussions, less disagreements, and a tighter project group. Simply put, we are able to reach our goals in less time than we would if we were to split our focus on many products at the same time.
While SUMO currently stands for “Firefox Support,” only the content is really about “Firefox.” The solution as a whole, including its specialized software, is about providing revamped, modernized “Support” for all kinds of end users. We are not just creating a knowledge base, a forum, and a live chat for Firefox. We are creating a support site that is all about the end users. Every part of SUMO has the user in mind — from the automatic content customization based on the operating system the user is running, to the ability to mark a topic as resolved in the forum.
When I think about the future of SUMO, I envision a support solution for Mozilla projects in general, with URLs like support.mozilla.org/firefox and support.mozilla.org/thunderbird (note the .org suffix, which sends a clearer message about SUMO being a user-to-user support solution). I even talked to David Ascher about the idea of a similar Thunderbird Support site as soon as the news about him leading MailCo was announced.
In the future, when Firefox Support is doing really well, I could definitely see theÂ scope being expanded to make the solution work for other Mozilla projects as well (and with the open source nature of the knowledge base and forums, it could even be used by other non-Mozilla projects, just like Bugzilla is used by almost every open-source project out there).
The work we’re doing on SUMO now is there to be done for other projects as well and will come in time. We’re not limiting ourselves to Firefox because we don’t care about the other projects, but because we need to focus on where our resources are needed the most first, and then broaden the scope.
If you care about support, keep the suggestions and contributions to SUMO coming!