Category Archives: Live Chat

You’re not alone

Mike Shaver recently posted about his issues with mental illness. Partly because it’s currently affecting his work, but also “because I think that people don’t talk about mental illness enough.” I think he’s right. I recently helped a friend of mine seek treatment and the factor that actually got him to go to a doctor was talking to mconnor about his own experiences seeking treatment for the same illness. After months of trying to get him to go, he made the appointment the very next day. While I haven’t ever received a diagnosis, or been given treatment specifically for mental illness I have had my own experiences with it. In support of Shaver, my friend and everyone else out there struggling, this is me, talking about it.

In childhood

I was separated from my mother at the age of 2. Her parents raised me, but home was never great. I didn’t actually find out until adulthood that she did raise me for the first 2 years of my life. A lot of my anger and loneliness as a child makes a lot more sense knowing that. I never really fit in anywhere. Not at home, not at school. At around age 9 or 10 it started really catching up with me. I didn’t want to go to school, which didn’t make sense because I’ve always loved school itself. I wasn’t brushing my hair. I used to lock myself in the bathroom so that my grandparents couldn’t make me go to school, but my grandfather would come and drag me out. Looking back I assume they’d been threatened with court by the school board if they didn’t make me go. I’m sure there were other symptoms, but I’m happy not to try too hard to remember those days.

One day while driving me to school my grandmother told me I had an appointment, but wouldn’t tell me what kind. At some point during the day I was called to the office and the principal and my guidance counselor were there to explain that I was being taken to a shrink. I was mad, betrayed, I didn’t want to go. The first few sessions I just sat there, I didn’t want to talk. After a little while though, I slowly started talking and OMG it felt great. See my grandparents are great people, they’ll do anything for a friend, very active in their church, highly regarded in many ways. But they were shit parents. My grandfather had a temper and if you tried to tell my grandmother she was doing something wrong she would just laugh at you. I finally had someone who would listen to me, who would advocate for me. I didn’t have to talk to them, she would bring things up in her sessions with them if I asked her to. She encouraged me to bring things up in a group meeting, but in the mean time, she was my safety. Then we moved. Ironically, I wanted to find a new therapist, but my grandparents, under the weight of all the things she was telling them they did wrong, weren’t so interested.

As a teenager

Oh my teens. My attitude towards relationships was seriously skewed because of my home life. Boyfriends were potential husbands which were escape routes. I always talked about marriage (even at 13), plots were hatched to run away somewhere or marry as soon as possible. Of course this also meant I lost a lot more in a break up and I never handled them well. I didn’t eat, my grades suffered, my friendships suffered because all I could focus on was analyzing what went wrong and hoping somehow I could get him back. I actually failed a math class because of a boy and had to take summer school to graduate the year I’d planned.

Oddly enough, I was an optimist. Looking back I can’t actually make the two selves compute, but while I dwelled so much on how bad things were, I always seemed to have an eye on how good things could be, and tried to make the best of things. I remember one day in high school two classmates commented that I wasn’t smiling that day, and that it was ruining their day because whatever else happened, they’d come to count on my mood in that class cheering them up. I’ve actually noticed the same thing in my sister. Just going off her mood you wouldn’t guess that she’s lonely or frustrated. It only comes out when you get her talking about certain subjects.

I think if you asked me at the time if I was happy I would have said “yes, except for…” this giant thing that took up a lot of my time and had me contemplating suicide. I don’t think I was ever really suicidal, just like I never really harmed myself though I would hurt myself sometimes to distract from the emotional pain. It’s a small distinction, but I’ve known women who have really really cut themselves and can’t wear short sleeves anymore. Nothing I ever did caused any lasting physical effects.

As an adult

I have some of the typical markers you’d expect from someone with my history – teen mother, married and divorced young, varied and exciting sexual history. I don’t want to get too much into my life at this point because it’s not just my story. I definitely had anxiety issues during my marriage. While I never believed aliens would attack earth or actually abducted people, thinking about it happening caused a lot of anxiety and fear. This started in childhood and continued into my 20s.

There was also a period in my 20s where I slept with a nightlight because of anxiety at night – I was fine during the day. I figured out that if I tried to go to bed before I was tired I would lie awake thinking about horrible things happening to my family that I wouldn’t be able to stop, including, but not limited to, alien abduction, kidnapping, homicide, war, it goes on. Laughing helped. I ended up with a nightly regimen of watching 2 hours of sitcoms followed by Conan O’Brien before bed. Then I could sleep. I also learned not to go to bed until I was ready to sleep, which sometimes meant some really late nights early mornings. I’m not actually sure when or why this anxiety went away, but thank god it did.

