Making the user manual disappear

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

Some fine morning next spring (or next fall for the other side of the earth), people will open Firefox and find that it has a whole new look. A gorgeous new tab strip that makes it easy to focus on what you’re doing. A bookmark star and bookmark menu sitting right next to each other and a new, visual Firefox menu that’s super easy to customize. And on that day, they’ll also see a message drop down from the new menu button, inviting them to take a tour of these new features. This week I’m super super excited to be in San Francisco to work with a bunch of great people (Zhenshou, Holly, Jen, Laura, Michael, Alex and Blair) on building that tour.

So let me tell you my version of how this came to be.

This is a slide from a Kathy Sierra presentation. It’s my favorite presentation slide ever. This is what I came to Mozilla to do. Actually, what I’d love is for people to not even realize they’re reading the manual. Have it so integrated into the whole Firefox experience ecosystem that it kind of disappears.

Over the last few years I’ve been working on that in a couple of different ways. One is that we re-purpose or link to support stuff everywhere. All over Firefox, the website, our blogs, Facebook and Twitter and even sometimes in the stories written about us by others. It’s become a whole thing now that just happens and I don’t always hear about it until after the fact. Like the time Facebook did it and sent millions to one article.

Another project I work on is the Firefox Reset. When I first started working on support, the last resort for helping someone was often creating a new profile and migrating their important data over. That is Wizard level stuff! So with the Reset we turned it into a super fast, one-click-easy thing that even a Busy Bee can love. And now if Firefox takes a long time to start or if you try it again after having given up on it for a couple of months we’ll suggest you use the reset to make Firefox brand new – but without loosing all the stuff you care about. How cool is that?

Ok. Still with me. Here’s the thing I’m getting at. This update experience, like those other projects, is part of my master plan to make the user manual disappear.

A little more than a year ago, knowing that this new version of Firefox was happening, I got a bunch of people together to start talking about what we could do to get users excited about it and make sure they saw the new features. So there will be a whole coordinated effort to talk about it before, during and after. Of course, as part of that there’s a ton of new support material that will need to be created – new articles, screenshots, videos. But the big new thing that I’m super excited about is this new update experience which is key part.

The idea is, when Firefox starts up after having updated, a message will drop down from the new menu button inviting you to take a tour. Of course you can dismiss it but in the process of doing that, you just learned about that new menu. You see what we did there? And if you choose to take the tour well show off few Firefox tricks. But check this out. Our web-based tour is able to interact with Firefox – like we can open that new menu and highlight stuff in there. I think it’s going to great.

So is it marketing? Is it support? A website? The product? The UI? The UX? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes! It’s all of that and more. Like getting chocolate in your peanut butter or peanut butter in your chocolate.

So check back next week for demo time! And then soon, hopefully for lots more – like a new, new user experience.

The importance of user education and onboarding

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

I’m at the Mozilla Summit in Brussels this weekend. This afternoon during the “Framing the Future” session, a question was asked about what we’re doing to help less technical users and what we’re doing to avoid alienating existing users. This video has David Ascher talking about what was learned from missing the opportunity to educate and onboard users for the Thunderbird 3 launch. He goes on to talk about how important it is that we get better at this and that he expects that we’ll be doing this with the introduction of Australis (Firefox redesign).

This is something that I’m deeply passionate about. I wrote about this last December just after I had begun organizing a cross-functional meeting to see what we could do to solve this very issue. I’m super excited to say that we are moving ahead with building an brand new update experience for Firefox users that we’ll use to help smooth the transition to Australis when it launches early next year. I’ll be sharing more about that soon.

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.

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.

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).