Trivia time

Games 12 Comments

Two stars for whoever can name a) the game, and b) the item in this super old screenie.

nostalgia time

More translations of the Field Guide to Firefox 3

Browsers, Firefox, Mozilla, Work 5 Comments

The Field Guide to Firefox 3 has now been translated into 6 languages: Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Argentinian Spanish, French, Japanese, and Korean. A million thank-yous to everyone who has helped out with these so far! Here are the links:

If you’re interested in translating the Field Guide into other languages, see this post. After you have finished and posted your translation somewhere, post a note here and I’ll add a link to the English version of the Field Guide.

Firefox 3′s first 24 hours

Firefox, Mozilla, Work 4 Comments

John Lilly, Mozilla’s CEO, has written a quick blog post about the first 24 hours of the Firefox 3 launch. Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla’s VP of Engineering, has gone a step further and also blogged about What’s next after Firefox 3. There are about a zillion other posts as well, most of which you can find on Planet Mozilla.

In the end, it was an amazing, amazing, amazing day. I’m really happy that I was finally able to be at HQ for a release (I usually work from home in Canadia). It’s been a crazy couple of days and everyone’s super thrilled that it’s all gone so well. Also slightly exhausted.

The final 24hr download numbers looked something like this:

8320331

There are pictures from the release all over flickr: here are some from Mountain View, more from Mountain View, Portland, Toronto, and more from Toronto, and who knows how many others. There’s even a picture of the cake the IE team sent to us at Mozilla Headquarters. Check the ff3downloadday tag — there may be more coming!

I have the privilege of working daily with some pretty crazy awesome people. If you love Firefox, and if you love the idea of preserving and promoting choice and innovation on the internet, you should join us. It’s an awful lot of fun.

8,000,000

Firefox, Mozilla, Work 5 Comments

Eight million downloads of Firefox 3 in under 24 hours. Holy crap.

8000000

Firefox 3 is now available for download

Browsers, Firefox, Mozilla, Work 2 Comments

Go get it. Help us celebrate.

This is gonna be a crazy awesome day.

French translation of the Field Guide to Firefox 3

Browsers, Firefox, Mozilla, Work 8 Comments

Alex left a comment on an earlier post to let me know that he’s translated the Field Guide to Firefox 3 into French. You can find it here: Petit guide de Firefox 3. Thanks for doing this, Alex!

Canadian DMCA must be stopped

Canada, Canadian DMCA, Copyright, Politics Comments Off

If you’re Canadian, please read this column in today’s Toronto Star: Troubling details in new downloading law.

Then, if you’re suitably outraged, go read these:

I have written to Mr. Prentice, the PM, and my MP to add my voice to the protest against this Bill. I hope you will take some time today to do the same.

More:

First translation of the Field Guide to Firefox 3!

Firefox, Mozilla, Work 12 Comments

One of the coolest things about being part of the Mozilla community is…well…being part of the Mozilla community. Yesterday I was contacted and asked by the folks at xbeta.info if it would be ok to translate and re-post the Field Guide to Firefox 3. Of course I jumped at the chance and said yes. Here’s the result:

[精品译文] Firefox 3 新功能指南 (v1.53)

To further encourage this sort of awesomeness, and to make it easier for anyone else who would like to translate the Field Guide, I’ve now licensed the Field Guide text and screenshots under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

If you do translate it, please send me a link when it’s ready! I’ll add links to other languages to the English version of the Guide.

Field Guide to Firefox 3

Browsers, Firefox, Mozilla, Work 69 Comments
Translations
* Firefox 3 新功能指南 (simplified)
* Firefox 3新功能指南 (traditional)
* Petit guide de Firefox 3
* Guía de campo para Firefox 3
* Firefox3新機能ガイド
* 모질라 파이어폭스 3 에 대한 필드 가이드
* Firefox 3:n uudet ominaisuudet

FieldGuideToFirefox3sm


We’re done. Firefox 3 is going to be launched very soon. In anticipation of this long-awaited event, the folks in the Mozilla community have been writing extensively about the new and improved features you’ll see in the browser. The new features cover the full range from huge and game-changing to ones so subtle you may not notice them until you realize that using Firefox is just somehow easier and better. The range of improved features is similar — whole back-end systems have been rebuilt from scratch, while other features have been tweaked slightly or redesigned in small ways. Overall the result is the fastest, safest, slimmest, and easiest to use version of Firefox yet. We hope you like it.

