Personal Weblogs And Free Hosted Online Blogware Success: The Role Of Usability

Six months of work completed, the final submitted thesis paper is attached. Click on the link below to download.

Kathy Cook MSC Computing Interaction Design Dissertation AUGUST 23 2010

This project has focused on the usability of Blogware and Weblogs, the biggest area of Web 2.0 user generated content. This study has focused on one type of Blogware: free, hosted, browser-based Blogware. This study has also focused on one type of Weblog: personal Weblogs, written by individuals, not by groups of authors or for businesses.

The main question was whether or not the usability of free hosted browser-based Blogware impacts, or not, on the usability of the personal Weblogs they create? The hypothesis was that Blogware with good usability will be more likely to generate Weblogs with better usability. The aims and objectives of this study were to analyse the relationship between free hosted browser-based Blogware usability and the usability of personal Weblogs they create.

As this has focused on free hosted Blogware used through a browser this study is not conclusive for all types of Blogware but the conclusions indicate areas for further research. This study has focused on the top five (most used) free hosted browser-based Blogware. The variation in the features in UI design between Blogware has been controlled through the tasks used in usability testing to ensure the results focus on the usability and not the features of Blogware. Additionally as this study has focused on Personal Weblogs, the conclusions may not extend to other types of Weblogs, but indicate areas for further research.

Previous work has looked at the relationship between Blogware technology and Weblog success but has not investigated the usability of Blogware technology and Weblog success.

The contribution of this study is to identify whether or not the usability of browser-based Blogware impacts, or not, on the usability and usage of personal weblogs they create. This could then be used as the basis for further research into investigating the usability of other Blogware, other Weblog types, other Web 2.0 software such and other Blogger types.

The methodology has included Expert Heuristic Usability Evaluation, Summative and Comparative usability testing and a SUMI questionnaire. The quantitative and qualitative data collected have provided an empirical basis to learn and make judgements about Blogware usability for the development of design guidelines to improve browser-based Blogware usability. The data collected also provide usability best practice guidelines for bloggers.

After identifying which Blogware tools created which of the Weblogs this study has analysed and identified that there is a correlation between the usability of the Blogware and the usability of the Weblogs they created.

This paper presents the findings. Click on the link below to download the PDF of the thesis:

Kathy Cook MSC Computing Interaction Design Dissertation AUGUST 23 2010

Posted in Blog Design, Blog Usability, Blog user experience, Blogging Tools, dissertation, Thesis, User Experience | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Usability of free online hosted blogging services compared

  • WordPress.com was the online free hosted Blogware services out of those evaluated (The Top 5 most used) which had the best usability.

Free online hosted Blogware service usability comparison

  • TypePad Micro was almost as good as WordPress.com but does not offer users the same degree of creative flexibility and freedom, and given the user persona of the Hobbyist Blogger would be the main user, and their key motivation is to ‘express myself’ so this would have a bigger negative impact on the overall user experience than other factors.

Free online hosted Blogware service average usability comparison

 

  • Blogger was the third most successful platform.
  • Xanga and LiveJournal had the most usability issues, with LiveJournal being the Blogware service which rated the worst for usability and user experience.
  • Overall Online free hosted Blogware service usability averages at 3.6, so generally usable with minor concerns.
  • Online free hosted Blogware services overall are generally best at:
    • Facilitating learning, so generally follow Internet platform conventions, generally offer good Internal consistency – including visual identity, use of text, supports user control and freedom and actions such as undo and redo.
    • Effective error management
    • Taking account of human limitations
    • Providing effective help resources.
  • Online free hosted Blogware services generally need to improve at:
    • Ensuring visual elements do not compromise usability
    • Providing a simple state space which focuses on users’ needs
    • Offering efficient and effective navigation and giving the user greater control AND freedom.
Posted in Blogging Tools, Thesis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

LiveJournal Heuristic Usability Evaluation

Click here for Heuristic Usability Evaluation of LiveJournal

The usability issues highlighted within this evaluation indicate how this could be improved and point towards recommendations for further redesign. Improvements would improve the effectiveness, efficiency, safety and learnability of the application. Improving these would improve overall usage and ability to retain users.