Every now and then I would feel anxiety for no reason. Nothing crushing, but it wouldn’t go away either. At the grocery store, in the middle of a TV show. It felt like when people talk about knowing something bad has happened to someone they love, right before they get the phone call, but calls never came and my immediate family was always fine. Watching TV I saw a commercial for a new birth control pill – actually it was an FDA required commercial clearing up a previous commercial for said pill. Two things struck me, first it’s a different type of hormone that doesn’t bind to the free testosterone in a women’s system. The second thing that caught my attention was the clarification that Yaz was not approved to treat PMS but rather PMDD.

I’d never heard of PMDD before, so I looked it up. It sounded a lot more like me than any other mental illness profile I’d read (we’ve all been there, almost every profile sounds a little like us). I saw my doctor and got a prescription. What a difference! The random anxiety stopped and many situations that used to make me nervous no longer did. My moods, and my hormones it seems, are on a much more even keel. While there are definitely positive changes in my life I could attribute this to, there has been more than one occasion that I’ve started getting anxious and then realized I’d forgotten my pill that day.

I’m doing much better. Looking back I’m not sure I’d say I had a diagnosable mental illness, maybe PMDD. I think a lot of my problems were situational, and now that I’m in control of my own life I’m so happy I can’t even begin to express it. It’s possible though that I do have something and through trial by fire learned to cope.

That’s what’s so tricky about diagnosing and treating mental illness. Are we depressed because we never learned to cope with certain situations, or are we unable to cope because we’re depressed? The first question many people ask me about my friend that’s getting help is “what is he depressed about?” In my situation, I was certainly depressed about things and learning to make better choices was a big part of my solution. In his case, he was just generally depressed. He has friends, a great job of his choosing. He’s not depressed about anything, he’s depressed. In his case drug treatment has come first and has allowed other positive changes in his life that he wouldn’t believe were possible.

What I hope you get out of this

You don’t have to have a debilitating mental illness to have a condition that would benefit from therapy or treatment.
You can’t tell by looking or casual interaction who’s suffering.
Talking about it helps.
Talking about it helps you.
Talking about it helps others.
Talking about it helps.
You’re not alone.

Activity on the SUMO blog

Was pleasantly surprised today to see a new post on the SUMO blog – Michael Verdi has not only posted Monday’s meeting minutes to it (yay!) he’s also attempted a video diary of the key points of the meeting. It’s a little rough, but there are some great sneak peeks of the new knowledge base software as well as a call to test it out.

Everyone should head on over and check it out. Remember, communication is a two-way street. If you appreciate the video and having the meeting minutes in the blog then please give Michael a big thanks and let the team know. It may seem silly to simply post “thanks” but it really means something to people who take time out of their day.

It can be really easy for folks at Mozilla to get busy with work, but openness and communication are so important to its core mission. If it feels like no one is looking it’s really easy for people to choose not to blog, to tweet, whatever. Whenever you see great outreach like this reward it and you’ll be doing more than you think towards preserving these values.

The trouble with SUMO

First a bit of a disclaimer – this post is in no way meant to belittle the hard work people have put into SUMO, still put into SUMO, or the successes it has had. However, as indicated from the title, this post is going to focus pretty heavily on the negative.

SUMO – SUpport dot Mozilla dot Org [Thanks to Tanner for the catch. SUMO became a dot com site, but the O can still come from Mozilla.]- has a pretty interesting history. Sought after for years among the community, Mozilla finally decided to take user support seriously. Kinda. At the time, the commitment from Moco was pretty small and there were rumblings that SUMO still had to prove user support was actually helpful before it was sure to stick around. – which it certainly has by now.

The shape SUMO was meant to take changed quite a bit. There was talk about a web-based help viewer for Firefox on a separate thread from the discussions for forming a real support offering. In fact, Mozillazine, already running a user forum and a knowledge base was vetted as a possible solution – simply endorse the site that already exists. For several reasons, some of which I was in on, some of which were discussed privately, it was decided that a Mozilla run solution would be best.

At first, SUMO was meant to be a quiet, community run project. People already active in the support community, including myself, were brought in to grow our areas of expertise and form, well, a community. A full time team-lead was hired and we had a manager to guide us all. However, the nature of the project changed really quickly. Our manager left for a start up and wasn’t replaced. Our team lead became the manager and for the most part the team didn’t interact with Mozilla outside of itself. – Excluding the team lead/manager, I can’t speak for him.

