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).