Firefox is used by around 350 million people all over the world. There aren’t many commercial applications that can claim that and I don’t know of any free and open source software that has a userbase even close to that. And what is even more amazing: Almost all of our user have chosen our product over another one. Almost all of them already had a browser on their system and still did download our software.
But even more amazing: We are competing with Apple, Google and Microsoft, the biggest IT companies in the world. Having even only one of them as a competitor is crazy, but we are competing with ALL of them and we don’t have a real advertising budget. In fact our whole income is not even close to the marketing budget of even one of our competitors. And what is even more amazing: Not only are we able to compete with them, but we even do better than them. People are choosing us actively over Apple’s pre-installed Safari and Microsoft’s pre-installed Internet Explorer.
While this is all … well … amazing it also puts a lot of responsibility on us. A great mind once said: “With great power comes great responsibility”. A quarter of the Internet population trusts us with their data (passwords, browsing history, bookmarks) and their browsing experience. They trust that we will make sure they will never ever lose their data and they trust that we’ll make sure that their browser will just work. Always.
That’s a lot of pressure coming from 350 million people. We work hard, everyday around the clock (benefit of having contributors in almost every time zone) to make sure we meet the expectations of our user. Still, nobody is perfect. In some cases we may have screwed up, after all we have 350 million users on just as many different computers with different operating systems. In other cases someone else may have screwed up and may affect the browsing experience of our users. In a perfect world that would never happen, users would know the manuals by heart and no software would ever be released with any bugs left in it. Well, the world is not perfect, users don’t know all the tricks needed to get the software to do what they want and software, operating systems and applications do have bugs. This is our opportunity to shine. We can’t create a perfect world nor can for example doctors, but like doctors we can help people and heal what is broken.
That is the power of support. We can give people aid in how to prevent problems and we can give them instructions what to do if something goes wrong. Sure we seldom engage in life and death matters, but neither do most dentist or optometrists. I still wouldn’t want to live without them. There are even more parallels if you think about it: nobody want’s to go to a doctor, but everybody is hoping for them to be available should they ever need them.
Unfortunately tech support has a bad reputation. Most organizations see support only as a cost center. But cost centers have to be held down, nobody will praise you for having doubled your expenses for a cost center. That is why people dread tech support and just hope to never have to deal with it. That is both, the giving end and the receiving end. Fortunately though Mozilla sees support as an important part of the project and one more way to be a pioneer for free and open source software. There are not many projects to take cues from on how to offer support for 350 million people, but that makes it all the more challenging. And since it is our goal to offer the best possible support experience in the world, the winners will be all users, not only ours.