Here’s a list of the features covered in this Guide.

Add-on manager

addon-manager

In Firefox 3 the Add-on manager has been expanded to include a new “Get Add-ons” tab where you can view Recommended add-ons, search for new add-ons, see add-on descriptions and ratings, and install add-ons with a simple click. The Add-ons manager is now fully integrated with the addons.mozilla.org (AMO) website, making it easier than ever to find and experiment with new browser extensions and themes.

For more, see Get Add-ons in Firefox 3 by Madhava Enros.

Bookmarks

bookmarks2

Firefox 3 introduces a set of new features to bookmarks that make them much easier to use, more useful in general, and much more useful for the terminally disorganized. The three main features being introduced are Bookmark Stars, Bookmark Tags, and Smart Bookmark Folders.

Bookmark Stars are a quick and easy way to bookmark a page with a single click. Bookmark Tags are a way to add “extra” information to a bookmark, allowing you to organize them in a much more flexible manner than old-style Folders would allow. Smart Bookmark Folders are “saved searches” that automatically update when you add new items matching that search to your bookmarks.

For more, see Firefox 3: Bookmarks by Deb Richardson.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)

css

A large number of CSS improvements have been made for Firefox 3, including support for: inline-block and inline-table, font-size-adjust on all platforms, the :default pseudo-class, HTML soft hyphens (­), the ime-mode property, white-space‘s pre-wrap value, and dynamic updating for selectors like :first-child, :only-child, :last-child, and :empty. The Mozilla Developer Center has a full list of and documentation for all the CSS changes in Firefox 3, which you can find here: CSS improvements in Firefox 3.

For more, see Some new CSS features in Firefox 3 by David Baron.

Color profile support

color-profile

Firefox 2 does not include support for color profiles, so the browser renders colors as best it can without doing special tweaks based on your system or custom color profiles. Firefox 3 does include full support for color profiles, allowing for a richer and more vibrant range of colors to be displayed in the browser. For a variety of reasons, however, color profile support is turned off by default and must be enabled through your custom browser preferences. It is likely that a future version of Firefox will see this feature enabled by default, which will be a happy day for photographers and visual artists everywhere.

For more, see Firefox 3: Color profile support by Deb Richardson.

Download manager

download-manager

The Download manager has changed quite a bit for Firefox 3, and now includes the oft-requested ability to pause and resume downloads, both manually and automatically. Other changes include the addition of a download status indicator to the bottom status bar, the ability to search through downloaded files in the manager, an enhanced file display that includes more detailed file information, and the ability to revisit the original download page by right clicking on the file in the Download manager.

For more, see Download Manager in Firefox 3 by Madhava Enros.

Font and text rendering

fonts-and-text

When Mozilla developers decided to incorporate the Cairo subsystem and build a new graphics layer from scratch, they also decided to completely rework the system that renders text in the browser. The result is that Firefox 3 has improved support for font kerning, ligatures, international text, partial ligatures, font hinting, anti-aliasing, font types, and font selection. Firefox 3 represents a huge step forward in font support and text rendering, and Mozilla developers are already working on further enhancements for future releases.

For more, see Firefox 3: Fonts and text by Stuart Parmenter and Deb Richardson.

Full page zoom

full-page-zoom

Page zoom has been completely reworked for Firefox 3 and now includes both full page and text only zoom.

Full page zoom scales the page layout and structure while allowing you complete control over the size of the displayed content. Text only zoom, on the other hand, only zooms the text on a page, leaving the images and page layout untouched.

A new and extremely useful feature of page zoom is that Firefox now automatically remembers the zoom level you set on a per-site basis. Once you zoom in to (or out of) a page on a site, Firefox will remember and restore that zoom level the next time you visit any page that is part of that site.

For more, see Full Page Zoom by Seth Bindernagel.

