Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Forum Topic Titles: how to write them

Once you've discovered a great online discussion forum on a favorite topic, hobby, or professional concern, you usually have to register to post comments or to start new "threads" (topics of discussion).

See my post: "Online Discussion Forums: your virtual advisory staff" for more introductory information on forums.

After your forum account is activated, you're ready to exercise all the privileges the forum offers.

Now let's say you went through the registration procedures because you have a burning question.


...until you know how to compose forum topic titles.

What is a "forum topic title"?

It's the subject line, like in an email message, that identifies that with which your question or comment is concerned.

It might be general or specific, depending on the nature of your post entry, but it has to be readily understandable to others.

Forums often present a table labeled:

"Thread [Topic]" (original question or statement that someone seeks replies to)

"Thread [Topic]Starter" (online handle of person who added a "new thread": original question or statement)

"Replies" (number of forum user responses to a topic post)

"Views" (number of times forum users have looked at the topic post)

"Rating" (rarely used, forum users rate how good a topic is)

"Last Post" (date, time, online handle of person posting)

When the thread has 184 Views, but only 3 Replies, it's a good bet that the topic title aroused curiosity, but the posted question was really dumb, or irrelevant, or posted in the wrong forum area.

Choose your forum area carefully. Review all the areas if necessary, to determine where your question best fits.

WARNING: Never engage in forum post spam. This is where you post the question in multiple (more than one) forum areas. Like if you post the same question in the CSS, Web Design, Ecommerce, DHTML, General Newbie Questions, and Miscellaneous areas of a web development discussion forum.

Another form of forum spam is to post something like "Great idea. See my web site at www.cosmosblogmos.blogspot.com"

This will be seen as a post that has nothing to do with the topic, but is seeking to generate traffic at a web site.

Read the forum's posting rules, and several posts and replies to them, to get a sense of what's acceptable and what is not.

Forum Topic Title Guidelines:

1. Never use such empty, meaningless titles as:


"I'm new here"

"Advice Needed"

"I was wondering..."

"Does anyone know...?"

"Check it out!"

"Your thoughts appreciated..."

"What T F *****!!!!!!"

"This drives me crazy!"

"Request comments about my site, please"

"I've got a big problem"

"Need Information"

"Just thought I'd say Hi"

"I'm bored today"

"What's wrong with me?"

"Has this ever happened to you?"

"Greetings from New Jersey"

2. Use meaningful titles that let others know quickly what your topic is.

If your topic title is vague or silly, many, perhaps all, forum users will ignore it.

Nobody will read your question. Nobody will waste their time messing around with it.

Very few forum users have any leisure time they'd be willing to spend exploring vague topic titles out of bored curiosity.

3. Write backward, using "front weighted relevance" of word strings.

By this phrase I mean: make the front or first word or phrase of the title carry the most specific information.

Instead of writing: "how do I find design ideas to increase web site credibity?"-- write something like: "web site credibility: design ideas to enhance."

More examples:

"Blog journalism: URLs of conservative political blogs?"

"Screenshots: what keyboard commands to copy & paste?"

"Sunflowers: tolerate partial shade?"

"HTML tutorials online: best FREE ones?"

"Mars water: same as Earth water?"

"Teens & smoking: tips for parents needed ASAP!"

"Internet usage statistics: need URLs for"

4. Well-crafted complaints can also be effective forum topic titles.

Make them direct and to the point, like expressing your grievance to a friend who has a sympathetic ear.

"Blog add-on feature breaks my layout."

"Rabbits keep eating all my bachelor button flowers!!!"

"99 Buick Regal engine makes pinging sound during ignition."

"Foot goes dead every 12 to 20 steps, must drag it one step."

"Wife says I pay no attention to her, or something like that."

"Need old-fashioned salad dressing recipes."

"Can't find downloaded screensaver."

"Disappering downloads"

"W3Schools Won't Load!!!!"

NOTE: While these complaint statements are sometimes somewhat vague, complaint titles do at least identify what your concern is.

Forum users may readily relate to the complaint statement and guess how best to respond to it.

Whenever possible however, try to think in this order:

1. What broad category does my question fit into?

2. What is my specific question or problem?

3. How can I write the topic title so everyone will immediately understand me? If I showed this title to my spouse, friend, co-worker, or neighbor, would they be able to state what my specific problem seems to be? Would they readily understand what it is I'm seeking?

