Friday, February 09, 2007

3 worst usability errors of wikis

As I experiment with public-facing wikis, I've encountered some horrible usability problems. These problems are so bad, I can easily understand why wikis have not taken off like blogs did.

I have emailed Ward Cunningham, the inventor of the first wiki, and the man who coined "wiki" for a quick and easy-to-edit group collaboration web site. I am seeking answers to my questions, and the Help pages have been worthless.

My experiences have been with Socialtext, PB Wiki, Wikidot, and JotSpot wikis. All of them have some serious, grievous problems.

I've been emailing administrators of these wiki platforms, and not getting satisfactory responses. Can you see the black smoke streaming out of my ears? Maybe I'm not being clear enough as to what I want to do.

But I think these wiki platforms have not been subjected to User Observation Testing.

Do you see why I harp on this topic constantly? You CANNOT even guess how usable any product is, until you do usability analysis, both heuristic (evaluation based on best practices, web norms, and standards) and lab observations.

3 Worst Usability
Errors of Wikis

(1) No Page Index.

You visit a wiki, and just stare at the Home Page. There's nowhere else to go. At least there is no immediately visible navigation function that enables you to click on the pages in the wiki.

Some wikis restrict such "activity" to registered users only, unless you reconfig the settings.

Displaying an index or list of all pages available, all the pages that are contained within the wiki, is esoteric or seemingly impossible. I cannot understand why any wiki would not have an Index of Pages that is auto-populated whenever you Create a New Page.

For example, a blog always contains a linked list of Recent Posts and Archives.

Why is it so freaking difficult to generate this for a wiki?

(2) No "Browse Images" Uploading Tool.

There are two ways to handle the uploading of digital photos and artwork to a blog or wiki.

The preferred method is to have a Browse function that enables you to search your computer for image files to upload. You click "Browse" and then you can search your desktop, My Pictures, and other places for image files you have stored on your computer.

The rotten method is to have a text entry box titled Enter Image URL. Who the hell can remember the image URLs of all their photos and artwork?

The wikis I am struggling with need to use the Browse method, but I think only one of them does this, Socialtext.

(3) Unhelpful Help Page.

Why don't these wikis have documentation on how to perform the simple tasks that I would imagine most users would want to achieve?

I see "Create New Page" and "Link To Page" and "Create a Table of Contents" but these categories are not complete and do not instruct me on how to do what I want to do.

"Table of Contents" (TOC) at Socialtext is weird. Against all expectations, the TOC that I created is a TOC for a page, and not for the entire wiki. WTF???

Why on earth would anyone care about a Table of Contents of one single page? If you have that much crap on one page, you've got yourself an Information Architecture problem. Break that long scrolling page into multiple separate pages.

CONCLUSION: Are Wikis Usable?

Answer: Yes, very easy to use. They are easy to start, easy to edit, easy to invite people to.

Wikis are extremely quick and fun to use.

Except, doggone it, for a few basic, vital, and fundamental tasks, three of which I have spelled out in this post. There are other problems, but these three are the most annoying for me right now.

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