Neo Insight's e-newsletter
on Usability topics and techniques.
In this issue
We talk a lot about tasks, and experience, and user-centred design. This time of year, while people talk about all the new gizmos of the last twelve months, we look at 2007 in terms of behaviours. Here are some ways to look at 2007 from a behavioural perspective.
People are adopting new web analytics, such as free GoogleAnalytics, or new heat mapping visualizations like CrazyEgg, ClickTale, and WebTrends SmartView. ComScore and Nielsen Net Ratings convinced advertisers to think differently. People are suddenly less interested in hits. Pay-what-you-will schemes took front-stage with Radiohead. Pay-per-click schemes like Google AdSense convince us of the profoundly-obvious – "hits" do not measure the value of a web experience.
New remote usability methods arrived in late 2006, and in 2007 became mainstream. Read about our experience using TechSmith UserVue. If you have not tested usability remotely, call us.
Storage continually gets cheaper and more abundant. People are spending less of their valuable time throwing things out and adding storage – in many forms – extra hard drives, recordable DVD, network storage, USB keys, tiny cards that fit in their camera or portable device. When Hotmail was created, storage cost $100 per GB. When storage dropped to $1 per GB, Google offered its landmark amount of web mail storage. By 2010 storage is estimated to drop to a penny per GB, depending on packaging.
People are contributing content to web sites in new ways. If you have a content management system (like Interwoven or RedHat), you couldn’t help but notice that the masses can author blogs, wikis, and web pages easier this year; e.g. WordPress, PBwiki, and Google PageCreator. On Curriki, teachers generated 3,000 lessons, assessments, and curricula resources. On Wikipedia, 2,000 authors contributed to one news story alone. Most of them did not use a content management system (CMS). Why are people generating web content in so many other ways than in a CMS? Because newer tools help a web author respond more quickly to the tasks their readers need to do. If 2006 was the year of user-generated content, 2007 was the year of enterprise webmasters enabling more authors. Why? So authors can give users the content they want – without a lot of focus on the authoring tool – so users can complete their tasks more quickly. A CMS still serves site managers pretty well. But new tools for user-generated content took a strong lead this year. Gerry McGovern puts it this way: “manage the task, not the tools or the timber”.
Think the web is replacing libraries? Half of U.S. adults visited a library in 2007. The largest number of users were 18-30 years old. 40% of “Gen Y” respondents say they will use libraries in the future – twice as many as other age groups. "Internet use seems to create an information hunger, and information-savvy young people are most likely to visit libraries," says Leigh Estabrook, co-author of a report on the survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
The most-used search phrases are about people, products, and habits. Google offers some simple advice – the most important search terms are about “who”, “what”, or “how-to”. Web strategists watched those words more closely this year. The success of a web experience became more closely linked to how well people can find the site from a search engine, scan for words they recognize, and scan the navigational links to quickly size up the options available. If you haven't been watching your words, get started with carewords.
The mantra of Web2.0 – “small pieces loosely joined” – is true in general for innovation. Small businesses did more than their share of innovating this year. Industry Canada's simple summary of small business speaks volumes:
People played games with people this year, in physical ways. Games have become social – again. People of all ages played multi-player games on game boxes like the Nintendo Wii. Games boxes connect to the web. But this year was more than playing online - people played together in their homes. Games like Guitar Hero, Dance Revolution, Wii Sports offer physical input devices that let players move around the room. People used their whole bodies to play games. They heeded warnings to move furniture and make room for the motion. Remote game interfaces and larger displays enabled people to experience games - and the web - in a shared space.
We did business on Skype, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com, found contact information on directory services from Google, AT&T Infreeda, and 800-Free-411. Two million people each week join Facebook. Government agencies adopted it too. CBC made news with its Facebook groups – and 1,145 CBC employees have a profile on Facebook. Presidential candidate videos were viewed on YouTube millions of times. Intelligence analysts add an average of 114 articles and 4,800 updates each workday to the new top-secret Intellipedia.
Software vendors are rightly concerned about theft. Anti-piracy is a necessary evil. But they both cost us more time this year. How can we tell the pirates from the anti-pirates? Business people lost hours of time this year coping with anti-piracy schemes, license numbers, rootkit, DRM, and Windows Genuine Advantage. When is the cure worse than the poison?
We try to see web pages through users' eyes. Here is one peek.There is a trend toward larger monitors and higher screen resolution. In just one year, 1024x768 dropped to one-third of our page-views. Read our article about how designing for screen resolution can make your web content more visible. In 2007 an increasing percentage of people viewed our website at wider-format higher resolutions:
If you have an intranet, you may be interested to see how it can provide cost-savings.
We analysed search phrases typed into an intranet search engine recently. The intranet we studied has a couple million visits per year, to 10,000 pages. Not large by Microsoft standards, who once had six million pages on their intranet. But this particular intranet may give you an average picture. They have about 100,000 search events per year. Of those, we identified the commonly-used search phrases. Then we categorized them and included search phrases that related to those most commonly-used. For instance, travel is commonly used so we associated related phrases like “travel directive”, “travel claim”, “travel policy”, with it.
The results showed where the intranet could have the largest cost-savings. One out of ten search events were seeking Human Resources content. More if we count indirectly-related terms about employee engagement events, etc. We could simply conclude that HR issues are a significant need for intranet users. But the implication might also be that HR content is difficult to find, and thus users search.
Whatever you conclude, there is a third implication – there is good reason to make intranet content easier to find. In this case, usability equals time savings. Even shaving just one minute off each of these HR-related search events could save the organization that uses that intranet more than one person-month. Save a minute on all searches on that intranet, and we could save a whole person-year across that organization.
Take a minute to call us if you’d like your intranet to save you a person-year.
Speech-act theory asserts that all communication exists to cause action in the world. People write or speak so that something will happen. Similarly, user experience designers constantly clarify the action they want to enable. When we do not, our web content might be ignored by users, or prompt users to hit the back button to avoid distracting noise. Perhaps there is a corollary to speech-act theory – that users want web content that leads to action. Maybe we could call this the "Web-Act Corollary ".
We see the Web-Act corollary in usability testing. People look for the actions they recognize:
In usability testing we also see how people quickly decide which actions to avoid:
The web experience is about actions because people are on the web to do something. Find out the key actions people will recognize, and write your web content just for those actions. And get rid of the actions people might avoid. For more tips see our article "Web content is where the action is". Here is how Gerry McGovern says it:
We specialize in the Customer Experience. We like working with good people to augment and to complement our skills. Contact us if you feel you would like to work with us. We offer one-off contracts, leading to longer-term contracts. We are especially interested in people who can:
Advantages you might have would include bilingualism, graphic design, or implementation skills.
Quote of the month
“Enlightened trial and error beats the planning of flawless intellects ... The reason is simple: the best solutions to most problems are rarely the most obvious... Think about it. What did you ever learn by doing it right the first time? ... Fail faster to succeed sooner.”
David Kelly, CEO of IDEO
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