History

history

Firefox 3 has made browser history astonishingly useful. Not only is History a key source of information for the new Smart Location Bar, it has been improved in several other ways. History now stores sites’ favicons (small, identifying graphics) along with the other location data to make scanning and identifying history entries much easier. The History Sidebar and History Menu have been tweaked as well, and a whole new History Library has been added to the Firefox Library (formerly the Bookmark Organizer). Overall, Firefox 3 has raised History from being occasionally useful to being an absolutely essential part of daily browser use.

For more, see Firefox 3: History by Deb Richardson.

HTML Canvas

html-canvas

Firefox 3′s HTML Canvas implementation has been improved and now includes an experimental text rendering API. This API is described in detail at the Drawing text using a canvas article at the Mozilla Developer Center (MDC). Also new is support for the transform() and setTransform() methods, which are documented as part of the MDC’s fantastic Canvas tutorial. Two-dimensional Canvas performance has also been improved and is faster on all platforms.

To see a couple of great canvas demos, check out John Resig’s Processing.js and Aza Raskin’s Algorithm Ink.

For more, see HTML Canvas in Firefox 3 by Vlad Vukićević.

Location bar UTF-8 support

location-bar

Those who mainly use the US-ASCII Web may not notice one of the big changes in the Firefox 3 location bar: UTF-8 multi-byte support. This is a very large usability win because non-ASCII language URIs were unreadable machine-code in Firefox 2, where now they are rendered in human readable fonts in Firefox 3.

For more, see Firefox 3: UTF-8 support in location bar by Gen Kenai.

Malware protection

malware

“Malware” is what we call web sites that try to install unwanted software or otherwise do unauthorized things to your computer. Firefox 3 keeps track of all reported malware sites, protecting you by blocking them before the pages even load, ensuring that your computer is never at risk. You can ignore the warnings if you want — it’s your browser, after all — but we’re hoping this added security will help protect users and make the Web safer for everyone.

For more, see Mal-what? Firefox 3 vs. Bad People by Johnathan Nightingale.

Microformats API

microformats

Microformats are a set of simple, open data formats that are built upon existing standards. Firefox 3 includes a new microformats API that can be used to build add-ons, but they are otherwise not currently exposed through the Firefox 3 user interface.

For more, see IBM’s new tutorial about how to use the new microformats API in Firefox 3 extensions, and Where are the microformats in Firefox 3? by Mike Kaply.

Offline web application support

offline

Firefox 3 implements online and offline events from the WHATWG Web Applications 1.0 specification. This means that web developers can create web applications that will work in Firefox even when the computer is offline. When in “offline mode”, a web application’s data is stored locally on your computer, which is then synchronized back to the server when that computer comes back online.

For more, see Online and offline events, Offline resources in Firefox, Firefox 3: Offline App Demo by Mark Finkle, Offline Web Applications (Feb 2007) by Robert O’Callahan.

Password manager

password-manager

In Firefox 3 the Password manager features are significantly improved and much more thoughtfully designed. The dialog box asking whether you would like Firefox to save a password has been replaced entirely — instead of popping up a dialog you are forced to dismiss before the login has succeeded, Firefox 3 presents the option to store a given password using an information bar that slides down from the top of the screen after you have logged in. This information bar is non-modal, so you can continue using the Web as normal without being forced to dismiss it first. The information bar will just hang around until you tell it what to do or leave the site you’re on.

Additionally, the Password manager has filtering and searching capabilities, making it significantly easier to find and manage passwords for particular sites. These changes are relatively subtle, but if you have hundreds of stored passwords, these small changes can make a huge difference over all.

For more, see Firefox 3: Password Management by Deb Richardson.

Performance improvements

performance

Firefox 3 is the fastest, slimmest version of Firefox yet. Speed tests are showing a 2-4x improvement over Firefox 2 and 9x over Internet Explorer 7. Memory usage tests measure that Firefox 3 is 2x more efficient than Firefox 2 and 4.7x more efficient than IE7. There’s been a tremendous focus on performance for this release, and an incredible amount of effort has gone in to achieving these numbers.

For more about the memory usage improvements, see Firefox 3 Memory Usage by Stuart Parmenter.

Phishing protection

phishing

In addition to the new Malware protection that has been added for this release, Firefox 3 also has improved Phishing protection. Reported phishing sites are now blocked up front, before the pages are even loaded, so your computer is never in danger. Firefox 2 loaded the page, but warned you that it was a reported phishing site by greying it out and displaying a warning dialog. Firefox 3′s method, which matches the new Malware protection behaviour, is more secure and exposes you to less risk over all.