Background

  • LiveJournal was evaluated from the point of view of the Hobbyist Blogger, the persona who fits the scope of this research project, as being the dominant user type of blogger (as opposed to Bloggers who may blog for professional or semi-professional reasons) These Hobbyist bloggers blog for personal reasons, motivated by self-expression.
  • LiveJournal was chosen as one of the leading (most used) five free hosted online blogging services, along with WordPress.com, Blogger, Xanga, and TypePad.
  • This is because this kind of free online hosted service is the type of blogging platform most used by this type of Hobbyist user. Other products, such as a premium paid-for version, will be used more by other user personas.
  • The scope of this study does not include premium services and does not include offline software versions of blogging tools users have to download and host themselves.
  • This is a user-centred approach to evaluating the usability of LiveJournal for this profile of users. The methodology is a heuristic evaluation, which is limited as it does not include actual users – it is not a usability test. It is simply an overview of how well the interface would meet usability and user experience goals. As such, by not involving actual users, it is limited. However the same methodology has been used consistently throughout the study for all of the free online hosted blogging services being evaluated. 
  • The second half of this study, which is to evaluate the usability of blogs published using these free online hosted blogging services, is involving actual users in summative usability testing. 

Conclusions

LiveJournal has significant usability issues.
Average score – 2.3

Best bits – best for design flexibility

  • The best aspect of LiveJournal is the freedom it gives users to express their creativity with the fantastic flexibility it offers to change the look and feel of the design of their blog.
  • This will be very motivating for these users whose primary motivations to blog are about self-expression, and LiveJournal’s design flexibility will enable users to do that very effectively.
  • LiveJournal lets you design your journal style any way you want. There are hundreds of layouts to choose from, each with a wizard to help you customize header, footers, and sidebars.
  • This will contribute to a more positive perception in users of their experience of using LiveJournal because this is such a key factor for users.
  • LiveJournal was the best blogging platform out of those evaluated at giving users this design and creative flexibility.

However none of the main key factors evaluated had exemplary or good usability. At best LiveJournal has minor usability concerns.

Areas for attention – major usability flaws

There are major usability flaws with the visual presentation of LiveJournal screens:

Visual elements compromise usability

  • The homepage does not have an appropriate mix of visual attractors and distractors.
  • There are a lot of images and graphics which clutter the screen and are over-used.
  • Animation is a distraction.
  • Advertising distracts and fills the screen space down the right hand side.
  • User profile icons are animated and distract for each post being promoted.
  • Visual presentation does not focus on the message, the visual elements which stand out the most on the screen are profile pictures for bloggers and the advertising.
  • The image graphic behind the LiveJournal logo at the top adds to more noise.
  • The homepage composition has the main navigation bar and user login at the top which is very effective, but it does not concentrate the user on main tasks, instead the main body of the homepage is filled up with Recent Posts by other bloggers and ONTD Oh No They Didn’t – which users may not understand, this is not self-explanatory.
  • The overall affect is the user’s short-term memory will be bombarded by all these different visual elements all competing with each other for the user’s attention, and the user will end up having to think much harder to work their way through what is going on.
  • The logged-in Homepage is the same as the main LiveJournal public homepage, so has all the issues of the public homepage but is worse because the user will be signed-in with specific goals/ tasks in mind (see stats, write post, manage posts, change blog design etc) which are all hidden behind the main navigation of the blog. The entire homepage for the signed-in user does not focus the user on the main tasks and instead will act as a distraction for the user as every time their first actions will be to go to the navigation bar and have to select the menu items to do the tasks they want to do.
  • It is very inefficient.

The design is not a simple state space

  • The design is not simple, it does not focus users on the main tasks, there is a lot of information throughout always pushing LiveJournal features and products.
  • Despite this the utility of the homepage with the information that is provided does not clearly explain the benefits of LiveJournal and why users should use this in preference to another free online blogging service. It gives a lot of examples of LiveJournal blogs, but does not quickly articulate to users why LiveJournal is better than others or how it works. There is a Take a Tour facility, but this is buried amongst a lot of other information and takes time to find and follow.
  • The main homepage is all about LiveJournal content and not about the user. A lot of the issues identified in the previous section with the homepage were about it not being a simple state space.
  • The additional pages add complexity which reduce the simple state space – navigation menus have options which appear in some instances to duplicate each other, users will have to think harder to work out which option to select.
  • Generally the user has to take too many actions to get from the homepage to complete a task as there are so many pages and the structure is complex.
  • Pages are not managed very effectively – they are too long, users have to scroll in every case, because of advertising at the top and down the sides.
  • Hypertext navigation does not aid structuring.
  • Text is not kept to a minimum. For example on the ‘Post an entry’ screen there are a lot of other links to ‘more ways to post’. This information would be more effective in the blog settings where a user would manage these infrequently, instead of always on a screen which the user will use the most, and they unnecessarily get in the way and clutter up the screen.
  • Advertising is very distracting.
  • Inconsistent navigation menus add to the complexity of the design. The homepage has two navigation systems across the top, when one would be more simple and effective.
  • All of this reduces the efficiency of the site, making it inefficient to use.

