WordPress.com heuristic usability evaluation



   Click here to download the PDF of the Heuristic Usability Evaluation of free online hosted blogging service WordPress.com 


WordPress.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. WordPress.com was chosen as one of the leading (most used) five free hosted online blogging services, along with Blogger, Xanga, 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 WordPress.org, will be used more by other user personas. The scope of this study does not include premium services, such as WordPress.com VIP, 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 WordPress.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: 

WordPress.com is very usable and useful to users with very good usability. 

  • 4.4 average.
  • 6 out of 12 (50%) of the key factors evaluated in the WordPress.com interface had exemplary usability:
  1. Intuitive access to main user tasks;
  2. Decomposition of tasks evident in site structure;
  3. Effective error management;
  4. Matches language with target client group needs;
  5. Efficient and effective navigation;
  6. Facilitates learning.

Best bits: 

The most successful aspect of WordPress.com is the navigation. This underpins successfully meeting a lot of usability goals in WordPress.com. 

WordPress.com successfully meets usability goals of being effective, efficient, safe to use, easy to learn, easy to remember how to use and with excellent utility. Users will be able to achieve their main tasks and goals blogging with WordPress.com. 

Another very successful aspect of the WordPress.com interface is how well it meets user experience goals. The overall user experience is very rich and positive with a lot of information, features and functionality which will enrich the user’s blogging experience and make them feel positive, that WordPress.com is: Enjoyable: pleasurable, entertaining, fun, emotionally fulfilling, satisfying, rewarding, desirable, Motivating: engaging, exciting, aesthetically pleasing, useful, valuable, Helpful: supports creativity, 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 and will create a lot more user advocates who are prepared to recommend WordPress.com. 

Areas for attention: 

One area which has a quite serious concern is around how much control and flexibility users have – or don’t have – especially with the appearance of their blog. 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. WordPress.com is a free online hosted service. In the WordPress portfolio of blogging tools on offer it is not their premium ‘VIP’ WordPress.com, or the WordPress.org 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 WordPress.com offering. Despite offering 93 ‘themes’ or templates to choose from, which is excellent, it is more limiting than other free online hosted blogging tools such as Blogger.com, as it does not enable customisation of those themes, users can’t upload templates or their own CSS, and users can’t change the page layouts or font sizes easily. Users would have to upgrade to VIP WordPress.com or switch to WordPress.org – or another blogging platform. Automattic, the company behind WordPress, may believe that they’d be giving the crown jewels away by providing further flexibility to users to modify the appearance of their blogs, which is a key reason for upgrading, but I would suggest this is also a key reason for users either not choosing WordPress.com or switching from it to another provider. WordPress explain that their reasons for not offering greater customisation is due to security, and this may be the case, but to the end-user the obvious question is why other online hosted blogging services, such as Blogger.com, do offer greater flexibility and scope for users to control the design of their blog. 

Another area of some concern was the simple state space due to the apparent complexity of the dashboard which will impact most on users’ first impression when they start using the tool, this will impact on the learnability and create an early barrier to use. If users get beyond this and persevere for no more than about 1 hour, this issue will become a non-issue due to the high levels of learnability and memorability within the tool’s interface. Due to the high levels of safety users will feel confident to explore and try things out, which is why this is only a minor concern and not a major issue. 

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. 

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 free online hosted blogging service WordPress.com

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Hurrah! 6 users found for usability testing!

After struggling to find enough users to fit my Blogger persona (see previous article) at last I have found my 6th usability test person who fits my Blogger persona. I now have my optimum number of users for me to be really happy my data will be credible. Usability testing continues tomorrow and next week. In the meantime my WordPress.com Heuristic Usability Evaluation will be published this week.

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Is Blog Theme Usability the root of all evil?

How much does a blog’s usability come from the theme you choose? Or how much of your blog’s usability is affected by the blog platform you use? Or the fact that your blog platform only offers certain themes makes the choice of theme, and the usability which comes with that, part of the blogging tool?

Gabe Young (Free Blog Help) “I’m a web award judge and have been working with UX (user experience) for over a decade. I can tell you that most WP users entrust usability to the theme they choose. While most theme creators do a decent job incorporating this into their design, since most are not well-versed in user experience, many of their customizations and configurations break very basic rules. Not only are many WP sites not user-friendly but there are huge readability issues. Every niche has a specific audience but many bloggers can’t even identify who their demographic is. As a result, IMO, a good number of blogs start off with a somewhat usable site and actually degrades over time with blogger tinkering.”

