Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Web Site Insights: Usability Reviews of Popular Sites

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My new book is well on its way to completion.

I'm writing it fast and furiously, to get it done by the time I begin conducting some public Web Usability Seminars.

I want to desktop publish it, at first, and sell it, or give it away free, to seminar attendees and current clients.

The tentative working title is Web Site Insights: Usability Reviews of Popular Sites.

Just because a web site is popular, doesn't mean it's well written or easily usable. While it must be doing many things right, some of its success may be due to external factors, like heavy advertising, discount prices, good product selection, accurate and complete information, etc.

Even the most successful sites can be improved. Jakob Nielsen stated that usability can never be 100% perfect. Reasons include the fact that user skills are improving, new web conventions are continually being established on high traffic sites, and web technology keeps developing.

The most popular, high traffic sites present unique challenges to the usability analyst.

Does a feature that seems weak in usability value, or a wording that is somewhat unclear, work quite well, for reasons not obvious to the analyst?

Would an "improvement" be detrimental? Are users so conditioned to a feature or wording, that a change would cause more usability problems, rather than less? This can only be answered via user observation testing and to a lesser extent by surveying users.

However, web site owners can learn from these analytical commentaries.

If they have similar weak spots, or unclear wordings, in their web sites, and not much "legacy" (long history of many users conditioned to these features and wordings) wrapped up in them, they may consider following my recommendations and making the suggested improvements.

Or avoiding the weak points and unclear wordings in future site constructions and revisions.

See my usability methodology posts in this blog for more discussion of these topics.

Web Site Insights won't be a book of in-depth, comprehensive analysis, where many links are followed and multiple tasks are attempted. Instead, I'm focusing on quick analysis of homepages and "about us" or "products" pages.

My approach is to mimic the fast evaluation a typical user might have when visiting a web site for the first time. Except my analysis will have an additional, specialist quality in it, by which I critique the text and design elements with a professional expertise.

It's a book of heuristic evalutions : basic usability reviews based on guidelines derived from user observation testing, my own experience, and leading experts in usability research , human-computer interaction, interface design, and software engineering.

Send me an email, if you're interested in obtaining a copy of Web Sight Insights when it's done...

...but be sure to read my post on How To Write Power Emails before composing an email to me. If you violate certain email principles (e.g., if you put "Hi" in the subject line), I probably won't open and read your email.

My desktop version will be priced extremely low, relative to current publishing house book prices.

I'll eventually be approaching New Riders , and other computer book publishers for mass market distribution.

P.S. -- Please visit my new User Research Site at:

www.webwhispers.blogspot.com

It's a survey site, where I ask questions in posts, to try to determine how users think about various aspects of web usage, computer effects, etc.

Thanks for helping me.


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