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.

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2 Responses to Usability Study of Five Personal Blogs

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