Working for Postbox

I’m happy to announce that I’ve started working for Postbox, doing user content and support.
This means that I won’t have time for some of my commitments within Mozilla. Over the next while, I may be cancelling or transferring some of my projects and responsibilities.

Reply to Walt Mossberg – Native apps vs web apps

I recently listened to an episode of the Ctrl-Walt-Delete podcast, in which Walt Mossberg and Nilay Patel talked about web browsers vs native mobile apps. There was something Walt said that I have to comment on, because I disagree with it, and a tweet just isn’t enough. 🙂

When explaining why most people use native mobile apps, he argued that the main reason is because an app (when done right) offers a more focused experience, He cited Google Maps as an example.

I don’t think it’s that complex. I think it has more to do with how fast you can get there. If I want to use Google Maps, it’s quicker and more convenient to tap on the Google Maps icon than it is to tap on the browser, then pull up a list of bookmarks, and tap on the Google Maps bookmark. That has nothing to do with the experience of using the app.

I’m not saying that’s the only reason people use native mobile apps. I think most other differences have a minor effect on the user’s decision, and how fast and convenient it is to get to the app is probably the biggest factor.

Tips on how to deal with disgruntled users

This is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. In many community driven support venues, I see some bad patterns in the way users are treated. People who may be knowledgeable about Firefox end up giving bad user support, because they’re not being empathetic or approaching support with the intent of helping users.

Reasons for this?

  • Even with real names, many people behave less empathetic on the internet. It’s too easy to compare home insurance companies and forget that the person you are talking to is a real human.
  • The people helping are mostly volunteers, who don’t feel obligated to be nice, or represent Mozilla.
  • Also with volunteers, many are involved in support simply because they know the technical solution to some issues, and have no formal training in support.

Those factors tend to create a community of geeks lacking the social skills to help novice users. Most people in the community just haven’t considered this. If a fellow user is being uncivil, it’s natural to flame back.

It’s important to remember:

  • Empathy: If you have a problem with your cable, and call your cable company tech support, how would you like to be treated? They would never say “PEBCAK” or “RTFM“.
  • The user is having a problem with Firefox, and it’s obviously of some importance to them, because they made the effort to find the support venue, register, and post about it. If they’ve gone that extent, we should expect a level of frustration. It would be nice if most users posting in a support forum were calm and civil, but that’s not the nature of the beast.

I’m not saying the customer is always right; I’m saying don’t argue with them. Here are some tips everyone can use when giving technical support:

  • Remind yourself of your purpose there. It should be to help others, not to show off your knowledge of Firefox. Don’t expect to be treated like royalty by users, just because you’re helping them. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” does not fly with software users. If you don’t think you’re getting enough appreciation, let it be known to the forum manager, not the user.
  • Packaging, packaging, packaging! Almost any criticism of the user can be phrased in a way that appears helpful rather than confrontational. If your mind says “How in the world am I supposed to help you, when you provide no details and no URL? I’m not a mind-reader“, then say “We’ll need some more info about your Firefox setup. Here are the details we need and how to provide them…” There’s a big difference between telling a user he/she should have searched the web before posting, and letting them know that they can search the web before posting.
  • You can calm a user down by explaining things. Frustration comes from lack of understanding. A couple of years ago, I went to see my dentist about a pain I was having. He showed me an x-ray of my tooth, explained what the problem was and why it was happening. He then told me what he planned to do to fix the problem, warned me of any side-effects, and told me how much it would cost. I walked out of there feeling much more confident and relaxed about the situation. I also thought “So much of that applies to user support“. Instead of simply giving the user instructions on how to fix a problem, explain what you think the cause of the problem probably is, and what the solution is. Then tell them how to carry out the solution.
  • If you’re not having the same problem as the user, say so. It doesn’t directly help the user, but it shows that you’re making an effort to help, which the user will appreciate. It shows that the problem may not be a bug, which will discourage other users from chiming in just to rant about the product. It encourages people to give details, which a good user support person loves like crack.
  • Act as if you are talking to the user in-person.
  • Don’t get hung up on protocol. This is something I see a lot of in newsgroups. If the user starts a new thread to respond to your reply in the original thread, or puts the entire question in the subject and nothing in the message body, mention it, but don’t focus on it. That takes focus away from the issue they posted about. Better yet, don’t mention it at all until after you’ve solved their problem. At that point, they will have gained some respect for what you have to say.
  • If the user just wants to argue, disengage. Some users just want to rant. It’s good to offer to help and direct them where to submit feedback, but if you’ve already done that and they continue to rant, leave it alone.