If you can't answer those 3 questions sufficiently, perhaps you're not ready to start a new "thread" (discussion topic) in the online forum. Maybe you need to think harder about your situation.

The more clear you make your topic title, and the entire message you post under that title, the more the forum users will be able to help you.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Online Discussion Forums: your virtual advisory staff


Have you discovered the value of Web Discussion Forums?

It's like having a "virtual advisory staff" who answer your questions and give their professional opinion on various subjects.

Choose anything that interests you.

From web development forums to philosophy forums.

From auto repair forums to gardening forums.

Even an entire range of do-it-yourself forums.

I have not thoroughly investigated all of the forums cited here, so I cannot vouch for the value of any in particular. Have fun exploring and come to your own conclusions.

You can go to...


...and type in "internet forum [topic/interest/etc.]" in the "search site" text entry box. This will enable you to access details on the most popular forums in any category, and link right to them.

You may learn a lot just seeing what others have asked and the responses they receive. By checking the "threads" (forum topics), you may discover one that already matches a personal concern.

But forum user comments on your own questions are likely to provide the most significant help for your specific problem.

Web Discussion Forums are NOT:

***chat rooms: online locations where anonymous users type comments rapidly in a text entry field. Users thereby enter and participate in a "live," real-time conversation flow, or "chat."

Generally users express "in the moment" feelings and thoughts. Many users just seek conversation due to boredom or the love of conversing and expressing themselves. Much like a telephone conversation in print on the Internet. Often not a question/answer or problem/solution scenario.

(Some forums will include a chat room type area, often called a "coffee shop" or similar leisure term, for those who want a break from debating or investigating heavy topics).

***bulletin boards (BB): online locations where users type in comments, announcements, messages, articles. A "slow chat room." The original precusor of blogs, chat rooms, and internet forums.

The posts usually express their feelings, beliefs, or needs. BB users seek others that support the same agenda. Originally a location where computer users could request and obtain information about software. Not generally a question/answer or problem/solution scenario.

***blog sites: online locations where one person, representing themselves or some organization (like a political party, company, etc.), will post articles that others may read and add a responsive comment.

If my history lesson was correct, blogs began as online locations that merely listed URLs of recommended web sites for various topics or products, like software.

Currently, blogs seem to be used primarily for stating personal views on an issue, then allowing others to agree, disagree, or provide more information via the "post a comment" function.

Many of the pop trend blog sites are simply "blah-blah-blah blogs." They contain boring musings on trivial matters, like how much a person liked a particular movie, or other self-exploratory drivel. Such "personal diary" type web journal blogs are proliferating at a rapid rate.

But some blogs contain intelligent ponderings and revelations from brilliant, innovative thinkers. One of my favorites is a marketing strategy blog: Seth Godin's blog at...


Occasionally the comments function will be turned off, due to the article being merely informative and not debatable, or due to the fact that too many users go to the site and the server would not be able to handle the quantity of potential comments.

NOTE: The terms--internet forum, bulletin board, online discussion, message board, message parlor--are often used in place of each other, with no strict differentiation.

Web Discussion Forums ARE:

Web Discussion Forums are typically sponsored by an organization. The forums are provided as a service, so users with similar interests can share insights and problems in an online community.

A good example of this is the ecommerce online forum provided by Internet.com at:


A Web Discussion Forum can be a web site, or dynamic page sections within a web site. In other words, some commercial web sites contain discussion forums, often under the link title "Forum," "Online Forum," or "[Product/Interest] Forum."

Web Discussion Forums generally work like this:

1. Registration. Most forums ask you to sign up if you wish to post comments. Unregistered users typically can read all posts, except those in restricted Members Only forums.

Prior to registration, you'll be directed to read the forum's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) and agree to it.

In a nut shell, this AUP typically just commits you to abstaining from profanity, hate-speech, trolling, baiting, virus code, slander, flaming, pornographic speech and images, and other online ethics violations. And it enables the Forum sponsors the right to display your comments, but do nothing more with them.

There's more to it, so be sure to read every Acceptable Use Policy in full. Failure to abide by the rules can result in being banned from the site, or even legal repercussions.

To register, you simply provide a username, password, email address, plus optional items like your occupation, location, interests, favorite movies, hobbies, age, gender, etc. to flesh out your individuality). Most of this information, usually excepting your real name and your email address, will appear in your Profile.

