Researching Usability

Posts Tagged ‘Ambition

Last Thursday I attended a Webinar organised by AmbITion called Tracking Impact. It was presented by David Sim from Open Brolly and 4TM who discussed ways to track your organisations activities online. As a webinar, it was streamed live to almost 50 people at one point but I was lucky enough to attend in person due to its close proximity to the office. The full webinar is available on the AmbITion website and the presentation slides are also available. Consequently instead of a full report on the presentation I have listed some things which came out of the event that were of interest to me and the project.

Research conducted suggests Facebook is a good tool for asking short questions

Asking short questions is an effective way to generate a dialogue between an organisation and its patrons or between users. Often questions which are easy for people to answer, such as favourite recipes or opinion on a book or movie get the biggest response. Not only does it generate interest in the organisation but also provides valuable information on your users, something which can cost time and money to obtain. In addition, the analytical tools available on Facebook provide some of the most detailed profile information on your users than anywhere else and this provides valuable data. Although I agree with this research it would have been nice to know who conducted this research in order to read it for myself.

Retweeting is a good gauge of influence and expertise

This may seem obvious to some but definitely worth pointing out. If an individual or organisation is using Twitter and their content is retweeted by others, this demonstrates an authority on a subject and the value others place in the information provided. There is something powerful about the ‘collective wisdom’ or ‘collective intelligence’ demonstrated by retweets which is characteristic of Web 2.0 (Högg et. al 2006). Retweeting behaviour goes some way to measuring impact and influence within social networks and is therefore one tool in an otherwise difficult to measure environment.

To search an exact phrase use inverted commas

OK so for any librarians reading, this will seem like a no-brainer but I have to admit I never considered it till it was pointed out. This tip was provided in relation to using Google Alerts to monitor an organisation or brand but also applies to any type of search. Often keywords are common and can return a lot of irrelevant information. Using exact phrase searches can reduce the amount of unwanted information getting through. I have now amended my own Google Alters to get more accurate results and have also used the minus (-) technique to remove any results from the UX2 project tag as it turns out it’s also a piece of sounds equipment!

Social media will become more useful

This was one of David’s  predictions for the future during the Q&A which followed the presentation. I have to agree that the semantic web will make it possible for information to be shared and accessed when a user needs it much more easily. It’s a shame there wasn’t more time for discussion on this subject as it’s something which I am keen to explore in more detail.

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Power, Perception and Performance (P3)

As part of the ongoing literature review I’ve been researching some of the theoretical models created or adapted to evaluate information systems. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been blogging about the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) which has been used by researchers to show its effectiveness at determining user acceptance of specific systems. The paper by Andrew Dillon and Michael Morris, Power, Perception and Performance: From Usability Engineering to Technology Acceptance with the P3 Model of User Response (1999), reveals limitations of the framework in the context of a usability engineering perspective. It is not clear how well TAM predicts usage when testing prototypes as research using TAM to date has involved the testing of complete systems. If the functionality is limited or incomplete how adequately can participants rate its usefulness? Additionally, they are less likely to be able to rate the system’s ease of use if the interface features have not all been designed yet.

The data collection method was also critiqued because it relies on self-ratings from the participants. Studies have shown that user’s ratings change with repeated exposure to a system over time and that it may shift independently of the usability of the interface. This also relates to last week’s blog which suggested that what users say and what they do are not always the same. Self-ratings provide quantitive feedback from users but ideally this data should be gathered in addition to observation which is conducted at regular intervals to reflect any system self-efficacy.

The issues raised certainly do provide a strong argument against using TAM if you are a designer looking for issues to fix. TAM will tell you if a system is likely to be accepted by users but may not provide insight into why. It is more beneficial to IS professionals or managers who want to know if a system is likely to be used, for example when considering the procurement of a new IS.

The P3 model developed by Dillon and Morris uses three aspects (power, perception, and performance) to assess a user’s ability to use a system. A system’s power indicates its potential to serve the user’s tasks. Perception and performance measures the user’s behavioural reactions. Dillon and Morris believe that the P3 model predicts the capability to use a system through effectiveness and efficiency while TAM reveals the perception of the system. Consequently these different constructs make them independent entities which should not be compared: “The P3 model is an attempt at providing a unified model of use that supports both the process of design and clarifies the relationship between usability and acceptability.”

Useful program: Nutshell Mail

I was alerted to this wonderfully simple tool from Mike Coulter during his Ambition presentation, Listening Online. Trying it out is the simplest thing and takes less than a minute to set up. The website describes the program as follows:

NutshellMail takes copies of all your latest updates in your social networking and email accounts and places them in a snapshot email.

It’s a great way to manage multiple accounts and could be useful for those of you who either can’t access your social media accounts throughout the day or have so many people in your network that you find it difficult to monitor your feeds effectively. Last week I blogged about the limited usefulness of Twitter Groups because of the way they are accessed. Well I might be eating my words now because Nutshell Mail gives you the most recent results from your groups in each email along with any other accounts you choose to connect, including LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace. You can also schedule the emails to arrive at a time that best suits you. That way its less likely to get lost amongst all the emails that wait you every morning! Although another piece of mail in your inbox might not sound like the ideal solution for some people, I’m willing to give it a try to see if it does make life a little easier.

Remote Research by Nate Bolt and Tony Tulathimutte

I was alerted to a competition this week in which UX Booth were giving away three copies of the book, Remote Research. As I’ve conducted some remote studies myself, this was a topic that interested me. I thought I would try my luck and low and behold I actually won a copy which I have already received! Books by the publisher, Rosenfeld Media are always informative – I already own Web Form Design by Luke Wroblewski and Card Sorting by Donna Spencer. Looking through the contents it looks like this book continue this trend. Most notable is the chapter entitled ‘The Challenges of Remote Testing’. The debate of remote testing versus direct testing has been ongoing for a while and looks set to continue. In this chapter some of the possible pitfalls are discussed which will hopefully help users make informed decisions on how they conduct user research and select the best tools to meet their needs. I look forward to reading this book, the simple design of Rosenfeld books makes them quick and easy to digest. Due to interest, I hope to write my own review here once I’ve finished it.


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