Researching Usability

Posts Tagged ‘Twitter

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.

As mentioned in a previous blog, a review of how libraries are currently engaging with Web 2.0 was proposed as part of the ongoing research for Workpackage 2. This is not currently top priority for the project which means the blogs will be published over a period of time. However, this first part of the review introduces the data gathering method and some of the current theory of attitudes towards Twitter.

MinXuan Lee  wrote about the 5 Stages of Twitter Acceptance in her side-show, ‘How Twitter Changed My Life’. She effectively describes the range of behaviours typically displayed by people to represent their experience of Twitter. Each stage, Denial, Presence, Dumping, Conversing, and Microblogging, map attitudes towards Twitter before using it, through to its use for ‘true microblogging’.  Users can often identify with these stages at some point during their experience. Rightly or wrongly, some users may only aspire to ‘dumping’ and not have the desire to ‘converse’ or write a microblog. This review hopes to find out what stage of acceptance Twitter libraries are currently at. Furthermore, the findings will suggest which libraries are more successful on Twitter and the reasons behind it. This will provide other libraries with an idea on how to get the best from Twitter and ensure that it meets their needs.

Information was gathered on a random sample of libraries with existing Twitter accounts. The accounts were predominantly provided through the Libraries and Web 2.0 Wiki and CILIP’s Twitter Libraries List. Thirty libraries were selected which had their own dedicated Twitter accounts. Any accounts which served a wider audience such as a council were not included. Data was gathered on each library using between 22nd and 26th March 2010. Using this tool in addition to Twitter it was possible to gathering the following information:

  • Number of followers
  • Number following
  • Number of lists user’s have created
  • Number of tweets to date
  • Does the library retweet content created by others?
  • Does the library reply to tweets?
  • What Twitter clients does the library use to create tweets (in order of use)?
  • Date joined Twitter (month/year)
  • Does the library have a Facebook page?
  • Does the library have a Flikr page?
  • Does the library have any other social media accounts, if so what?
  • Does the library have their own blog or news feed with comment facility?

The initial data was gathered and placed on the UX2 wiki page for everyone to access.

A number of questions arose while conducting the research which will be discussed in future blog posts. More questions will hopefully be added as they arise:

  • Do libraries advertise their Twitter account (and other social media pages) elsewhere e.g on the library website?
  • If libraries have few followers, is there a reason for this? If so what?
  • What are the most popular Twitter clients used among libraries?
  • Is the level of engagement among libraries related to the type of twitter client they use?
  • To what extent do libraries ‘Converse’ using Twitter?
  • Which level of ‘Twitter Acceptance’ are most libraries aligned to?
  • What should libraries do if they want to engage more with people on Twitter?

Some initial findings are that many libraries are using Twitter mainly as a broadcast medium and less as a microblogging medium. Also that a high number of libraries are still using to communicate and not 3rd party client managers.

Heuristic report

This week the heuristic inspection report has been published and is available to read. If you would like to read it feedback is very welcome. The document is available in Word or as a PDF from the NeSC digital library: It is a sizeable document so thanks in advance for taking the time to read it! 🙂

Not what you know, nor who you know, but who you know already

This is a research paper which was a collaboration between myself, Hazel Hall and Gunilla Widén-Wulff. The research was undertaken when I first graduated from my Masters in 2007 and this week I received the good news that it will be published  in Libri: International Journal of Libraries and Information Services at some point this year. The paper examines online information sharing behaviours through the lens of social exchange theory. My contribution was the investigation into the commenting behaviour of undergraduate students at Edinburgh’s Napier University as part of their coursework. I’m very excited by this news as it is only my second publication. I look forward to seeing it in print and will provide details here if it becomes available online.

TAM part 2: revised acceptance model by Bernadette Szajna

Another paper which I read this week was ‘Epirical Evaluation of the Revised Technology Acceptance Model’ by Bernadette Szajna (1996). In this paper Szajna uses the revised Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) from Davis et al. (1989) to measure user acceptance of an electronic mail system over a 15 week period in a longitudinal study. By collecting data from participants at different points in the study she was able to reveal that self-reported usage differed from actual usage and that as a consequence it may not be appropriate as a surrogate measure. This supports what those who’ve been running usability tests have been saying for a while: what users say and what they do are seldom the same. In user research terms this means that observing what users do during their interaction with a system is as important as what they say about their experience.