2. Features Activated: such as HTML code, smilies/emoticons, Instant Messaging, hide/display your email address or URL of your web site, etc.

3. Signature (OPTIONAL): your professional title, a slogan you like, a favorite quote, URL of your web site or blog site, etc. that appears below every post you create on the forum.

4. Avatar (OPTIONAL): a small picture, photo, or animation that you legally aquired from a Avatar provider, or created yourself with a paint or photo tool. They're usually archived in the "My Pictures" file on your computer. When you Browse this file from the forum registration page, click on the item you want, and it will then be added to every post you create on the forum. It will appear right below your username.

5. Email Notification (OPTIONAL): the forum will send you an email telling you that someone has responded to a post you created, a question or comment you posted. It may contain the comment itself, or a link to the comment.

Once you've successfully registered at a Web Discussion Forum, and have your account all set up, you generally need to activate it by responding to an email the forum will send you.

Sometimes they send you a password of their own devising, rather than asking you to make up one.

After your account is activated, you're ready to exercise all the privileges offered by the forum.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Web Site Insights: Usability Reviews of Popular Sites

* **

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:


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.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Hypertext Links: how to compose them

Hypertext links!

They take you to further elaborations and substantiating sources. They transport you to new, connected ideas. They fling you into strange, hopefully beneficial, environments.

And all you have to do is click on them.



You're gone.


You're somewhere else.

To return to where you were before, usually all you have to do is click on the Back button of your browser.

Hypertext: text that slides you off one spot and carries you into another.

Linking strategies are based on how the mind operates by associating one thing with another. Actually, any thought could theoretically be linked to any other thought.

Good linking means connecting ideas in a way that's beneficial for users and relevant to the topic of discussion.

So, how do you compose them?

What text should be "linked verbiage"?

How do you decide what words and phrases should be make "clickable"?

(Actually the better term is "selectable," since some users don't use a mouse, but enter keyboard commands, voice activation, etc., to select an item.)

How to digitally convert regular text into functional hypertext is a separate topic.

In this blog site, for example, I just highlight the word or phrase, click on the Link Icon, a field appears in which I select the desired type of "hyperlink" (file, ftp, gopher, http, https, mailto, news, telnet, or wais), type in the URL for the link, click Okay or Cancel, and I'm good to go.

Guidelines for Composing Hypertext Links:

1. Write your regular text.

2. Look at key words and phrases in your text.

3. Determine which key words and phrases should be clarified for your readers. Or what ideas your readers might want to pursue further.

Or which words and phrases carry vital information that users can skim and understand in a hurry.

4. Turn those key words and phrases, or those ideas, into hypertext links.

5. Try to keep phrases short, two or three words, if possible.

6. If you want people to find your blog or web site by typing key words and phrases into a Search Engine, your hypertext links must be made according to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) principles.

SEO can help your site appear at the top of the heap of Search Engine results when users seek web sites in your field of endeavor.

7. Search Engine spiders hunger for relevant content and lots of legitimate outbound links.

So make lots of links, and make sure the wording contained in the links is relevant to the content of your site.

But don't overdo it, because the Search Engine spiders don't like fraudulent attempts to trick them. If fact, they are repulsed by "keyword spamming," using a word or phrase repeatedly in a ridiculous manner, in a web site.

In this site, I turn words and phrases about "usability," "hypertext," "blogs," and other industry terms, into hypertext links.

8. Poor wording for links include: "click here" and "more." These words contain no relevant content for SEO spiders to devour. And you want your links to be scannable, so people can glance at your text and see what it's all about.

Examples of Good Linked Verbiage:

(1.) In the sentence:

Click here to learn how to improve web text scannability.

"improve web text scannability" could be the linked verbiage, and "click here", which formerly was the linked verbiage, should be deleted. Users typically know that blue, underlined text is selectable hypertext. Begin sentence with "Learn how to..."


Learn how to improve web text scannability.

(2.) In the sentence:

There are many more examples of linked verbiage that can guide your content writing.

"more examples of linked verbiage" could be the linked verbiage.


There are many more examples of linked verbiage that can guide your content writing.

(3.) In the list:

* podcasting


* blogrolls

* email comment notification

* trackback

* blog comment spam

...all the text of each asterisked item could be linked verbiage leading to definitions or clarifications.