Areas for attention – significant issues

  • The Homepage does not ensure intuitive access to main user tasks.
  • LiveJournal’s structure does not match with user needs, the decomposition of tasks is not evident in the site structure.
  • There are significant issues with how it presents a visible system status.
  • The user interface does not match the language of users.
  • It does not enable effective and efficient navigation.

All of these issues combine to impact on the other areas of LiveJournal’s user interface to result in some minor usability concerns.

NB – Scoring is measured as:

0 usability catastrophe
1 serious usability flaws
2 significant issues
3 minor concerns
4 generally usable
5 exemplar for usability

Click here for Heuristic Usability Evaluation of LiveJournal

See related post – click here for Xanga usability review

See related post – click here for WordPress.com usability review

 See related post – click here for Blogger usability review

See related post – click here for blog usability study

Feel free to Share!

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to MySpaceAdd to NewsvineAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Posted in Blogging Tools, Thesis | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The art of simplicity: TypePad Micro

TypePad Micro is the easiest online free hosted blogging service to learn to use and the easiest to remember how to use out of the Top 5 most used blogging services of this type.

This is due to how much it supports users, and facilitates learning, but it is also due to the simplicity of its structure.

This is the structure of TypePad Micro:

See how it to compares to the structure of LiveJournal:

Not surprisingly, users will find it easier to learn and easier to remember how to use TypePad Micro, as the structure is focused entirely on users’ needs and tasks. This means more users will be using TypePad Micro quicker, and enjoy all the benefits of blogging quicker. Less is definitely more!

Posted in Blogging Tools | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Heuristic Usability Evaluation of TypePad

Click here for Heuristic Usability Evaluation Typepad

The usability issues highlighted within this evaluation indicate how TypePad could be improved and point towards recommendations for further redesign. Improvements would improve the effectiveness, efficiency, safety and learnability of the application. Improving these would improve overall usage and ability to retain users.

Background

  • TypePad Micro was evaluated from the point of view of the Hobbyist Blogger, the persona who fits the scope of this research project, as being the dominant user type of blogger (as opposed to Bloggers who may blog for professional or semi-professional reasons) These Hobbyist bloggers blog for personal reasons, motivated by self-expression. 
  • TypePad was chosen as one of the leading (most used) five free hosted online blogging services, along with WordPress.com, Blogger, Xanga, and Livejournal.
  • This is because this kind of free online hosted service is the type of blogging platform most used by this type of Hobbyist user. Other products, such as TypePad Pro, will be used more by other user types of users.
  • The scope of this study does not include premium services, such as TypePad Pro, and does not include offline software versions of blogging tools users have to download and host themselves.
  • This is a user-centred approach to evaluating the usability of TypePad for this profile of users. The methodology is a heuristic evaluation, which is limited as it does not include actual users – it is not a usability test. It is simply an overview of how well the interface would meet usability and user experience goals. As such, by not involving actual users, it is limited. However the same methodology has been used consistently throughout the study for all of the free online hosted blogging services being evaluated. 
  • The second half of this study, which is to evaluate the usability of blogs published using these free online hosted blogging services, is involving actual users in summative usability testing. 

Conclusions

TypePad Micro is generally usable with some exemplary usability.
Average score – 4.3.

Best bits

  • 7 out of 12 (58%) of the key factors evaluated in the TypePad Micro interface had exemplary usability.
  • This blogging platform has the most factors with exemplary usability out of those evaluated.
  • These were:
  1. The design ensures visual elements do not compromise usability.
  2. In matching the structure with the users’ needs – both with ensuring decomposition of users’ tasks is evident in the interface structure and ensuring the design provides a simple state space.
  3. In the provision of usable e-functions it offers very effective error management.
  4. It is user-centred; it matches language with target user needs.
  5. The user interface supports the user both with the provision of quality help documentation and facilitates learning.