In addition the paper revealed that “unless users perceive an IS as being useful at first, its ease of use has no effect on the formation of intention”. This struck a chord with me because as a usability professional I often assume that ease of use is a barrier to the usefulness of a system; if a user does not know how to manipulate the interface they are unable to discover the (possibly useful) information below the surface. Then when I was considering the usefulness of Twitter groups I realised that it began to follow the same pattern.  Twitter groups is a recent addition to Twitter and available to users. It allows those you are following to be categorised into self-named groups. For example, it’s best application is a means for users to differentiate their professional connections from personal ones. In theory it is a good idea and one which I thought I might use as a way of separating out different networks would certainly make them easier to monitor. I can’t imagine it being too difficult to set up a group if I so wished but the problem is that I never considered it useful for me to do so and consequently I  never did (note: I created a private group today to test my theory). The reason in this case is that I rarely use Twitter’s website to monitor or communicate with those I’m following. There are many different client managers such as TweetDeck who can do this for me. I’m sure there are a few people out there who have created groups and view them regularly but could these people be in the minority? I’d be interested to test my theory so any comments on your own Twitter group behaviour is welcome.

My conclusion is that (for me) the usefulness of the groups tool was a greater barrier to use than the ease of creating a group, verifying Szajna’s findings. This illustrates how important usefulness is to the user acceptance of technology and is therefore something that should be evaluated in every system to ensure success.

Mendeley Webinars

Lastly Mendeley directors are hosting webinars which will provide an introduction to its features including inserting citations and using the collaborative tools. The webinars will be held on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM GMT and Wednesday, February 24, 2010 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM GMT respectively. I have signed up for the webinar on Wednesday and look forward to learning more. So far I’ve managed to add items to my library and connect with others online but don’t feel I have exploited its features fully and am having difficulties amending my bibliography in Word. Hopefully this webinar will provide help and advice.

Re-visiting the definition of a digital library

This week has been pretty busy, filled with lots of meetings and preparation for the project meeting which we are hosting on the 15th December. This week ux2 have been re-visiting the definition of the digital library and came to the (perhaps obvious) conclusion that it is something which cannot be tied down to one definitive version.  I’ve been reading ‘Evaluation of Digital Libraries: an insight into useful applications and methods’ Edited by Giannis Tsakonas and Christos Papatheodorou. The definition by Jesse H. Shera mentioned in the introduction was one which resonated with me as it seemed to touch on what we are trying to achieve in our project:

…contributing to the total communication system in society…

Though the library is an instrumentality created to maximise the utility of graphic records for the benefit of society, it achieves that goal by working with the individual and through the individual it reaches society.  (Shera, 1972:48)

Too often it feels like definitions concentrate on the technical parameters of a digital library and in differentiating it from the traditional library. This idea describes a common goal of both traditional and digital libraries; the interaction with individuals and society. Including users in the evaluation of a digital library is something which we hope to do at each stage in the project because social and individual benefits and feedback between them are important criteria to evaluate. Whatever definition used, there seem to be four critical elements which should be present in addition to the digitised format for a digital library to be correctly labelled: curation, preservation, archiving and cataloguing.

Interactive Information Retrieval (IIR)

Another term which was discussed during the meeting was Interactive Information Retrieval. It came up during the Designing User Interface tutorial which ux2 attended at ECDL09. Some of the examples discussed involved multifaceted ways of retrieving information. I started to think that there might be a better term for describing these particular interfaces because IIR can describe most forms of interaction with digital libraries from simple to complex and unique. A term was floated which might better describe IIR which uses multi-faceted/web2.0 interaction: Immersive Interactive Information Retrieval (I²R)? The dictionary defines Immersive as “pertaining to immersing or plunging into something”. I think this could describe the synchronous interaction that takes place when using web2.0 technology because the interaction is immediate and does not have to stop and start, keeping the user’s experience fluid and continuous. If there is an existing term for the type of interaction I am talking about I would be interested to find out.


For some Friday fun I thought I would share a few word clouds that I generated through the services Wordle and Tweet Cloud. I’ve known about Worlde for a while but never used it in anger. Earlier this week I heard people at the Online09 conference tweeting about the idea of using it in conjunction with a CV which seemed like a good idea. This got me thinking about it as a good way of quickly communicating information to someone to give them a snapshot of someone’s ideas and interests. I therefore decided to create one for this blog and for my delicious links to see what patterns were emerging. I’ve provided the resulting images below.