Check Usability of Your Hypertext Links

Once you've converted key words and phrases of regular text into hypertext links, click on (select) each one of them, to make sure they work. Never assume you typed in the URLs correctly. Never assume the URLs will never be altered (by webmasters changing the archiving system, for example, though URLs as a rule should never be changed for any reason). Click on those links and see if they take you to the desired destination.

In the paragraph below, "Vannevar Bush" was a hypertext link that linked to an article in the online version of The Atlantic magazine.

That article by Vannevar Bush is no longer available to view, unless you pay for a subscription to The Atlantic. It used to be available for anyone to view. This would be considered "link rot": the link no longer works correctly, or leads to a page no longer available. So, I had to make a change in the link destination.

Now, the name Vannevar Bush is a hypertext link that links to an article in the Boxes & Arrows online magazine.

Vannevar Bush, the genius credited with envisioning the first modern, idea-networking computer (his "Memex" concept), called paths that lead to relevant data: "information trails."

Happy (Info) Trails To You.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Vaspers the Grate: Summer Seminar Poster

Posted by Hello
Computer art copyright 2004
by Steven Streight.
Created on JASC
Paint Shop Pro.

Imagine seeing this monstrosity plastered
on the door where a Web Usability Seminar
is being conducted.

I mean--imagine seeing it early in the morning,
after having a few too many with the guys
the night before. Too many Blue Moons.

It would wake you up, I assume.

Technical Documentation Tips

Technical Documentation includes the writing of owner's manuals, service guides, how-to articles, intranet punch lists, keyboard shortcuts, help desk information (like Macromedia RoboHelp X5), product comparison charts, and product specifications.

The principles in writing Technical Documentation are not very different from direct marketing, web site content writing, email composing, or any form of efficient written communication.

All the fundamental rules still apply, but there are also some distinct guidelines to consider when developing Technical Documentation.

Here's a general laundry list of things to consider:

Technical Documentation Tips

1. Keep it simple, short, and scannable.

2. Put fast instructions on one side of a page, then "How to Correct Errors" type detailed information on reverse side.

3. Be consistent with words and phrases. Don't use "click on File" in one place, then "mouse select File" in another place within the document.

4. Use numbered or bulleted lists, with bold for headings (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, etc.) and indentations for supplemental details.

5. Abstain from using long sentences. Avoid dense paragraphs. Use easy to read formats, no matter how complex the instructions may be. Simplify and shorten.

6. Add white space between sections and distinct sets of instructions.

7. Consider various versions of the same documentation. For example, distinct versions for:

***Managers (short, to the point, general overview, who to contact for more information).

***Customer Support Personnel (like 800 number tech help, similar to End User version) .

***Sales Force (so they can explain the basics to prospective customers, technical documentation and help systems are nice product features and sales points).

***End Users (walk them through each step, in language they'll understand).

[NOTE: I can't indent with tabs on this blog, so I devised a "work around" solution: three asterisks.]

8. Don't omit what you might consider "obvious" or even "dumbed down." Much technical documentation leaves out steps that the writer just assumed the readers would automatically know and do. Often left out are things like "click Accept or click Decline" and "press Enter."

9. Check your instructions to make sure they work and don't leave anything out. For example, you may read the help instruction "then click on My Resume" but there is no "My Resume" button appearing...until you click on something else first.

10. Set up a documentation template for consistency of organization and presentation.

11. Use command words at beginning of sentences for each step. For example, what I'm doing in this list:

***"Keep, Put, Be, Use, Abstain, Add, (etc.)"

12. Start documentation at the beginning, square one, ground zero, not assuming users are already at a certain point into the process.

13. End documentation at the final step, the end, the very last thing to do...not assuming users will reach that point on their own. For example: "Click Turn Off Computer. Disconnect modem. Put dust cover over keyboard. Make sure printer is turned off. You may now go about other business...or go home." This may be a bit much, but you get the idea.

14. "Smarting Up" and causing some newbie or low-skilled users to not understand can be worse than "Dumbing Down" and causing some advanced or high-skilled users to be impatient with "obvious" details.

15. Provide adequate white space for users to add their own notes, further questions, or personal short-cuts...and for tech staff to date and initial their approvals.