So, how much of the usability comes from the theme, which dictates the look and feel, structure, layout and information architecture within a blog?

Could the Blogging Platforms give more guidance on this and rate/ score themes by usability to give guidance to bloggers?

With all the usability testing WordPress.com do on their own platform, could they also offer usability testing on themes as part of their service?

And how much beyond the theme does a blogging platform affect the end user-experience and usability? How much built-in help and suggestions could they offer? How much do their features, such as their dashboard, and what widgets they offer, contribute to a blog’s usability?

Should usability themes be provided to theme designers, and should these be used to judge themes which are accepted and offered to users?

Do you know about any usability scoring, rating or ranking of themes which is available anywhere?

Do you feel that blogging tools which offer more themes therefore offer potentially greater scope for blog usability and blogging tools which offer restricted themes need to be much more particular about considering the usability of those themes?

I am inclined to think that if blogging tools are offering themes they owe it to their users to ensure those themes meet basic usability criteria and standards, it’s all part of the service, and provide usability standards to theme creators. I would welcome usability scoring/ ranking/ rating by blogging platforms on any themes they offer so at least bloggers are made aware that some themes offer greater usability than others. And at the point of choosing a theme bloggers’ attention are drawn to usability standards, and gives them ideas on how to improve the usability of their own blog with whichever theme they pick.

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Blog usability testing starts

Yesterday I started my usability testing on 5 blogs.

These blogs were chosen because they are the highest Technorati ranked personal/ lifestyle blogs (not an official corporate business blog) written by individuals, created using one of the five most used Blogging Tools – Blogger, WordPress.com, Typepad, Livejournal and Xanga.

User 2

The usability testing method being used is summative testing with follow-up questions to gather qualitative and quantitative data into what users actually do on the blogs, plus a SUMI questionnaire on each one to get quantitative data on users’ perceptions about the usability of each blog.  Yesterday my testing involved three users out of the six I will be testing. All users fit my Hobbyist Blogger persona who blog for self-expression and read blogs to be informed or entertained.

User 1

I don’t want to presume any results at this early point, but things are definitely looking interesting and even if this research project doesn’t prove any relationship between the usability of blogging tools and the blogs they create, it will generate guidelines for improving blog usability which we bloggers can all apply to stop our poor readers from suffering the level of frustration I saw happening yesterday.

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Dilbert does Usability


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New Blogger Template Designer

New Blogger Template Designer

The new Blogger Template Designer will address some of the usability issues I found in my hueristic usability review of Blogger by giving users more control and flexibility over how they can express themselves through the look and feel of their blog. The Template Designer is available only on Blogger’s beta site for now  – Blogger in Draft – where Blogger uses willing users from the Blogger.com user community to test-drive and provide feedback on new stuff before implementing the new features on the main Blogger platform.  You can read more about this and what the users are saying at the Blogger in Draft Blog.

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Blogger.com heuristic usability evaluation

Attached is my My Heuristic Usability Evaluation of Blogger.

Scoring is measured as:

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

The main conclusions from this evaluation:

Blogger is generally very usable and useful to users with very good usability.

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11 ways to add to blog conversation and stand out from the crowd

11 ways to add to blog conversation and stand out from the crowd

This post grabbed my attention because I am a newbie blogger on this blog only 1 week into starting a new blog about the user experience of blogging and blogs.

I want my own blog to be great for readers to read so it will help me with my own goals of achieving a better result in my research project, and I’d love that to be a result of creating a place where the discussion and debate will be mutually beneficial. What you give, you get back. Harmony.

I would love it if readers of my blog were inspired, got new ideas, were engaged, because they’d be involved in a discussion about a topic which I believe is the fundamentally most crucial thing to any business and product: the user experience.

This is all about how you can stand out from the crowd and make yourself heard by improving the user experience of your blog. I’m a postgrad student studing computing interaction design, and my thesis is about the user experience of blogging and blogs.

I have so many questions about this topic – and my research project will only investigate one niche aspect of this. Blogging helps me to answer questions for the project, but also satisfy my own curiosity.

The user experience of blogging has been extended by the developments in mobile blogging – and the developments in mobile technologies such as the iPhone has enriched this experience. It’s all so much fun and it’s all moving so fast, it’s like being 11 years old again and back on the ride at Six Flags.

Now I’m thinking What will the user experience of blogging on the iPad be?

