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.

My Installed Add-ons – Clippings

I love finding new extensions that do things I never even thought to search for. One of the best ways to find them is through word of mouth. In this case, I guess you can call it “word of blog”. I’m doing a series of blog posts about the extensions I use, and maybe you’ll see one that you want to use.

The first one is Context Search, which I’ve already blogged about.

The second is Clippings. Clippings allows you to keep pieces of text to paste on demand. If you frequently answer email messages with one of a set of replies, you can paste which reply you want to use using the context menu. In my case, I take part in support forums, which means I have to respond to frequently asked questions, typing the same answers frequently. Clippings allows me to have canned responses, so I can answer more support questions in less time.

To save a piece of text as a clipping, select it, then right-click and go to “Clippings”, then “New from Selection“. You’ll then be asked to name the clipping and where to save it among your list of clippings. It supports folders too.

When you want to use that clipping just right-click on the text area, then go to “Clippings” and select the clipping you want to paste.

Clippings is also very useful in Mozilla Thunderbird.

You can install it via the Mozilla Add-ons site.

Need help with Firefox in Toronto?

If you need help with a Firefox problem and live in Toronto, send me an email and I can meet you in person at a public place to help solve your Firefox problem.

I’ve been wanting to put together some sort of system to allow support community members to schedule in-person sessions with nearby users at either public places or Mozilla offices. The biggest barrier of quality for online support is communication. We rely on the user to describe their problem through mostly text, and they usually don’t give all necessary info. That’s why we try to use screenshots and videos. Being able to provide in-person support not only eliminates that barrier, but it showcases the power of community in a big way that creates a great support experience.

There’s no system like that for Mozilla, but that doesn’t prevent me from doing it on my own. 🙂

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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How to add thread lines in Thunderbird for Mac

If you use Mozilla Thunderbird on Mac and read messages in threaded view, it may be a little hard to track a thread tree. For instance, in this screenshot it is difficult to tell who MikeR’s last message at the bottom is in reply to.

Did he reply to his own post, Mike Easter, or perhaps a message off screen?

You can connect the messages with thread lines, using a userChrome.css tweak.

  1. In Thunderbird, click on the Help menu, then select Troubleshooting Information. This will open the about:support page.
  2. Click on Show In Finder. That will open your profile folder in the Finder.
  3. Create a new folder called “chrome”.
  4. Create a file in the chrome folder, called “userChrome.css”.
  5. Open userChrome.css, and insert this text:
    #threadTree treechildren::-moz-tree-line {
      visibility: visible !important;
    #threadTree treechildren::-moz-tree-line(selected, focus) {
      border-color: #FFFFFF !important;
  6. Save userChrome.css and restart Thunderbird. Threaded view should have lines connecting messages.

Deleting individual newsgroup messages in Thunderbird

Let’s say you’re reading a newsgroup with Thunderbird, and some spam gets posted. Or someone posts an offensive message you just want to remove from the message list. Or any case in which you just want to remove an individual article you’ve already downloaded.

In the past, it wasn’t possible to delete individual messages. At least not without exploiting the message aging feature. In the latest version of Thunderbird, you can delete individual messages. You just need to change a preference in the config editor to enable the feature.

  1. Go to Tools > Options > Advanced > General, and click on Config Editor.
  2. In the Config Editor, search for the preference: news.allow_delete_with_no_undo
  3. Double-click on it, to set the value to true.

After that, the delete command will work when you have any newsgroup messages selected.

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.

What is compacting folders in Thunderbird, and why you should do it

Are your Thunderbird folders taking up a lot of disk space, even though you only have a few messages? Is Thunderbird slow to open folders? It’s probably because you have not compacted your folders.

When you delete a message, it doesn’t really get deleted from the folder. It gets marked as deleted. Thunderbird sees that marking, and knows not to display the message. Compacting a folder will command Thunderbird to remove all messages marked as deleted from that folder.

To compact your folders, go to the File menu and select Compact Folders.
To compact an individual folder, right-click on the folder and select Compact.

If you’re having any issues, post in the Thunderbird Support forum at