16. Consider using serif type fonts for print media documentation...sans serif type fonts for web/computer screen documentation.

17. Give documentation to newbies, children, elderly, strangers off the street, or computer illiterates to test the simplicity and clarity of your writing. If these types of users can succeed with your documentation, it's probably well written.

18. Observe end users testing your documentation. Make notes on what they say and do.

There's much more that can be said on this topic.

More later.

Stay tuned to Vaspers the Grate.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Effective Online Sales Writing

1. Get to know the users of the product.

Discover their needs, expectations, likes, and dislikes.

Learn what determines their purchasing decisions.

2. Become an actual (if only temporary) user of the product, or at least have it fully demonstrated to you.

Know the product intimately, to write about it powerfully--with the ring of authenticity.

3. See the product from the viewpoint of prospects/customers/users.

Discover the product's strong points and weak points, according to actual users.

Identify the product's most beneficial aspects. Produce new ways of verifying, emphasizing, and dramatizing them.

Anticipate, and devise honest responses to, valid objections against the product. (No product is perfect.)

Translate product features into user benefits. Avoid listing features divorced from their practical advantages to users.

Provide side-by-side comparison charts, both product selection assistance and competitive differentiation.

Product selection assistance means helping customers compare the features/options/prices of your various products, models, versions--so they can choose the product best suited to their needs and budgets.

Competitive differentiation means helping customers compare the features/prices of competitor products with your products--so they can see how your products are (hopefully) superior to your competitors' products.

4. Ask questions potential customers will ask about the product.

Favorable questions. Antagonistic questions. Smart questions. “Dumb” questions. Cynical questions. Unfair questions. Typical questions. Unusual questions. Easy questions. Difficult questions. Informed questions. Misguided questions. Polite questions. Harsh questions.

Prospects tend to earnestly ask, silently ponder, or scoffingly harbor, all types of questions about a product.

5. Obtain answers to these questions that will satisfy, and make sense to potential customers.

Devise answers that are intelligent, tactical, and true.

Respond triumphantly to skeptical prospects, without falsely portraying the product. Admit limitations, but emphasize desirable benefits.

6. Explain the product to prospects, in terms that are relevant and clear to them.

Prospects, customers, and users rarely use the same terminology as the corporate insiders, product designers, or marketing personnel.

Communicate in the language of typical users. Provide simple, direct explanations of complex aspects and difficult issues.

7. Present the sales material to potential customers to determine if it's relevant and clear.

Never assume potential customers will personally relate to and understand your sales promotion text.

Have representative prospects, the audience for your sales communications, read it.

Then ask specific questions about features and benefits to make sure they internalized the intended message.

See my post on Converting "Print Read" Text to "Web Scan" Text for more web writing tips.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Autumn Seminar Poster #2

Posted by Hello
Computer art copyright 2004
by Steven Streight.
Created on JASC
Paint Shop Pro.

This seminar poster, to mark the door of the room
where the meeting is being held, is a lot more
subdued than many of the others.

I don't like announcing the fact that
it's a "web usability seminar"...

...I'd rather make it more mysterious.

People seem to like mystery and being seen
walking into a room with a weird sign on
the door. Matching name tags assist in this
creation of a strange "mystique."

5 Profound Principles of Usability Dynamics


Usability Dynamics, the analysis and implementation of product usability characteristics, is based upon 5 Profound Principles:

1.DUALITY: Every product has a double nature. It performs two services: one for the customer and another for the company. The product must satisfy the needs of the customer, and communicate a specific idea about, or reinforce the established reputation of, the company that provides the product.

The product acts as a “sales person” for the company by the way it solves the customer's problem, or enhances the customer's life. More selling is accomplished by a good product on its own behalf than the combined efforts of entire sales forces.

Conversely, more buyer's remorse and customer returns are generated by a faulty product to its own detriment than the combined forces of all its competitors. The customer expects a product to perform a task for him or her, while the company expects that same product to also accomplish a purpose for the company.

This two-fold function of a product, incorporated in the Five Mandatory Modes (see post on this topic), is rarely addressed by current usability research.

2.INVISIBILITY: This is a somewhat uncanny, disturbing quality of usability. It's extraordinarily important to understand that usability is not seen immediately or directly in the product itself, nor in its sales presentation, nor in the official viewpoint of the company. Products don't read mission statements or vision declarations. Nor are they necessarily the embodiments of the corporate culture.