To add to ’11 ways to add to the conversation of the blogosphere and stand out from the crowd’  – usability and user experience are critical for any blogger to achieve these goals:

12. Write the best copy you can – make sure the language reflects the lingo of your readers – if they prefer formal language then that will be better understood, if they prefer informal then that will be better understood – you don’t have to compromise your style to keep your readers engaged.I am not claiming I am the best copy writer – I think I write too much – but for more tips  http://www.copyblogger.com/ is useful.

13: Make sure your readers can find your post in your blog and on the Internet – tag, categorise, consider the URL of the post – post your post and then see how your readers could find it. Make it easy.

14. Make sure your readers can contribute to the discussion  – go through the steps they’d have to go through to comment on your blog – if you find it difficult, they will. Make it easy.

15. Make sure that by reading your post your readers will be helped, informed, it will spark new ideas, it will make them think about a topic that already interests them, or they’re entertained.

16. Stand out from the crowd by having a Blog where you’ve thought about the motivations of your readers – I don’t mean change your argument – I do mean write for an audience you have in mind.

17. Bear in mind basic blog usability rules – get your friends and family to read your blog and honestly look at what they’re doing – if they struggle then you know what you can fix to improve Weblog Usability. A great post is the The Top Ten Design Mistakes by Jakob Nielsen at http://www.useit.com/alertbox/weblogs.html

The future of blogging will be where we can all publish content as we wish, for it to be found as we wish, and where our content will look how we want it to look and engage our readers.

I don’t think we’re there yet, because at the moment the user experience of blogging is being dominated by the need to be found by search engines (SEO). Fair enough  – I have the same desire for my own baby blog to be discovered – but then once readers have found your blog, you want to grab their attention, keep them intersted, feel they are being listened to and can take part in any discussion in your blog, and have a desire to take part and then know how to do that.

This comes down to Marketing Communications models like AIDA – and has worked in all forms of communications for marketing professionals – blogging is no different, it’s just a different channel.

Things like the iPad will help to enrich this experience by enabling users to achieve their goals of blogging when they want to blog, how they want blog, how they want to express themselves. Although the device, like the iPad, influences the user experience, I believe the goals of the blogger definitely do – and you have it in your power to make a difference –  whether your users find you on an iPhone, iPad, or ThinkPad.

What if there was no consideration of the user and it was always about getting found on Google? What would happen to Blogging then?

By the way, If you do what he suggests in his video and extend the number of points from a post which starts ’11 ways….’ – then get your numbering right or wrong – I got mine wrong, I added two point ’14’ – doh.

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The power of creativity

Nice view on making an effort, making a positive difference, about how creative endeavour can change things, with an interesting conclusion about videoing your actions and publishing them. I guess too many negatively motivated people have had that idea aided by an arms collection to rival militia. This is lovely in how the broadcast would be enlightening, funny, illuminating and delightful.
Click here to see the fantastic slideshow.

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Fuzzy UX

There’s so much Argy-Bargy about who does what in usability, user experience, interaction, interface design – and there’s so much debate about Designers vs Users vs Techies – it all gets a bit fuzzy, as the user, great ideas and designer can often get lost along the way.

It’s great that there is a debate at all. At least there’s interest and discussion. If the debate is Usability Designers vs Interaction Designers, or boxes vs arrows, or yellow vs blue, it doesn’t matter – what’s good thing is the debate about the users’ experience is happening. 

However if the language we use is fuzzy, and like our designs and prototypes is being iterated as we go, everytime we enter into a debate there’s a woolly vagueness about the terms being used, killing the debate and causing mistrust. Terms like ‘usability’ and ‘user experience’ are used so generically and often carelessly that debates get fuzzy. People are violently agreeing with each other when they think they’re disagreeing – because they have used fuzzy lingo. There are now so many terms which are all used inconsistently we now have a Mashup User Experience language.

There’s nothing wrong with that per se except for the fact that User Experience can’t afford to be exclusive. It’s not about being In the Club where people in-the-know have the secret handshake and password language. It’s about inclusiveness, including everyone in the debate – especially the user. Only by taking an inclusive, collaborative approach, can the user be the hero.

This article is nice because the writer is very specific about their terms of reference with needle-sharp clarity. They’d make a rubbish politician but I love their honest clarity. Broadcasting the debate as they have makes more people think about the issues, and that’s got to be good in the end. So if there’s a Designer vs User debate you stumble across – which there’s likely to be in a website coming soon where you are – then be specific about what you mean by usability, user experience, the user, UX, the designer, information architect, etc and it may help to win over the Techies who may be thinking ‘all this UX is just a load of fluff’ and it may help to get the User to be the focus of everyone’s attention.   Click here for more of the debate.

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