For more, see Mal-what? Firefox 3 vs. Bad People by Johnathan Nightingale.

Plugins

plugins

Plugins are small third-party programs that can be added to Firefox to manage content that Firefox does not handle itself. Without the Flash plugin, for example, you wouldn’t be able to watch YouTube videos. Firefox 3 offers a new feature as part of the revamped Add-ons manager which you can use to view, enable, and disable any plugins you have installed. You can also use the Plugins display to visit the original source of the plugin (if it is specified) by right-clicking on the plugin name and selecting “Visit Home Page”.

Also, as with other add-ons in Firefox 3, if a plugin is found to contain a security vulnerability, Firefox will automatically disable it and tell you where to get an updated version. This is a significant security improvement for Firefox, which previously had no way to let you know that you had bad plugins installed.

For more, see Firefox 3: Plugins by Deb Richardson.

Site Identification button

site-identification-button

Ensuring that users are safe, secure, and protected while they browse the Web is one of the greatest challenges facing browser makers. Firefox 3 introduces an extremely important new security feature known as the Site Identification button. This button replaces and builds upon the ubiquitous “padlock” icon that has for so long been the primary security indicator used in browsers. Rather than just displaying a little padlock somewhere, Firefox 3 finds out as much as it can about the site you’re browsing and makes that information easily accessible through a button at the left end of the location bar.

larry

The button can be one of three colors — gray, blue, or green — and displays the new Site Identification dialog when clicked. The dialog includes a matching gray, blue, or green “Passport Officer” icon, and shows a summary of the information available about the site’s identity. Now, instead of having a single indicator that a connection is either encrypted or not (the padlock), Firefox 3 provides you with much more information, covering a wide range of different security levels and situations.

For more, see Firefox 3: Site Identification button by Deb Richardson.

Smart Location Bar

smart-location-bar

In Firefox 3 the Location bar has been completely revamped in extremely exciting ways. Affectionately nicknamed the “AwesomeBar”, the new Smart Location Bar lets you use the URL field of your browser to do a keyword search of your history and bookmarks. You no longer have to remember the domain of the page you’re looking for — the Smart Location Bar will match what you’re typing (even multiple words!) against the URLs, page titles, and tags in your bookmarks and history, returning results sorted according to an algorithm that combines frequency and recency.

The Smart Location Bar results also show pages’ favicons, full titles, URLs, and whether you have bookmarked or tagged the site previously. While the change from Firefox 2 to Firefox 3 can be a little jarring for some, once you’ve used the Smart Location Bar for a while, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

For more, see AwesomeBar is awesome by Deb Richardson, and this short screencast by Mike Beltzner.

Tabs

tabs

Tabs haven’t changed a whole lot between Firefox 2 and Firefox 3 except for the addition of new smooth scrolling animation. When you scrolled your tab bar in Firefox 2, the tabs moved back and forth a full tab at a time. This made scrolling a bit choppy and disjointed. With smooth tab scrolling, it’s much easier to understand how the movement is happening, and where tabs are moving to and from. This is most clearly demonstrated with a demo movie, so I created a quick one which you can see here: Firefox 3: Smooth tab scrolling (.swf).

Themes

themes

One of the primary goals of the Firefox 3 visual refresh was to better integrate the browser with each computer platform while maintaining a unique visual identity and presence. Firefox 2 looked more or less the same on Windows, Mac, and Linux, but this is not the case for Firefox 3. There are four distinct new themes for Firefox 3 — one each for Linux, Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Windows Vista — and it touches every aspect of the application. Every button, window, tab, icon, and dialog box now blends in with the native platform, making Firefox feel much more like a natural part of your computing environment.

For more, see Firefox 3 Themes by Alex Faaborg, and Firefox 3 for theme developers by Gavin Sharp.

Video and audio feeds

detecting-feeds

Firefox 3 includes an enhanced feed preview page that now detects and displays enclosures alongside the associated blog entries. Additionally, Firefox 3 has the ability to associate video podcasts with one application, audio podcasts with another, and all other kinds of feeds with a third. These modifications are relatively subtle but fantastically useful once you start taking advantage of them.