Great usability

  • The most successful aspect of TypePad Micro is how much it supports the user and exceptionally meets learnability goals for users.
  • TypePad Micro successfully meets usability goals of being effective, efficient, and safe to use, easy to learn, easy to remember how to use and with excellent utility for the functionality and information that is provided. Users will be able to achieve their main tasks and goals blogging with TypePad Micro.

Delightful user experience

  • The TypePad Micro interface very successfully meets user experience goals. The overall user experience is simple, engaging and positive with information, features and functionality which will enrich the user’s blogging experience and make them feel positive, that TypePad is: Enjoyable: pleasurable, entertaining, fun, emotionally fulfilling, satisfying, rewarding, desirable, Motivating: engaging, exciting, aesthetically pleasing, useful, valuable, Helpful: enhances sociability. It works a lot harder to be more than just efficient, effective and useful, the rich user experience will make the tool much more engaging.

Best for social networking

  • TypePad Micro was the best blogging platform evaluated for meeting sociability skills with users, helping them to share with others using social networking, and providing very easy built-in social networking functionality into the blogs published, to further enhance the social network for a blogger.
  • It will also feel familiar to bloggers who are familiar with social networking products such as Facebook and Twitter – it feels like a blend of Twitter and Blogger. This familiarity with these other products will also make TypePad Micro feel more familiar to users, further enhancing how easy to learn it will be.

Areas for attention:

There are some minor concerns with visibility of the system status so users may not always know what is going on and the efficiency and effectiveness of the navigation.

Worst for design

  • One aspect which has a quite serious concern with significant issues is how little it gives users control and freedom to change the design of their blog.
  • This means TypePad Micro is very weak at supporting creativity and self-expression for users.
  • It was the worst blogging tool evaluated in this study for the limited amount users could change the design of their blog.
  • The user experience is very similar to Blogger but does not offer the same scope to enhance the design of the blog.
  • It only offers users 3 design ‘themes’ and users are very restricted in how much they can play around with these.
  • This will impact on the primary motivation for Hobbyist Bloggers which is personal self-expression. If self-expression was less critical to the intended user group this would be less of an issue, but because it is so fundamental to meeting the primary needs of why users blog in the first place, this will demotivate and frustrate users to the point of stopping using the tool.
  • TypePad Micro a free online hosted service. In the TypePad portfolio of blogging tools on offer it is not their premium ‘TypePad Pro’ product. These cater for more advanced or technically adept users or bloggers who have several years of blogging experience and want something more than the basic TypePad offering.
  • If TypePad Micro provided more than 3 design themes and more flexibility for users to play around with these it would have scored better and overall would have been the best blogging platform for usability and user experience, but the severe limitations it offered with this meant overall the user experience was not as good as WordPress.com

NB – Scoring is measured as:

0 usability catastrophe
1 serious usability flaws
2 significant issues
3 minor concerns
4 generally usable
5 exemplar for usability

Click here for Heuristic Usability Evaluation Typepad

See related post – heuristic usability evaluation of Xanga

See related post – heuristic usability evaluation of WordPress.com

See related post – heuristic usability evaluation of Blogger

See related post – usability study of blogs created using TypePad, Xanga, WordPress.com, Blogger and LiveJournal.

Feel free to Share!

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to MySpaceAdd to NewsvineAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Posted in Blogging Tools, Thesis | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Usability Study of Five Personal Blogs

Click on this link to download the full Usability Study Five Personal Blogs Full Report PDF which provides the full details of the usability findings for each of the blogs plus methodology and user profiles.

This usability study has been done as part of a postgraduate research project for a dissertation investigating the relationship between the usability of blogging platforms and the blogs they publish.

Five blog user interface designs were evaluated by 6 users in two hour usability tests divided into two sessions per user. These blogs were chosen as they were the highest Technorati ranked personal blogs (not created by groups or for corporate organisations) created by individual bloggers from each of the most used free online hosted blogging platforms: WordPress.com, Blogger, Livejournal, Xanga and Typepad. They are all personal blogs written by individuals.