Twitter Cloud does the same kind of thing, grabbing data from all your tweets over a specified period (day/week/month/year). The clouds aren’t quite as impressive as the Wordle ones and you can’t customise the design yet but its a great idea and something which I imagine will grow in interest as people seek to analyse their tweets. As I will be marking my first anniversary using Twitter on the 9th Dec, I thought it would be appropriate to include a cloud from a year of tweets to see what it looked like. I was pleased to discover that the three most used words were: usability, thanks and blog! 🙂

Wordle blog

Wordle delicious links

Twitter Cloud: a year of tweets

Interactive Triptych Framework (ITF)

This week has been largely spent reading papers as I try to review the Interactive Triptych Framework as a possible framework for evaluating library@nesc later in the project. I still feel like I’m at the beginning of a long journey on this subject and often find that Twitter can be a massive distraction when trying to concentrate for longer than 20 minutes! That being said, I wanted to summarise the framework below from the paper which proposed it. Other papers of relevance will be documented in subsequent blogs.

Analysing and evaluating usefulness and usability in electronic information services, Tsakonas & Papatheodorou, Journal of Information Science, 2006;32

This paper presents the ITF model and suggests that interaction is effected equally by content and system characteristics. It also states that usefulness and usability are interconnected from the user’s point of view. ITF is a holistic picture of user interaction and other approaches to Electronic Information Services (EIS) evaluation. The proposed framework illustrates the interactions taking place between the three components: system, content and users. Each component interacts with each other and it is these interactions which define three evaluation approaches: usefulness, usability and performance.

An important observation of the research paper was the identification of a correlation between usefulness and usability from the users point of view. In addition to this is that fact that all attributes (usefulness, usability and performance) were equally preferred by users and considered important for their interaction. However, the research also reported that usefulness precedes usability when users are asked to state a preference suggesting that content quality is paramount for EISs.

An integrated approach which evaluates usefulness and usability is recommended in order to provide a holistic image of user interaction. If the ITF were to be adopted for the planned evaluation of library@nesc then such an approach would need to be designed. This is something which I intend to give some thought to.

Social Media event from NESTA

In addition to reading this week I also watched a streamed event on social media organised by NESTA entitled ‘Social media – a force for good?’. This well organised and interesting event invited three people with something to say on the subject to answer questions: Stephen Fry, Biz Stone (founder of Twitter) and Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn). If you missed the live stream you can watch on the NESTA website. Although it was a talk on social media, Twitter inevitably dominated the questions. I’ve summarised a couple of points raised which I thought were topical and of interest:

  • Biz stated that his prediction for Twitter in years to come is that it won’t be triumph of technology, more a triumph of humanity. It seemed like there has been recent debate about social media and whether or not it is a saviour or slayer of humanity. I think scientific research will play a great role in attempting to answer this question. Twitter is relatively young and very little (if any) solid research has been done on its effects on individuals and society. There seems to be a huge amount of potential for researchers on this subject and this makes it an exciting subject.
  • Another similar question asked if things like Twitter are increasing isolation amongst people. Biz refuted this when he pointed to the many Tweetups that happen around the world. As an attendee of a weekly Twitter related meet-up- Edinburgh Coffee Morning I tend to agree. Although I am relatively new to the group it seems that many friendships have been formed through face-to-face conversation which has continued on into Twitter and more recently Facebook. The Guardian wrote this week  ‘Is local the new social now?’ and when thinking about the popularity and regularity of local Tweetups then it is fair to say that it is.
  • Finally a topic which cropped up a few times was the power of the masses on Twitter. Reid Hoffman put it as “The wisdom of the crowd or the madness of the masses.” This refers not only to the information which influences us on an individual basis but also the potential of Twitter (and all forms of mass communication) to whip people up into a frenzy with (possible) catastrophic consequences. One could argue that the masses are not on Twitter which is equally correct but I wonder how long it will be before this changes and we see more extremists using Twitter to communicate their message (if not already)? Something to be aware of at least.


I thought I would post another Dilbert strip which I saw this week. Its on the theme of cloud computing and made me laugh. Have a great weekend!

I’ve decided that since reading the excellent blog by Social Media Officer, Nicola Osborne, I have been inspired to start writing a weekly round-up of news/events/topics/discussions that have interested me. It will help me track my own research and hopefully be of interest to others.