For more, see Firefox 3 and enclosures by Will Guaraldi.

Vista parental controls support

vista-parental-controls

Windows Vista includes built in parental controls that help you manage what your children can do on the computer. Firefox 3 includes some support for these parental controls — the Download manager is aware of situations where content gets blocked by proxies, and blocked downloads now display the correct UI message to indicate what has happened. This feature is only available for the Vista platform, and will be expanding and improving in future versions of Firefox.

For more, see Firefox 3: Parental controls by Jim Mathies and Mark Finkle.

Web application protocol handlers

web-application

Web application protocol handlers are a new Firefox 3 feature that gives more power to web applications. When you click on a link with a specific protocol, Firefox can now send that link data to a specified web application, if that web application has added support for this feature. For example, “mailto:” links can now be handled by a web application such as Yahoo! mail instead of by the default mail client on your desktop. Other currently supported protocols include “webcal:”, “tel:”, and “fax:”.

Developers who are interested in adding protocol support to web applications should read the Web-based protocol handlers article at the Mozilla Developer Center.

For more, see Firefox 3: Web protocol handlers by Mark Finkle.

Conclusion

There you have it, a broad (but by no means complete) swath of the new and improved features in Firefox 3 from Add-on management through Web application protocol handlers. Almost every part of the browser has been improved in some way.

Firefox 3 has been in development for roughly three years, all told, and has been contributed to by thousands of developers, designers, localizers, testers, marketers, and documentation writers around the globe. The Firefox browser is produced by one of the greatest open source communities in the world, and we’re all extremely proud of it and excited to finally get it into the hands of millions of people.

If you haven’t yet, you should go to the Firefox Download Day site and help set a new Guinness World Record. Once you’re done there, head over to Mozilla Party Central and find or set up an event to take part in. We hope you’ll all join us and help celebrate the release of the best Firefox ever.



Creative Commons License
Text and screenshots are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

All about SUMO: an interview with David Tenser

Firefox, Mozilla, Work 4 Comments

SUMO (support.mozilla.com) is the new community-powered Firefox user support site. If you have any questions about or problems with Firefox, SUMO is the place to go to find documentation, answers to frequently asked questions, a bustling community forum, and incredibly helpful folks in the new Live Chat facility.

David Tenser has been part of the Mozilla community for many years, and is now heading up the SUMO project. He took some time out of his increasingly busy schedule (Firefox 3 is just around the corner, after all) to answer a few questions for me.

Deb: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with the Mozilla project?

David: Certainly! Back in 2002, when Firefox was still known as Phoenix and wasn’t used by that many people, I started to help other users of the browser on the MozillaZine support forums and became more and more familiar with the ins and outs of the software. Although Phoenix was still very rough around the edges, it quickly became more popular. I noticed that people were asking the same questions over and over again in the forums, so I decided to do something about that and created a website listing the most frequently asked questions. From that point, my involvement with Mozilla got a lot deeper and I found myself spending several hours every day working on the site and helping people in the forums.

When Firefox 1.0 was about to be released, my help site was moved over to mozilla.org and became the official support site for Firefox. To show how much Mozilla appreciated my work on it, Marcia sent me a Firefox mug. From that day, I started to drink coffee like never before and four years later, it feels like something is wrong if I’m not drinking my morning coffee from that very mug. :)

To make a long story short, I was hired by Mozilla last year as the project manager for Firefox Support (SUMO), which finally turned my hobby into my full-time job, and made one of my dreams come true.

On a more personal note, I’m a guy who loves traveling, photography, animals, gadgets (sometimes referred to as the small units of proud men), and open source software. I live in Sweden with my girlfriend and our two cats in Eskilstuna, a city about one hour away from the glamorous Capital of Scandinavia. Oh, and did I mention I have a Firefox mug?

Deb: What is SUMO, and what purpose does it serve?

David: SUMO is short for support.mozilla.com, the official, community-powered support website for Mozilla Firefox. The main purpose of the site is to provide support for users of Firefox, helping them fix problems they might be running into, as well as teaching people how to use Firefox.