Quantity vs quality is hard. With SUMO focusing on making sure every question gets answered, making those answers better quality can take time away from another user getting any answer at all. One good way to solve that is snippets that provide good detailed explanations, instructions, and links. Right now, you can use an extension called Clippings, which allows you to automatically paste canned responses you’ve saved. It works on both Firefox and Thunderbird, so you can use it on web-forums as well as mailing lists and newsgroups. You can find a list of canned responses to use on the Mozilla wiki. Soon the SUMO support forum will have canned responses built in.

What should Mozilla do when a volunteer is not being empathetic?

That’s a natural extension to the above issue. I have some scattered thoughts on that. I still need to organize them, and will probably start a thread in the SUMO community forum to discuss.

If you’ve made it this far into this blog post, thanks for reading.

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When all you want to know is if the bug is fixed

For some specific bugs, I’ve added myself to the CC list, because I’m interested in knowing when the bug is fixed (and maybe when the target has changed). Problem is: because there has been a lot of discussion in a few of those bugs, I’ve been getting a lot of bugmail that I’m not interested in. I don’t want to remove myself from the CC list, because I still want to be notified when the bug is fixed.

I don’t know if I’m the only one with this issue, so I thought I’d share how I fixed it.

In my Bugzilla Preferences, there is an Email Preferences tab that allows me to choose what changes I get emailed about based on my relationship to the bug. In it, I turned off most options for when I am a voter of a bug. Then, for any bugs in which I only care if the bug is fixed, I vote for it instead of adding myself to the CC list.

I made that change over a week ago. So far, so good.

Firefox product placements

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that I’ve developed a habbit: Whenever I see a browser in the media, be it television shows, commercials, screenshots on web sites, I automatically check to see what browser and OS is being used.

Very often, Firefox is the browser being used. Today, on CNN.com, I saw another instance.

It’s a little hard to tell, but there’s a Firefox icon in the bottom left of the dock, the tab has a favicon, and the search bar has a favicon. Ergo, that’s Firefox, not Safari. CNN used to use Netscape 7 in their screenshots. (Although, that could have been because of the AOL-Time Warner umbrella.)

Years ago, the Mozilla Suite was on the Simpsons:

If it hasn’t already been started, it would be cool if we had a log of all instances Firefox has appeared in the media.

Gecko is Gecko

I just read a post by Robert Kaiser in mozilla.dev.general, that contains a great link:

http://www.geckoisgecko.org/

I see it as something like www.googleityoumoron.com, but for web developers. It might be useful for users of Mozilla-based browsers, other than Firefox.

The Mozilla Developer Center also has a good article on Browser Detection and Cross Browser Support, if you come across a website, that is too specific in its browser sniffing.

Someday….

Removing ‘Remove All’

Here’s a question: Using any of Firefox, Thunderbird, SeaMonkey, the Mozilla Suite, or Netscape, have you ever purposely clicked on the ‘Remove All’ button, in the password manager?

Follow up question: Have you ever clicked on it by accident?

Clicking on it by accident, is easy, when it sits right beside ‘Remove’ button. Luckily, the closest I’ve come to that, is removing all cookies, not passwords. The scary part is that there is no “Are you sure” prompt, asking for confirmation. One accidental click, and ‘poof’, data is gone.

I’ve been able to avoid this by removing the ‘Remove All’ button. If you’re using Firefox or Thunderbird, add the following script to your userChrome.css file, to remove the ‘Remove All’ button from the password manager:

#removeAllSignons {display: none !important;}

Outlook and OE address book support in Thunderbird

Mozilla Thunderbird and SeaMonkey (and even the Mozilla Suite and Netscape 7) can actually be set up to use your Outlook Express address book, and/or your Outlook Contacts list. It’s just another one of those features that are not in the user interface.

To make Thunderbird use your Outlook Express address book, close Thunderbird, and add the following lines to your prefs.js file:
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.OE.description", "Outlook Express");
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.OE.dirType", 3);
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.OE.uri", "moz-aboutlookdirectory://oe/");

For Outlook Contacts, use these lines:
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.Outlook.description", "Outlook");
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.Outlook.dirType", 3);
user_pref("ldap_2.servers.Outlook.uri", "moz-aboutlookdirectory://op/");

One important note: in order for it to work with Outlook, Outlook must be set as the system default mail client.

Interestingly enough, it appears this feature goes back to Mozilla 1.0.