my first week as a SUMO contributor

People across the Mozilla project point to SUMO (Support Mozilla) as a model of effective contribution.The forums are active, the contributors engaged, and they have systems like the Kitsune API and the Army of Awesome to make contribution simple and fun.

As a lead on the Community Building Pathways working group, I decided to try out a series of different pathways across the organization to see how easy it was to plug into the Mozilla contributor base from coding to SUMO to Webmaker. I’m still trying all of these pathways, but I’ll use this first post to talk about the experience of dedicating time to SUMO in particular.

The first step in becoming a SUMO volunteer is creating a profile. While at first I used the handle I always use (jennierose,) I became a bit concerned about my privacy and changed my name to bibliophile after answering a few questions. I similarly did not feel comfortable answering tweets from my personal twitter account through the Army of Awesome due to the possibility of opening myself up to spam or harassment.

It is definitely possible to contribute to SUMO anonymously, but many people do not. I personally set up my account some months before I started contributing, and I was surprised when my name and picture popped up next to my response. After changing my account to a more anonymous avatar and handle I felt much better about interacting with strangers.

The primary way in which SUMO contributors interact with one another is through the forums, which range in subject matter from Community Discussions to off-topic conversations on a variety of support subjects. There is also an IRC room, which I have not yet explored. SUMO’s tone is overwhelmingly positive, and contributors seem genuinely happy to help one another. I experienced no harassment or behavior in violation of the Code of Conduct, but I wonder how SUMO deals with problem questions or contributors.

I enjoyed the fact that the onus of contribution was entirely autonomous. For example, my post in the “Looking for a Buddy” forum read:

hey all! I’m a Mozilla contributor wanting to create documentation and improve the help forums. I’ve started to do a little alone, but I’d love to have a buddy to help me through the getting started process. I’m also doing a lot of work around mentoring at Mozilla, so I’m really interested in this system and excited to get started with all of you.

and the response:

Bibliophile,

I’m glad to hear that you want to help with articles! We have a number of tools and helpful documentation to get you started. Here is some helpful information on getting started with using the Knowledge Base (KB).

If you want to help make an article better and easier to understand, you can do that too! You can see what articles need updating by going to Articles:needchanges. Once you submit a change (revision), it’ll then be looked at by a reviewer and if it’s approved, it’ll be published to the site and made live! This link will help you out more. Just scroll down to the bottom until you see Complete list of article writing documentation That’s the go-to stop for editing the KB.

If you need any help, let me know!

What I like about the response is that it is now my responsibility to continue contributing. My buddy provided me the tools, and I know what they are looking for. It’s one step away from a canned response, but it feels personal, includes my handle, and addresses me as an equal. I can easily reach out to this person again and ask for more help, or chat with other people in the forum or work on articles.

In terms of barriers to entry, one has to accept that their first answers to questions or edits to articles may not be definitive or even the best. Since I began, I have provided 6 answers, and only one has been flagged as a solution. (And even then it wasn’t really a good solution!) I answered a few questions and people provided better answers than mine, or understood what the person was asking more concretely because they had more experience. I consider this a part of learning, and my fellow contributors were so gracious that it did not seem an affront.

Something that surprised me about SUMO was how quickly people answered each other and responded to help requests as well as corrected my answers to questions. What was similarly unique was that different people responded; though there is definitely a core group of SUMO contributors, at the same time, the core group is large enough that different people supported my work consistently. Similarly, I was surprised at how little I needed to know in order to answer questions! Every day there are quite a few “low hanging fruit” questions, either questions that you can answer via a Google search or minimal knowledge of the product. I learned a good deal answering support questions, and appreciate how you can choose which questions to answer and consistently find something new to do. There is a constant workflow for SUMO, and the interface makes it easy to find new contributions. Similarly, the contributions are tangible (participate in a forum, answer a question, write an article,) so recognition can be quantified as well.

In short, SUMO is an excellent and simple way to get involved with Mozilla. It is low barrier to entry, self-driven, and moderated extremely well by a large group of people. SUMO may not be for the very shy or the very proud, but for me, it was a great way to begin to grow my technical writing and support forum skills.

Next steps? Hilfe auf Deutsch, naturlich!

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