Pretty early on we adopted the ambitious goal to be the full support system for Firefox 3, which meant a full set of KB docs in a minimum number of locales. The point of SUMO as communicated to me at this point was to be the BEST Firefox support there is. Along the lines of ambitious goals not only was the KB to be up and running, but the forums and live chat were targeted to go live by the end of the year, and they did. Now I have no idea where the goals came from. Did our manager believe in us? Was he being pushed by his manager to make SUMO relevant as quickly as possible? So I’m not going to comment on whether or not I think they were good goals. We certainly achieved them.

But that’s the problem. SUMO is constantly being judged on what it does do, but as this is Mozilla’s first venture into user support there’s no other internal baseline. What could SUMO be? How does SUMO measure up, especially to the passed over Mozillazine which, as far as I can tell, is still thriving? Most importantly to me, is SUMO avoiding the mistakes that made us pass over Mozillazine in the first place?

Now again, SUMO has been doing great stuff. We did great things with tikiwiki and the new custom software looks pretty cool, too. Except is SUMO innovating? The new forums end up working a lot like Get Satisfaction. There’s been talk of a web based Live Chat client (on the helper’s end) for literally years now. Meanwhile the Spark client was the only part of the live chat software that still had active maintainers and yet no changes were pursued in favor of the in house client that’s been around the corner this whole time. The Army of Awesome is pretty cool, I’m not familiar with what already exists for this kind of thing so I have no idea of it’s innovative, but it’s definitely progress so I won’t knock it.

There’s also no real innovation in document writing. Obviously the hire of Michael Verdi is meant to change that, but for now it hasn’t happened yet. The guidelines for how to write an article haven’t changed much since SUMO was launched, and there’s no template on how an article should be layed out. SUMO has been collecting survey data on its articles from the beginning – a handy feature of tikiwiki – to find out which articles are working and which need help. By now, having chosen a consistent format would be a reasonable expectation. –I checked out SUMO’s Best Practices guide just to make sure my bold claim was accurate, well you can see when that article was updated.

There’s also no contributor training outside of the old docs, more specifically the one I wrote for live chat helpers on how to troubleshoot an unfamiliar issue. The top issues and how to solve them are not clearly communicated, and certainly not outside of the team. Support Firefox Days haven’t happened in a long time. There was apparently a SUMO newsletter, but I can’t find any editions to prove it existed, just the old sign-up form. The SUMO blog basically gets news, but nothing practical that will help someone provide better user support.

Openness has been an issue, as well. Some things are better than they were, some things are worse. The team goals appear to be public now, but as far as I can tell are not published to the community (I found them linked in one of the meeting minutes). Meeting minutes used to be published to the newsgroup (no longer used), the blog and the contributor forum (stopped in both due to undesired “noise”) which isn’t such a big deal as the bulk of the planning discussion moved to the sumodev meeting which was not promoted to the rest of the community. Now there’s a private moderator’s only forum, which I only found because I looked at the forum lists (and I’m still in the moderator group, apparently). The discussion about why it’s private is quite lively, I’d suggest reading it but I’d have to leak it for you to do so, which, in spite of this posting, I’m not prepared to do.

Is SUMO doing the best it can do? I don’t know. I think people are certainly working hard and deserve credit. I think, though, that not enough people are involved. Not enough people are asking tough questions (though I can understand why, the Flash vs Ogg bug didn’t go very well). I also think that there’s been too much focus on sending data inward rather than out. There’s also been way too much focus on cultivating the software in relation to cultivating the community. With the new hires, and with Kitsune almost done, it looks like that will change, however if people aren’t asking the right questions, using the right measures, then in the end it won’t be any different from where it started.

Happy Firefox 3.5!

By now of course you’ve downloaded Firefox 3.5 and enjoyed the best browser update yet! It’s very exciting, and there are so many great improvements to discover. If you can handle any more excitement, we have some bad news. We’ve lost our pandas! We’ve been spending so much time getting our Firefoxes (aka red pandas) ready for their new homes, that they all managed to sneak out when we weren’t looking. We need your help to find them and bring them home.

They can’t have gotten too far, look for them wandering around the Mozilla websphere. Don’t forget to sign up for the hunt so we can get you set up with the tools you’ll need to catch them. You can also follow @mozhunt on twitter for updates on how many pandas we’ve lost, and clues about where they might like to hide.

Oh! I think I just saw one go by now!

Exploration Panda

P.S. If you have a Mozilla related website or blog that you think might be a cozy spot for a panda to hide, please contact me via email/IM/IRC etc!

Happy Easter!

Some of you may have seen or received one of the Mozilla Community driven ecards that went around for Valentine’s Day or Holi. Well, we’ve struck again, and this time I helped! Hidden Egg

Easter Foxkeh

Why not send an Easter message to your friends telling them how great Firefox is, all with the help of Foxkeh and his delicious Easter egg?