However, there are other important reasons why SUMO exists. Mozilla is a global community and there are many people interested in helping us promote the open web. Take me for example — when I started to volunteer for Mozilla, I wasn’t a particularly skilled software developer, so the thought of contributing code-wise felt unrealistic. Still, I wanted to give something back to Mozilla which provided me with the best web browser I’ve ever tried. To me, support was a way to contribute to the Mozilla project without the need for particular software development skills. During the process of helping people, my knowledge improved and I was able to become more deeply involved with the project.

Support is a powerful way for people to get involved with Mozilla, and really anyone can contribute with something. It’s also a fun way to learn more about your favorite browser while helping and interacting with other people.

Of course, Mozilla community support has existed for a long time. The difference with SUMO is that we are providing the infrastructure, empowering the community with a solution focusing on providing the best possible support experience. Hosting the website ourselves gives us the important benefit of learning more about our users. For example, we can see exactly which articles in the Knowledge Base are the most popular for any given week. Expect to see more around this soon as we just recently switched our site statistics backend. It’s also important to note that the increased knowledge about our users is helpful to everyone involved with the project, including all of our volunteers.

Deb: Who are the current staff of the SUMO project, and what are their roles?

David: It really depends on how you count, which I’ll get back to shortly. There are currently three people (aside from myself) working directly on the SUMO project:

Chris Ilias is the main administrator of the Knowledge Base and is, among other things, responsible for content review, user administration, and contributor documentation. He is also writing and editing support articles, and regularly talks to localizers to make sure they are on track and that their feedback is considered.

Jason Barnabe is the support forum administrator, and is also a skilled web developer who helps fixing bugs and implementing new features on the site. Recently, he has taken a more active role in this regard, and he has grand plans for making the forum a lot more useful for both helpers and end-users, which we’ll see more of soon.

Majken Connor is the administrator of Live Chat and is responsible for the helper training program and making sure the process of helping Firefox users is documented. She is also actively communicating with helpers to find out more about our shortcomings so we can continuously improve how we do things.

Although there is one person responsible for each of the three components of SUMO, everyone on the team also has an eye on the project as a whole, ensuring that the project is moving in the right direction. This is very important, as the individual components all play an important role in the overall project. Aside from countless discussions in the newsgroup, we have open meetings every Monday where we discuss aspects of the whole project. Anyone is invited to call in and participate, by the way.

Getting back to my original comment, SUMO is very much a community effort. As such, it’s hard to really define the different roles in the project. For example, we have Nelson Ko from the TikiWiki community working as our main software developer, implementing new features and fixing lots of bugs. He is working closely with the web development team at Mozilla, but he is also working with other TikiWiki community members such as Sylvie Greverend and Alexander Mette to make sure the changes we do in SUMO are merged upstream.

Then we have a number of key community members taking increasingly more active roles within the project. For example, Matthew Middleton and Cheng Wang have both done tremendous efforts recently with Live Chat and planning and executing events such as Support Firefox Day. Another example is Bo Bayles who is writing a lot of the excellent content in the Knowledge Base, as well as answering a lot of questions in the support forum.

So, the current staff of the SUMO project really includes anyone who wants to be part of the new support movement from Mozilla.

Deb: What are the various services SUMO provides to help Firefox users?

David: There are three components of SUMO, each serving very specific purposes. I’d like to talk about the services they provide both from a user’s and a contributor’s perspective.

The Knowledge Base is the heart of the website and is a large collection of support articles largely written by the community. The key focus of the Knowledge Base is troubleshooting — solving people’s problems with Firefox — as well as teaching people how to use the browser. If you’re experiencing a problem with Firefox, it’s likely someone else has had the same problem before, so from an end-user’s point of view, this is the first place to look for help because it includes well-written solutions to known problems. We make it very obvious to the user that they should search the Knowledge Base first by putting a large search box right on the start page.

Looking at it from a contributor’s point of view, the Knowledge Base is a great opportunity for people with basic writing skills to make a difference to the 170+ million users of Firefox. There is always room for improvement in any of the articles, for example, better explaining technical issues such that they are comprehensible for as many people as possible. Since the Knowledge Base is a wiki, anyone can sign up and make improvements. In addition, the content can also be translated into any other language, so if an article is not yet available in your language, it’s easy to just get started and translate it yourself, which immediately helps your fellow local Firefox users.