Product usability is initially, prior to analysis, an absolutely unknown factor. It is revealed only by non-invasively observing the interaction between a product and a representative user.

Focus groups, questionnaires, surveys, and other subjective reports typically yield accomodative (telling you what they think you want to hear), non-incidental (derived from unreliable memories of past, non-immediate usage of the product) data.

Such artificial scenarios as Think Aloud User Testing (most users don't talk to themselves when operating a product), Cooperative Interaction Surveillance (most users don't have a companion helping them operate a product), Guideline Adherence Diagnostics (guidelines may be biased and irrelevant to a particular product), and Cognitive Walkthroughs (the product designer posing as a representative user is far-fetched at best, and task selections are not typical) are also of comparatively limited value.

All these academically prized methods of evaluation fall woefully short of the analytical results obtainable from trained personnel engaged in silent, non-participatory, unintrusive customer observation.

Pure, unbiased usability data can be generated only by watching what the customer does with the product, with no prompting, explanation, or assistance from anyone.

If this kind of investigation cannot be performed, Heuristic Expert Evaluations (reviews of a product by a usability specialist, in accordance with scientifically derived guidelines) come closest to pure analysis, when based on accumulated observations of single users independently interacting with similar or nearly identical products.

The safest assumption is that the customer will attempt to use a product in a condition of solitude, whether at work or at home. In addition, the average user can usually be regarded as having average skills, an attitude of impatience, a low tolerance for frustration, a distracting environment, a feeling of discomfort (especially if at the computer for hours), and a strong desire to operate the product intuitively.

While other people may in fact be in the vicinity of the user, work associates for example, they cannot be relied upon to take the time to help, or assumed to have the ability to help. Furthermore, and this should be obvious, they are not an intrinsic part of the product.

It's surprising how difficult it is to get supposed “usability experts” and a company's product designers to understand this basic fact of sound analysis procedures. External influences in usability testing situations are generally divorced from customer reality, and serve only to contaminate the usability tests, rendering them largely worthless.

3.UNIVERSALITY: Usability is desired by all customers, and should, whenever possible, accommodate all levels of interest, need, and skill.

Early adopters, those who want shocking new technologies and wildly innovative services, are typically more tolerant of inherent complexity, task performance difficulty, and “good enough” usability. They pride themselves in being so competent they can master what others would reject in bewildered frustration.

This is why some products are released in an imperfect, problematic version. Highly experienced users don't mind, and may even enjoy, grappling with a new device or learning a new technique, as long as they eventually accomplish something that makes the struggle worth it, something that will impress their peers.

However, in many cases, it's a good idea to design a product for maximum usability across all ranges of expertise, from lowest to highest.

Those who are satisfied with easy implementation and fast results will be happy with the product's basic simplicity, yet look forward to opportunity to develop new skills to take advantage of advanced complexities that are available.

Those who demand advanced features and more rigorous applications will appreciate the speed with which they can start completing tasks, yet not feel the entire product has been "dumbed down" by having only beginner's features.

In some cases, it may not be feasible to embody this ideal of universal usability in a single product. One version of the product may have to be offered to neophytes, with a different version offered to seasoned pros.

4.INFINITY: The improvement of a product's usability is virtually unlimited. Related services and add-on enhancements can escalate endlessly. Most modern products lend themselves to constant development and redesign, with seemingly endless proliferations of styles, attributes, and customer market segmentations.

The company that becomes smug, and refuses to recognize that products must keep pace with increasing customer sophistication and industry innovations, will be easy prey for a savvy competitor.

5.INSTABILITY: Usability is not a static quality. What seems easy to use today may seem pathetically primitive and aggravating a few years from now. A highly usable product may be defeated in the marketplace by another product that is even easier and more convenient.

New users enter the market with new expectations.

Veteran users search the product offerings of various providers, hoping to find new features and designs.

As customers and competing products evolve, the perceived usability of any given product may also change.

Thus, a product's usability is never a permanently established fact that can be glibly taken for granted.

Its usability should be evaluated on a periodic, ongoing basis.

5 Mandatory Modes of Usability Analysis

Comprehensive usability evaluation of a product consists of considering the product from various angles.