It was a very good year

I’ve very much enjoyed this past year and my role as the Live Chat community lead. It’s been a very cool experience helping establish a new project with a new team, especially one that so directly impacts users. We saw incredible turn out and some really great feedback when we launched last December. Since then we’ve made several changes to improve the process. The software that we’re using which was partially open source when we chose it has no been fully opened and now the possibilities for making the improvements we’ve wanted to are very exciting. We’ve also been through a release and a major update and it was really great working with other contributors to help so many people experience Firefox 3 properly.

I can’t wait to see what will happen with Live Chat in the coming year!

Working on Live Chat has also given me a chance to develop my skills and get a feel for what types of tasks I really love. I really love helping people and interacting with them. Being able to help someone do what they’re trying to do is always a great feeling. I think my favorite project though was organizing the June Support Firefox Day. All in all I think my favorite parts have all been the ones that involved working with other people to do some awesome things. Working with Jason, Chris and David has been a great experience.

While support is very dear to my heart, that’s been my major role in the Mozilla community to date. I have some opportunities to pursue projects that involve doing some other things that I love and hone some skills that I’ve had fewer chances to use in my current role. I’m definitely going to stay as involved with support as I can, but I’m also going to enjoy letting someone else take the leadership role with Live Chat and seeing what they can do with it.

Look for an announcement soon on who’s taking over!

Wo ist die Bibliothek?

If my IRC hostname hasn’t already tipped you off, I’m in Europe! This is my first trip beyond North America and it’s very exciting. One side of my family is Danish and everyone older than me has been to at least Denmark and Germany. I have to help that I was watching Enchanted on the plane, which happens to be a very good movie, btw).

With two kids, five cats, and a S.O. very focused on the release cycle I realized I needed a vacation to not only retain my sanity, but to actually get some of my own work done. The fact that I’m actually in Europe is happy serendipity borne from access to Aeroplan points and having a free place to stay complete with internet.

A very happy side effect of the time difference is that I can be around to help out all our European volunteers who have wanted to learn the Live Chat ropes but haven’t been able to make their hours fit with ours. If that describes you and you’d like to take advantage, please find me on in #livechat or send me a message in Spark including the time that works out for you. I’ll be around this evening around 8pm CEST and will play it by ear from there.

Avoiding helper burnout

Any new project seems to take a very large time commitment from a small group of people to get it off the ground and Live Chat has been no different. We’ve had some unique challenges in that we’ve been in demand since we opened, rather than seeing our user base grow as we do. This has left us trying to grow our community of helpers as fast as possible while still trying to support as many users as possible. Finding a balance between making things comfortable for helpers while still being accessible to users has been an interesting process.

At first we focused very hard on the user, taking as many chats as possible, being open a wide range of hours so that everyone had a chance to get chat support. This worked when we first opened, when we were new, and everyone was home for the holidays with some time to lend a hand. As people went back to school, or realized real time support wasn’t for them, we were left with a handful of brave souls trying to help just as many users in just as many hours.

People stopped having fun.

This is obviously a problem. For a volunteer community to thrive, helping has to feel good. Not only that, but the quality of support the user receives declines incredibly when they’re being helped by someone who’s worried about developing a RSI. As counter-intuitive as it was at first, I realized we needed to improve the support we give our users by scaling back.

The first change we instituted was the change in hours. We focused less on trying to be accessible at different times, and focused on simply being accessible. Later shifts make it easier for students and people with day jobs to turn up. Shorter shifts make it easier for one or two people, like our room monitors, to stick around for the whole thing. It also makes it easier to remember when our official hours are as they are consistent rather than alternating based on the day.

A big change that’s made a world of difference though, has been playing around with the max number of chats any helper can have at once. At first we agreed to set it high so that people could decide for themselves how many chats they could handle. This proved to be overwhelming to new helpers. Even for veterans it was hard to ignore new chat requests and we ended up spreading ourselves too thin. We tried setting the limit to 5 chats as that would let us take most of the chats in queue, but even I found that impossible to keep up with. Finally, after a fair bit of argument that it’s better for the user if we take fewer chats at once and let some people wait a little longer in the queue, we’ve set the max to 4.

What a difference that one chat makes! Now, with only 2 or 3 helpers on a full shift is easy to do, and our wait times have hardly been affected (which are still 30 seconds or less, I might add. Quite ridiculous for a volunteer community so small, way to go guys!). It’s also easy to limit yourself to fewer chats. Currently the software counts a chat as open as long as the helper still has it open, so if you can only handle 2 at once, leave 2 finished chats open. People have stopped saying they’ll come on only if we really need them.

We’re having fun again.