Naturally, because of the focus of fixing common problems, the Knowledge Base will never include the answers to all support questions a user can have about Firefox. The solution to this is the support forum, which is a way for users to get support for problems they couldn’t find the answer to in the Knowledge Base. Questions asked in there are seen by everyone browsing the forum, which means the chance of someone else reading a question and knowing the answer is high.

From a contributor’s point of view, the support forum is a fun and relaxed way to start helping other people, since you can read the questions and only respond to the ones you know the answers to. There is also no direct interaction with the user, meaning you can spend more time researching the problem before providing an answer.

Last but not least, we also offer a more direct way for users to get help, which we call Live Chat. Here you can have a direct discussion with a real person who will guide you through the process of solving whatever Firefox problem you may have. Sometimes following written instructions can be hard, and in these cases, Live Chat is the perfect answer because someone is right there to walk you through the process.

When looking at Live Chat in the point of view of a contributor, it is definitely a more challenging way of helping other people, since you can’t really just leave a chat session if you can’t help the user. It’s important to note that while you’re typically helping one user at a time, however, you are not on your own. Other contributors are working alongside you and you can always chat with them, or even invite another helper to join your session with a user. Live Chat is definitely the most social way of contributing to the SUMO project. It also gives you an interesting perspective on who our Firefox users really are, which I think even Firefox developers would benefit from experiencing on a regular basis.

Deb: For the Knowledge Base, what sort of tools are used to ensure the quality and accuracy of the articles?

David: First of all, we have a pretty neat review system in place to ensure that the accuracy of the articles are maintained. Although anyone can sign up on SUMO and start editing articles, a reviewer must read the changes made and approve them before they’re visible to our users. If a contributor proves to be a good writer whose edits are mostly approved without comments, he or she can become a reviewer as well. We currently have at least one reviewer per locale we support on SUMO.

Another important feature is the article feedback system. At the end of each Knowledge Base article, we ask two questions, one of them being “Was this article easy to understand?”. Answering this question is as easy as clicking Yes or No. The feedback we get from this allows us to continuously improve the quality of the articles. We also allow users to provide additional feedback, where they can specifically tell us what parts of the article are incorrect or hard to understand.

Deb: How many languages are the Knowledge Base articles being translated into, and how is that work managed?

David: All articles are treated as individual items and as such they may or may not be translated into a specific language. Because of this, it’s hard to give an accurate answer, because it depends on which article you look at. We have a set of articles that Firefox 3 links to from the help menu, and these are translated into more than 30 languages. There are other articles that are translated to around ten languages today. Finally, there are many articles that are not translated at all. We definitely need more help in translating Knowledge Base articles! If you spot a popular article that is not available in your language, please help us out by translating it yourself. It’s a great way to get involved with the Mozilla community.

For each locale, we have one person that is responsible for overseeing the contents in that language. He or she can also promote other contributors so they can help reviewing article edits. The localization features in SUMO are still a bit rough around the edges, and although we’ve certainly reached a state where the system is fully usable, we are continuously working hard to improve it even more.

Deb: How does the Live Chat system work, and how do users access it?

David: If a user can’t find the answer to their question in the Knowledge Base, there is a link at the end of the search results to ask a direct support question instead. From there, users have the option of either asking the question in the forum, or getting in touch with a Firefox helper directly using Live Chat.

A user who requests help using Live Chat enters his or her question and is then put in a queue. The helpers that are currently logged in with the chat application are then alerted with the user’s question asked upfront. If the helper knows the answer to the question, or wants to try to help the user anyway (often the challenge is part of the fun!), the helper simply accepts the incoming request and a one-on-one live chat session is started with the user.

As I said earlier, a helper can always ask other helpers currently logged in if the user’s question is too difficult or if the helper simply runs out of time and has to pass the user over to someone else. Live Chat helpers often get to know each other more and more so they’re really friends helping each other out.

Deb: The SUMO user support forums seem pretty active, how many support questions do you estimate have been handled through those so far?

David: Yes, the forums are indeed becoming increasingly active. We get around a thousand questions posted in the forum every week. A quick look at the posts from the last 48 hours shows that over 300 questions were asked, and seven of them are currently unanswered. This really shows the excellence of the SUMO community — they are really working hard to make sure our users are taken care of.