My usabililty methodology is based on the 5 Mandatory Modes:

1. TELEOLOGY: derived from “telos,” meaning “end.”

The study of ultimate aim or purpose.

*What the customer wants to do with the product.
(Solve a problem, satisfy a need, gain competitive advantage, etc.)

*What the company wants to achieve through the product.
(Increase market share, recognition as innovator, industry leader, provider with high quality/low cost, etc.)

2. PHENOMENOLOGY: derived from “phainomenon,” meaning “to appear.”

The study of things or events as they actually occur, prior to interpretation, as opposed to what “should” occur.

*How the customer wants to use the product to do something.
(Compatibility with other systems, low maintenance, low cost, minimum effort, etc.)

*How the company wants to achieve something through the product.
(Customer loyalty, word of mouth, repeat sales, cross selling, upselling, etc.)

3. ONTOLOGY: derived from “ontos,” meaning “what exists.”

The study of essential properties and relations of things.

*How the product enables the customer to do something.
(Actual hands-on operation in real world environment toward realistic end.)

*How the product enables the company to achieve something.
(Actual performance of product relative to corporate goals.)

4. SEMIOLOGY: derived from “semeion,” meaning “sign.”

The study of how words and images convey a message.

*How the product enables the customer to understand how to use it.
(Owner's manuals, instruction stickers, buttons, warning labels, etc.)

*How the product enables the company to communicate a message to the customer.

5. ESCHATOLOGY: derived from “eschatos,” meaning “furthest,” “last,” or “terminal.”

The study of final things and ultimate judgment.

*How the customer culminates and assesses the use of the product (like/dislike, fun/drudgery, easy/difficult, etc.).

*How the company evaluates product success (customer satisfaction, sales, etc.) and evolves the product (advanced versions, beginner's versions, more accessories, etc.).

NOTE: All usability analyses should ideally view the product from all five of these modes.

To neglect any one of them will result in a partial, and critically deficient, usability status assignment for the product.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Banned from Other Blog Sites



"This is not good."

"I'm a bad, a very bad person."

"My last comment must have been considered too honest, too conservative, too radical, too patriotic, not patriotic enough, or something dreadful."

Those are the thoughts you're tempted to think when you attempt to visit a Blog Site, Message Board, Discussion Forum, or other interactive, comment posting web site...and you are FORBIDDEN.

Like, unexpectedly. At least evictions from apartments give you time to pack your bags and do some pleading or coaxing or reconciliation.

COLD KICKING is the term I made up for what happened to me. There is no current word I know of that refers to this action, so I propose my neologism.

"Cold Kicking" = banning someone from a web site, without giving any prior notice, warning, or command to quit making unwanted comments.

If you like blogging, you should learn about blogging basics and ethics , how to write good blog articles and responsive comments, nanopublishing, and other blogging issues.

This formerly "underground" web activity is getting popular, in fact mainstream blogging is an accomplished fact.

Political Party Convention blogging is a normal aspect of journalism now.
My friend Darren Rouse can help you learn a great deal about blogging:


Click on (select) "Blog Tips" from left column menu on his homepage.

Anyway, I've been "kicked off" three sites now: two theological sites and one web design site.

Each time it happens, it's like a funeral. My blog ability at the site just died. And I lose another what I thought was an online realm friend.

Here are the messages I received when I tried to either visit the web site, or tried to post a comment at a site:

1. THEOLOGICAL BULLETIN BOARD SITE: "Board Administrators have removed your ability to post to this board."

2. THEOLOGICAL BLOG SITE: "Comment Submission Error.
Your comment failed for the following reasons:
You are not allowed to post comments.
Please correct your error and try your post again."

You do not have permission to access the requested file [i.e., the web site] on this server."

When you get a message like this, you think back to the last comment you posted and figure it was offensive in some way.

COMMENT POLICY: Most blog sites, discussion forums, message boards, bulletin boards, etc. claim, in their terms of agreement or comment posting policy statements, that they will notify anyone who makes an offensive comment. They will email the culprit, explain why the comment was offensive, and warn the person to stop making such comments.

REALITY: So far, this has not happened. I've just been banned, forbidden, kicked off, with no warning and no explanation, in all three cases. Thus, they committed the cowardly, impulsive COLD KICKING.

I abstain from flaming, phreaking, trolling, cracking, hazing, ranting, flooding, lurking, baiting, scambaiting, chatterboting, and other undignified forms of online misbehavior.