The five blogs evaluated were:

1) http://althouse.blogspot.com/
2) http://jolieodell.wordpress.com/
3) http://huck-muleeva.xanga.com/ 
4) http://sethgodin.typepad.com/
5) http://writerjenn.livejournal.com/

Summary

Blog usability summary

  • Jolie O’Dell’s blog published on WordPress.com had the user interface that scored the best for usability and user experience overall with 4.1 with a good and overall usable and satisfying to use user interface.
  • Writerjenn blog published on LiveJournal had a user interface which scored 3.1, a satisfying user experience but with some minor concerns about the usability.
  • Seth Godin’s blog published on Typepad had a user interface which has combination of some significant and minor concerns with the usability which impacted on user satisfaction, scoring 2.6.
  • Althouse (2.4) published on Blogger.com had a user interface with some significant issues with the usability which impacted on user satisfaction.
  • Huck_Muleeva blog published on Xanga had a user interface with the most significant usability and user experience issues (2.3).

All the blogs had some examples of exemplary usability with some aspects of their user interfaces.

  • The utility of the information and functionality in the user interface is the biggest contributing factor to how effective the user interface is at enabling users to do what they would expect to do.
  • Successes and issues with the utility, which contributed to successes and issues with the effectiveness, also had the biggest influence over users’ perceptions of the user experience.
  • The devil is in the detail – blog publishers who ignore the details of the interaction, functionality and information on their blog user interfaces, are doing so at a cost.

Blog user interface success stories

This is the fundamental list of things the blog user interface must get right because user expectations will be that most blogs do get these things right. Most blogs enable these tasks so easily that if a blog doesn’t support users to do these things it has a disproportionate impact on their perception of the user experience. E.g. Seth Godin’s blog which didn’t offer or enable comments.

  • Blog user interfaces are in the main providing good utility for providing information at the right time to gauge readership (comment counters, retweet counters, Facebook ‘like’ counters), clear Time and date utility, enabling users to easily View comments, Profile information and information to Leave comments.
  • This means most bloggers in most blog user interfaces are easily able to: find and read the latest post; understand how up-to-date, current and immediate information is in a post, how recent the post was posted; understand who the blogger is and if they are relevant, expert, and credible, someone they would trust; Understand the level of readership of the blog to determine if this is a credible blog with a following of readers; Read comments from other readers; Comment on a post.
  • The utility to enable users to do these things is ‘just expected’, if it’s not there, it will be to the detriment of the user experience of that blog’s user interface.

Blog user interface usability issues

1. Subscribing makes users think too hard.

All blogs had issues with the utility of subscribe functionality. All the users in this study met the profile of Hobbyist bloggers, so are actively involved in blogging and reading blogs, are members of the ‘Blogosphere’ but still had issues with RSS Feed Readers. Email subscription is still the default preferred easiest option; it requires the least cognitive effort by users. Blog user interfaces made users think to hard about subscribing, and too frequently buried their subscription functionality in a location that was too hidden from users’ eyes to be found.

2. Mystery puzzles make users think too hard

Blog user interfaces do not provide sufficient information at the right time when users need it to explain themselves, too often users don’t know what they’re about, why the blogger is blogging. Titles, headings, introductory text, welcome messages are all needed and need to explain to users what is in this blog and what it is about.

3. Long pages make users work too hard

The default construction of blogs is to have very, very long pages. Users are actually OK with scrolling, this doesn’t have a negative impact until scrolling involves going over 10 page folds they tend to stop there. The blog which had the best user experience still had a very long main page, but the negative impacts of this were resolved by having good content architecture and structure in their blog using content categorisation, tagging and pages which all reduced the effort needed by the users to scroll, they instead used the utility of these features to get to where they needed and find what they wanted.

4. Users can’t find information, can’t search

Blog user interfaces do not make it easy for users to find information of interest to them. Not having an effective content search function in the blog has a big impact on users’ ability to find what they are looking for. But it is not enough to just provide a content search. The content search needs to be visible at the top of the first page and visible to users. The naming and labelling of this function needs to show it is to search this blog, so users don’t confuse it with searching content on the whole blogging platform or Google. If you have search function don’t bury it down several page folds – put it where users need it – at the top.