Coming up we’re looking for a good way to sign up for shifts so our helpers can tell when they’re most needed and when they don’t have to feel guilty for having drinks with friends, or sleeping (*cough*Cww*cough*). Calendaring software seems like the right answer but actually has many drawbacks for our use. Ideally I can specify the shifts, as well as how many helpers and room monitors we want to have during that time, and then helpers can highlight chunks of time and sign up. It should all be web based, and hopefully free! If you know of something that sounds like it would work, please let me know!

Live Chat helper approvals – take 2

I posted earlier about our system for doing Live Chat approvals for new helpers. Unfortunately this fell apart for two reasons. First being, I’m the only one who can flip the switch on accounts. Second being, most new helpers were coming around after hours, which is great, that’s when we need more helpers, but that also meant I wasn’t around. We quickly realized this wasn’t going to work.

The ideal solution needed to take several things into account:

  1. New helpers shouldn’t be able to open help without a Room Monitor to supervise
  2. They need to be able to get to users without waiting for me to approve them
  3. They need to see the same UI as they would in a regular help chat

We stuck our heads together, and came up with what we think will be a working solution. So with many apologies to those who signed up and were never approved, here’s how it works now.

  1. Sign up for an account though the Spark client as always. Instead of being automatically added to the support group, or having to wait for approval, you’ll now be added to a “trainees” group.
  2. Join the Contributors conference. Let people know that you’re new and would like to be invited to help chats. You can also let us know in #livechat on
  3. Watch for invitations to join help chats. When we’re open and taking requests, the trainees group will be invited to shadow these chats using the same alerts and UI that you’ll see when taking requests yourself.
  4. Help out a few requests to learn the ropes. Once you’ve followed and helped with enough chats to pick up how things work, the helpers you’ve been working with will let me know that you’re ready to help users on your own. I’ll add people to the support team when I’m around. This will usually be within 24 hours of being told you’re ready.

If you’ve already signed up for an account but were never approved, please let me know here, send me or someone else a message on Spark, or let someone know on IRC. I’ll make sure to take care of these accounts ASAP. Again, I apologize whole heartedly for the process fail. Please let us know if there are still issues with the new process.

If this is new to you and you’d like to help out, get started here.

Live Chat helper tools

In my last post I talked about the need for our volunteers share their knowledge with each other, and learn the ropes of providing user support. Since our medium is very much one to one and real time, it’s harder to learn from others than it is on a support forum, or even on IRC. We’ve put some tools in place that we hope will give new helpers a jump start on giving support, and help everyone stay on top of new answers and new ideas for being a better helper.

Bookmarks menu item in the Spark client

The first place to look for tools is the Bookmarks menu in the Spark client. These bookmarks are set on the server, so everyone always has the same links to important resources. I’ve included links to the other tools mentioned here, SUMO’s homepage, as well as to the Live Chat category of this blog. Let us know if we’re missing a link that you think should be included.

Live Chat introduction to Spark

We’ve put together an introduction to Spark’s interface. It covers all of the functions you’ll use when providing support via Live Chat.

Live Chat basic support handbook

Our basic support handbook details the basics of getting a user a good answer as fast as possible. It’s especially meant for new helpers who aren’t sure where to start, but it’s also good for experienced volunteers. Give it a read. Don’t feel compelled to stick to it if you think it doesn’t apply to the case you’re helping with, though some of the sections are “must follow” and that will be noted in them. Suggestions are always welcome, and this article will be updated when we hit common issues that need a guide.

Live Chat tips and tricks

As an experiment, I’ve set up a copy of the chirpy! quote database software. Submit any tips or tricks you have for giving users good support. Some things you might want to contribute are answers you couldn’t find on the knowledge base, shortcuts to diagnose a specific issue, or maybe even a good way to explain something that makes it easier for users to understand.

Make sure to read the latest submissions and vote up ones you find useful or insightful. Top submissions will be reviewed and added to our articles or other resources as appropriate. This is especially important for answers to new problems. This way we can share possible solutions for each other to test out before they could be added to a knowledge base article as a definitive answer.

Submissions aren’t expected to be in quote form, ignore that it’s a “quote” database. Depending on the tip you’re submitting, summarizing it in your own words is usually best, though it’s okay to just copy/paste how you said it in a chat with a user. All submissions are moderated, to make sure dangerous or incorrect suggestions aren’t promoted.

Have a good idea we’ve missed?

We’re constantly re-evaluating the best ways to support our helpers. Currently we’re looking for good free software to track who can help when, something that works more like a sign up sheet rather than a traditional calendar. If you know of anything please drop a link! Any other ideas that you think will help are also welcome.