How does a person get kicked off a web design blog site, where most of the writings are about CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), fonts, design freedom vs. usability concerns, and other technical topics?

By making a political reply to a rare political commentary the site operator published. By making what amounted to a statement of an aggressively jaded, skeptical, apolitical, anti-partisan attitude.

I made it clear I was not impressed with his favored party, yet was also seriously questioning the competing party, which I favored more. My comment was about three sentences or so. No blazing diatribe or hyperbolic missive.

I had never posted any hateful or personal assault type comments on his blog site.

My posts were mild mannered comments on various usability topics, but once I complained about a well known computer manufacturer's web site not being designed very well in certain aspects.

Maybe he loves this computer company that I critiqued. Maybe these two comments added up to igniting his ire.

I tried to email the web design person, apologizing if I offended him, asking if this was a real ban or just some technical error, but my email was returned as "undeliverable".

This makes me wonder if his blog site, and associated email, is down, off the Web?

Weird. I can't access the blog site, can't post a comment, and can't send an email. This guy really doesn't want to hear from me in any fashion...forever. Well, that's what the insanity and hypocrisy of politics does to some people, I suppose.

DEPTH PSYCHOLOGY: Your humble blogger is worried--am I that horrible of a person?

Nah, these folks are just prone to sudden outbursts of anger and revenge.

Maybe they're repulsed by anyone freely expressing an honest opinion, or they can't handle criticism, or they're hostile to independent thinking.

MY PROMISE: Whilst this is not a reader comment-driven blog site (I just use it to inform clients and interested parties about Web Usability and various Computer Oriented issues)...

...still, I promise and pledge to NEVER ban, forbid, or otherwise ostracize anyone from my site.

Because I don't know how. Google Blogger Tech guy hasn't taught me that yet.

And also because I prefer to warn someone, and if they don't heed the warning, I can just Delete the "troubling" comments.

For now, this seems to be a good POLICY.

TO MY BANISHERS: As for my fellow blog site operators, those who have their own blog site, bulletin board, discussion forum, or whatever, and commit COLD KICKING: toughen up.

Thicken your skin, relax, sip some green tea or Boston cream coffee, take a nap on a waterbed and wake up on the right side of it, go on a vacation to a tropical island, read anthropology texts, learn about foreign cultures and traditions, and quit being so post-modernly, xenophobicly sensitive about everything.

Different Viewpoints do exist in this wild and wonderful world of ours. And some people can state their opposing views in much more explosive manners than I ever could.

Don't let contrary opinions turn you into crybabies throwing temper tantrums, spewing forth reactionary "Forbidden" messages.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

System Usability Scale (Modified)

Here's a form that's very helpful at the end of a User Observation Test in a Web Usability Analysis program.

This is one of several forms and procedures we use at Streight Site Systems to evaluate user satisfaction and performance at a client's web site.

In its original version, this questionnaire applied to any DEC computer or technological system. I have modified it to make it specifically accommodate web site evaluations.

It's in the public domain. Anyone may feel free to use it, as long as DEC is credited with creating the original version.

See the original version at
or at
Usability Net.

Rather than list the "agree/disagree" values 1 through 5 in a vertical series, as shown here, I use a horizontal bar spectrum of values from 1 (far left) to 5 (far right).

In either case, user test subjects are instructed to circle a number to indicate "agree/disagree" values regarding the statements.

System Usability Scale Questionnaire.*

Please respond honestly to the phrases below:

1 = Strongly Agree!
2 = Agree
3 = Maybe, Somewhat, Sometimes
4 = Disagree
5 = Strongly Disagree!

1. Wow! I'm sure I'll be using this web site often.






2. I'm sorry, but I won't be returning to this web site.






3. I thought the web site was easy to use & understand.






4. I'll need more practice--or support from a technical person--to easily use this web site.






5. The information and things to do in this web site were well organized.






6. I thought there was too much information in this web site.






7. I think most people could quickly learn to use and understand this web site.






8. I found the web site frustrating, time consuming, or confusing to use.






9. I felt confident and satisfied using this web site.






10. I'd need to learn a lot of things before I could master this site.






Copyright 1986 Digital Equipment Company Ltd.
Public Domain: use is not contested.
*Modified 2004 Streight Site Systems.