5. Get organised down there!

Content organisation may require some effort by the blogger, but it is enormously helpful to users and makes a very big difference to their user experience. The efforts will be worth it with happier readers. Linking to related articles or posts, tagging, and content categorisation will all help users to find information they are looking for, but having a visible and effective search facility will make the biggest difference. For content tagging try and consolidate the number of tags so there are not hundreds. If there are too many they become ‘noise’ to users and ineffective at helping them to find information. Use a tag cloud or some kind of navigation menu so users can see the content options at the top of the first screen. The blog which had the best user experience had used tags and had also used content categories and presented these in a drop-down menu. This proved very, very effective for users and had a big impact on their perception of the usability of this blog’s user interface. The blog which had the best user experience also had very clear pages of static content.

6. No navigation, no way home

Most of the blog user interfaces did not offer functionality and information to enable easy navigation. Many did not consider their main page to be a homepage, and did not present it as this, although this is how users perceive it to be. Not providing a persistent link back to your homepage from all areas your users can access contributes to negative perceptions and some fundamental usability issues. Users get lost, have to think too hard to find their way around, and won’t come back. The blog which had the best user experience had a very clear and persistent link to ‘Home’ and a very clear navigation bar which was very visible to users at the top of the user interface where they expected to find it, and could see it. This helped users to navigate through pages of content.

7. Users can’t share the love

Blog readers want to share content from blogs; it is a very motivating and key part of their experience. The more the content of a blog gets shared, the more traffic will be driven back to it, it’s a virtuous circle. However this circle is being broken in most cases because most blog user interfaces make users think too hard to share information from a blog. Twitter Retweet, Facebook ‘like it’ and email sharing are all essential, blogs which don’t provide these are causing a great deal of frustration. But don’t assume that just because Twitter is used so much that all your users will be OK with just this – users want flexibility to be in control of how they share your content with others. The sharing functionality must feel like it is part of your blog, so users don’t feel like they are being sent somewhere else to do this, where they will feel lost and out of control. The user experience of functions like TweetMeme could be improved as the screen that comes up worries users; it needs to be more self-explanatory.

Feel free to Share!

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to MySpaceAdd to NewsvineAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Posted in Blog Usability, Blogging Tools, Thesis | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

iPad Experience Wins the Beauty Pageant – but…

iPad Apps and websites would win any Beauty Pageant, according to Jakob Nielsen’s recent report from a very comprehensive usability study of Apps and Websites on the iPad. You can get the original PDF report here Jakob Nielsen iPad Apps and Websites Usability or you can click to go to their website here.

“Perhaps the biggest strength of the iPad is the ability to display amazing graphics. Apps that take advantage of this capability amazed our users and generated enthusiasm. We frequently heard things like “Wow! It’s unbelievable” or “I must get this!”

However – when you’re a user trying to do tasks, you’ll soon be reminded that beauty is only skin deep.

The iPad looks gorgeous, the Apps and Websites used through the iPad look stunning - but when you’re trying to do your shopping you may find it easier to just visit your shops. Or just go back to your Desktop.

Jakob’s report says: “beauty should never come at the cost of being able to actually use the apps to derive real benefits from their features and content.”

So, she’s stunning, but under the bonnet here are some ugly bits which Nielsen has found.

In an article in the Guardian this week, Jakob commented in response to comments:

“The fact that the early apps are often so bad can be partly explained by Apple’s secrecy fetish that prevented the pioneering companies from doing their own user testing, because developers couldn’t get their hands on an iPad until recently and thus also couldn’t test working user interfaces with real users. I have never said that these designers and developers are stupid or incompetent: they would surely have produced better design if they had done user testing. But now we *did* do the user testing, and we can report the findings for everybody else to benefit from.” 

So, what looks gorgeous on the surface, has stuff under the bonnet which will keep designers gainfully employed for some time to come. I have summarised some of the key points from Nielsen’s report:

Poor affordance:

“Anything you can show and touch can be a UI on this device. There are no standards and no expectations. Worse, there are often no perceived affordances for how various screen elements respond when touched. The prevailing aesthetic is very much that of flat images that fill the screen as if they were etched…The re-amergence of a usability problem we haven’t seen since the mid 1990s: Users don’t know where they can click. For the last fifteen years of Web usability research, the main problems have been that users don’t know where to go or which option to choose—not that they don’t even know which options exist. With iPad UIs, we’re back to this square one.”

Answer - make it clear what’s clickable/ touchable in the User Interface. It may not look as gorgeous, but it will work better!