World Usability Day (WUD): 12/11/09

Although this year’s theme was sustainability, the general purpose of WUD is to raise awareness of usability. So in that spirit I wanted to share some great usability related resources which I refer to frequently and that do a great job spreading the word:

  • UX booth: a blog with guest posts from people throughout the usability community.
  • UX blog: a blog from a usability professional, Barry Briggs who frequently posts links to other useful resources on the web.
  • IxDA: has a discussion forum on all things usability and new topics are frequently posted on Twitter to follow.
  • A List Apart: Very well known in the design community for producing great articles from some of the most prominent professionals around. Topics are not restricted to usability but also cover design, code and business.
  • UX Exchange: Relatively new to me, this is a simple UX Q&A site that aims to build a community lead, authoritative resource on the User Experience disciplines. Post a question and get an answer back fast.

I also came across a blog by Dana McKay on this year’s WUD theme which discusses the connection between usability and sustainability.

Library 2.0 Community

I joined Ning’s Library 2.0 community online yesterday and although I’ve not had much time to look through the site in detail, it does look like a promising resource for information, discussion and networking with like minded people.

BBC Digital Revolution: open source and collaborative documentary

Perhaps later than others, this week I discovered that the BBC are in the process of creating a documentary about the internet and are using a suitably interactive process to produce the 4 part series which will be aired in 2010. If you happen to be in London this weekend they have an event going on which aims to test the way the internet effects us. For more information please visit their site. It sounds really interesting and something I would love to attend if I wasn’t so far away. If like me you cant attend then there is lots of other stuff to check out on their site including film clips which you can not only watch but also download and edit. One interview which I was particularly interested in was that from Twitter creators, Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Something which they pointed out in their interview was that Twitter is essentially ‘Recipient driven communication’. This is a great term to describe Twitter and the fact that users decide what information they wish to receive and not the individual/company/corporation providing the information. This for me is one of the defining things about Twitter and the reason I think it has become so popular and consequently so powerful.

JISC mailing list: Web2

If however you still like your information pushed to you through more traditional forms such as email, a new JISC mailing list had been set up recently on the theme on Web 2 and its uses in libraries. I joined last week and have already started receiving emails with links to some useful information (one example being the Library 2.0 community above).

Twitter Re-tweet beta

This week people started tweeting about the Retweet functionality that was being trialled by Twitter and it wasn’t long before I got to test it myself. Yesterday however it was pulled by Twitter while they try to fix a bug. Anyway while it was available there seemed to be a lot of grumbling about the fact that users can’t edit their Retweets at all. This on the surface sounded crazy, the majority of people like to add their own value to Retweets and I could predict that many users would shun Twitters attempt at this service and continue using their own system through their respective client manager. However after reading an article on the subject from e-consultancy I realised what Twitter is trying to do. Quite often when users add their own comments to a tweet, character real-estate quickly becomes a problem and the users have to make an executive decision of what to delete from the original tweet. This quickly degrades tweets and consequently they become more difficult to track. Twitter could be trying to address this issue by removing this problem from tweets, leaving more room for content. However, I didn’t get the chance to try the Retweet function before it was promptly removed by Twitter so the jury is still out on this one!

Twitter Lists: filtering out all the irrelevant noise

Last week Twitter lists were the talk of the Twitterverse because they had finally been rolled out for everyone to use. At first it seemed quite novel to have a new feature but I quickly began to wonder how useful lists were in their current incarnation. Lists seem to be a way for individuals to categories groups of people they follow on Twitter, similar to groups in Tweetdeck. The group can be named anything and only be edited by the creator so if you find yourself in a list you don’t agree with there is little you can do about it, something which has been touched upon by others in the past. Additionally, if someone visits the group stream, there could be a large proportion of tweets which are unrelated to the group name. For example, although I am a usability analyst, not all my tweets are related to the subject. Thankfully I came across a blog which provides instructions on how to solve this problem by creating a hack to filter groups by a hashtag. This is a good short term solution but something I hope Twitter start to seriously think about as it could have a huge impact on the success of lists.

In plain English: Cloud Computing

Finally I wanted to share some brilliant videos which do a great job of explaining technology in laymen’s terms. They are by a company called Common Craft and their most recent edition is ‘Cloud Computing in Plain English’. They also have some other  useful videos on Twitter, Web Search Strategies and Social Media (which is a personal favourite because it uses a brilliant ice cream metaphor to explain the concept). Next week there is a free webinar from TechSoup which will be interviewing Common Craft, Mary Beth Facciolo from the Colorado State Library and Carolyn Blatchley from Cumberland County Library System in Pennsylvania to hear how they are usign these videos to support the needs of their community. If you are interested in registering from this event then sign up with TechSoup. bookmarks

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