Deb: I know that SUMO is largely a volunteer effort — how many volunteer contributors do you estimate have helped out to date?

David: Taking content writers, localizers, and forum and live chat helpers into account, we’re looking at over 60 active contributors per week, which is nothing short of amazing. Based on stats going back a couple of months, the number is also growing every week! I think a large reason for this is because of the many different ways people can contribute to the project.

Deb: There’s a SUMO Screencast contest in progress right now. What’s that all about, and what are the prizes that can be won?

David: Glad you asked! As I mentioned earlier, the heart of SUMO is the Knowledge Base. We are constantly thinking of new ways to improve the content to make it easier for users to understand. As part of this ongoing work, we want to make the content more interactive by including screencasts that show a user how to perform a task rather than trying to describe it strictly through text. A screencast is basically a video clip recording the actions on a computer screen — think of it as an animated screenshot — where you can actually see the mouse cursor moving across the screen, clicking a button, or changing a setting. People who can’t understand the sometimes technical language used in computer software certainly benefit from a screencast compared to an article consisting of just text and screenshots. Even people who can understand the written information often benefit from the hands-on approach of a video.

The Firefox Screencast Contest is all about creating screencasts for the top 100 Knowledge Base articles of SUMO. Participating in the contest is super-easy. In fact, recording a screencast using e.g. Jing is often easier than creating a screenshot, because the result can be automatically uploaded to the web for you to share.

There will be one winner per article, meaning we’ll potentially have 100 winners! In addition, there will be one grand prize winner for the best screencast overall. Check out the Prizes page to see what you can win.

Finally, let’s not forget that if you’re one of the 100 winners, your screencast will be used in a Knowledge Base article read by thousands and thousands of Firefox users. Not only will you provide invaluable help for all those users, you will be credited for it as well.

Deb: Outside of the contest, what other tasks are you looking for volunteers to help with?

David: There are so many things we could use some help with, it’s hard to know where to start. It really depends on what you’re interested in, because usually that’s what you do best. So for example, if you’re a skilled writer, copy-editing Knowledge Base articles is a very good way to start. Just reading an article per day and fixing a few typos is enough to put your name at the end of an article.

If you’re more familiar with Firefox, browsing the support forum for unanswered questions is the perfect way to start your day. Helping someone and getting a thank you is a fun boost that has a stronger effect than your morning coffee (regardless of what mug you’re drinking it from!)

But really, there are so many other things people can do to help. One is to just sign up, log in, and browse around on the site and tell us what you think we could improve. Or reading the contributor documentation and letting us know if we’re missing any info. Or translating an article into Hebrew, discovering that the paragraphs are left aligned even though the language is right-to-left, and then filing a bug about that or even submitting a patch that fixes the problem. :)

There are so many ways to help out and get involved that there’s always going to be something for everyone to work on.

Deb: A lot of experienced Firefox users may want to help out but may think they’re not qualified or don’t have the time. What levels of experience and commitment are required to volunteer with the SUMO project?

David: This is the interesting thing about SUMO: there are no requirements! That you enjoy using Firefox is of course a bonus, mostly because you’ll enjoy hanging out with us more then. But really, volunteering with the SUMO project can be as simple as correcting a typo in a Knowledge Base article, or as challenging as organizing a full-day event around Firefox support.

There’s a way for everyone to help out with the SUMO project. If you’re not sure what you could do, just ask! Finally, if you don’t think you have the time, how about spending just a few minutes a day? You will definitely be able to make a difference.

Deb: If someone wanted to volunteer to help out with SUMO, what should they do? Who should they talk to?

David: Good question. We usually hang out on IRC (irc.mozilla.org, channel #sumo). Another great way to get in touch with us is to drop by the Contributor Forum and ask how you can get involved. Lastly, you can always e-mail me directly (djst at mozilla dot com).

There’s more information available at the Knowledge Base How to contribute article, as well.

Deb: Is there anything else you’d like to add or say to readers or potential volunteers?

David: Thanks for reading! If you’ve read this far you probably have at least five minutes to spare every day. You’re very welcome to spend them with us in the future and make a difference for other Firefox users around the world!


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