Safety issues

There are overall quite a few ‘safety’ issues with the usability of iPad apps and websites which will all contribute to users feeling unsafe, unconfident, lost, and that if they do something something may go wrong. Some of these are:

  • Inconsistency in UI design – “To exacerbate the problem, once they do figure out how something works, users can’t transfer their skills from one app to the next. Each application has a completely different UI for similar features”
  • Poor learnability – “Low discoverability: The UI is mostly hidden within the etched-glass aesthetic without perceived affordances.”
  • Low memorability: “Gestures are inherently ephemeral and difficult to learn when they’re not employed consistently across apps; wider reliance on generic commands would help.”
  • Accidental activation: This occurs when users touch things by mistake or make a gesture that unexpectedly initiates a feature. This is due to some of the poor utility.

“When you combine these usability problems, the resulting user experience is frequently one of not knowing what happened or how to replicate a certain action to achieve the same result again. Worse yet, people don’t know how to revert to the previous state because there’s no consistent undo feature to provide an escape hatch like the Web’s Back button.”

Answer – Support standard navigation, including a Back feature, search, clickable headlines, and a homepage for most apps.

Utility issues

  • Hard to hit small targets due to the ‘fat finger’ issue.
  • Poor affordance -users don’t know what they can click on.

“There is a read–tap asymmetry on the iPad: text that is big enough for reading may not be big enough for selecting. Unless designers take steps to overcome this read–tap asymmetry, the iPad will be relegated to a purely linear information-consumption device without interactive features and their associated power to place users at the center of creating their own experience…We definitely recommend large touch zones on any web page hoping to attract iPad users.”

  • Tab bar at the bottom works much worse than on the iPhone as gets overlooked.

“From an interaction design perspective, an iPad user interface shouldn’t be a scaled-up iPhone UI” – it may look like a giant iPhone, but the interface design needs to be quite different.

So, she looks gorgeous, but as beauty is in the eye of the beholder this may be a short-lived love affair unless interaction designers get to work on the issues highlighted in Nielsen’s report. I am personally amazed at some of the cranky responses from people to Nielsen’s report summary in the Guardian – this is a fantastic opportunity.

The early adopters of the iPad are the intrepid explorers who are prepared work with these imperfections because they want to be part of this discovery process, but for the iPad to be adopted by a majority mass market who will expect an easy experience, it would appear there’s stuff to sort out.

What’s more, it’s early days, the iPad may never get used like a desktop and instead may be used for more leisure activities or applications and sites which lend themselves more to visual-related tasks, such as being used like an e-book, for photography, or to watch films, and users may still choose apps on an iPhone or the Web on a laptop/desktop to do other stuff. Or we may end up seeing different versions of web sites which have been optimised to the new challenges of the iPad. However things pan out, there are some fundamental points which Nielsen has highlighted which will need resolving and present fantastic opportunities for designers to think about.

You can get the original PDF report here Jakob Nielsen iPad Apps and Websites Usability or you can click to go to their website here.

Posted in User Experience | Leave a comment

Fantastic feedback on Xanga usability evaluation

I have received a fantastic feedback response to my Xanga usability evaluation which you can read at: response to TVUStudent1 Usability evaluation of xanga.com | pantsdude on Xanga.

Posted in Blogging Tools | Tagged , | 1 Comment

I Blog on the iPad…I wish!

Uh-Oh. I appear to have turned into Gollum: “Precious, precious, precious!” I cried. “My Precious! O my Precious! My Precious Shiny Shiny iPad…”

I am greener than an Ent (large walking tree character for those who have not watched Lord of the Rings) about all my friends and colleagues who have My Precious iPad.

In the interests of research, and because I’m just dying to know, what is blogging going to be like on the iPad? Writing a dissertation about the user experience of blogging today without considering the implications of the iPad just isn’t going to stack up.

As it took me longer to save up for an iPhone than it took to film the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy, my chances of getting The Precious iPad in time for my dissertation research is nil.

So I would LOVE to hear all your stories about the iPad.

What do you think the impact of the iPad is having or will have on the experience of people reading blogs and people blogging? What will it help to make better? Can it make anything worse? What implications does it have for bloggers? Will there be ‘iPad friendly themes’ which will work better than others? Since it launched what have your experiences been? What impact has the iPhone had and can you see any of these benefits or issues being extended to the iPad?

Gollum wants The Precious, but for the time-being will be very happy with any comments.

And thinks this is very funny: Dom Joly says Hello to the iPad

Posted in Blog Usability, User Experience | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Xanga.com usability evaluation

 

Xanga

Xanga

Click here to download the PDF of the Heuristic Usability Evaluation of Xanga 

Introduction

Xanga.com was evaluated from the point of view of the Hobbyist Blogger, the persona who fits the scope of my research project, as being the dominant user type of blogger (as opposed to Bloggers who may blog for professional or semi-professional reasons) These Hobbyist bloggers blog for personal reasons, motivated by self-expression. Xanga.com was chosen as one of the leading (most used) five free hosted online blogging services, along with Blogger, WordPress.com, Typepad and Livejournal. This is because this kind of free online hosted service is the type of blogging platform most used by this type of Hobbyist user. Other products, such as Premium Xanga, will be used more by other user personas. The scope of this study does not include premium services, such as WordPress.com VIP and Xanga Premium, and does not include offline software versions of blogging tools users have to download and host themselves, such as WordPress.org. This is a user-centred approach to evaluating the usability of Xanga.com for this profile of users. The methodology is a heuristic evaluation, which is limited as it does not include actual users – it is not a usability test. It is simply an overview of how well the interface would meet usability goals. As such, by not involving actual users, it is limited. However the same methodology has been used consistently throughout the study for all of the free online hosted blogging services being evaluated, and if there is time later in the study will involve actual usability testing involving real users. 

The second half of this study, which is to evaluate the usability of blogs published using these free online hosted blogging services, is involving actual users in summative usability testing. 

Main conclusions:

Xanga.com is quite usable with some minor concerns overall, a couple of significant issues and one serious usability flaw.

  • 3 average score – minor usability concerns on average.
  • The most successful aspect of Xanga.com is the Help which has exemplary usability: supports the user by providing quality help and documentation.
  • Xanga.com quite successfully meets usability goals of being effective, efficient, safe to use, easy to learn, easy to remember how to use and having the right information and functionality at the right time (utility). Users will be able to achieve their main tasks and goals blogging with Xanga.com, but less efficiently and effectively than they could if these issues were resolved.
  • The overall user experience is rich and positive with a lot of information, features and functionality which will enrich the user’s blogging experience and make them feel positive. It feels positive and pleasurable, the visual design and use of colour will be motivating. Users’ perceptions may be that Xanga.com is quite enjoyable: pleasurable, entertaining, fun, emotionally fulfilling, satisfying, rewarding, desirable and quite Motivating: engaging, exciting, aesthetically pleasing, useful, valuable. They will find Xanga very Helpful: supports creativity, enhances sociability. However although users’ perceptions might be quite positive, in practice they will probably not blog as much, or produce as much content in their blogs, and may therefore have fewer reasons to switch to another blog provider if another provider came along who looked as equally enjoyable to use, but was also easier and more useful to support their blogging goals.
  • The most serious concern with Xanga was the serious usability flaw in the site with the prolific use of ‘Xanga-speak’ – internal language used to ‘brand’ commonly understood concepts in a Xanga way, turning commonly understood features and actions into something the user would have to try and interpret in Xanga. The language used for naming and labelling and the overall information architecture in Xanga is not focused on the user, it is very internally Xanga-centric. This will impact on Xanga’s ability to meet all usability goals as users will too often not understand the relevance of a term to the task they are trying to do so won’t find the functions or information they need to successfully and efficiently complete tasks.

Two areas which had significant usability issues were:

  • efficient and effective navigation
  • designing a simple state space.

The usability issues highlighted within this evaluation indicate how Xanga.com could be improved and point towards recommendations for further redesign. Improvements would improve the effectiveness, efficiency, safety and learnability of the application. Improving these would improve overall usage, attract more new users, retain more users for longer, increase blogging activities and increase blog content in Xanga.com.

NB – Scoring is measured as:

0 usability catastrophe
1 serious usability flaws
2 significant issues
3 minor concerns
4 generally usable
5 exemplar for usability

Click here to download the PDF of the Heuristic Usability Evaluation of Xanga

Feel free to Share!

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Posted in Blogging Tools, Thesis | Tagged , , | 3 Comments