June 21, 2008
10 Web Tools to Create User-Friendly Sites
By Pretlow, Cassi
Surprisingly many tools exist on the web that can help your site become more inviting and easier to use. By now, you are probably familiar with the free tools offered by Flickr, del.icio.us, or YouTube for embedding images, tags, and videos on webpages. I highly recommend experimenting with these. Here is a comprehensive list of some perhaps lesser-known but equally useful tools for your site. This list can also be found at http://del.icio.us/cpretlow. Screen Recording SoftwareWebinaria.com
With Webinaria, you can create free screen recordings of your website during usability testing and record voice commentary along with the video. Screen recordings are valuable during usability testing to show others how participants navigate and complete tasks on your current site or redesign.
Webinaria runs in the background, silently capturing everything that appears on the screen and saving a video file. Recording what users do is a crucial aspect of usability testing. One of the most useful recordings you can make is a video of screen activity, recording everything on the screen, much like a VCR: the movement of the mouse, scrolling on pages, links being clicked, the search terms being typed, and so on. A visual record of these mouse movements, keystrokes, and other activities is most useful in evaluating testing results. While there is no substitute for good observational skills, it can be difficult to remember everything that happened during the test. Having a visual record not only reminds you of what happened, it allows for more detailed analysis after the test and for comparisons between individuals. Recordings are created in Flash. You can customize the capture area and adjust the sound. It is only available for Windows operating systems.
Website Views in Multiple Browsers
http : / /browsershots. org
Are you tired of viewing your website in dozens of different browsers and their various versions to make sure it displays correctly? Have you ever tested your site in the browsers Iceweasel, SeaMonkey, or Flock, or are you shaking your head, trying to recall what those are? It is not very practical to download and install all the browsers you have to use to test your site. You could easily install the most-used versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Opera, but what about their previous versions? Browsershots makes screen shots of your web design in different browsers. When you submit your web address, it will be added to a job queue. A number of distributed computers will open your website in their browsers. Then they will make screen shots and upload them to a central server. It can be slow, but it works well. You will see where layouts are off-center or where text breaks badly.
Online Card. Sorting
Card sorting is a way to study how people organize and categorize their knowledge. Card sorting is a user-centered design method used to gain a bet- ter understanding of how a website should be organized and made easier to use. The process involves having a user sort a series of cards, each labeled with a piece of content or functional- ity, into groups that make sense to the user. After sorting the cards into piles, the user is then asked to give the piles a name or phrase that would indicate what the concepts in a particular pile had in common. However, this process can be very time-consuming, and it requires having participants travel to your location. With WebSort you can avoid this because it is all on the web.
WebSort enables researchers to perform remote card-sort studies. Create a study, send a link to participants, and analyze the results- all through a web-based interface. WebSort provides easy-to- understand instructions for participants; these instructions can also be tailored to your needs.
WebSort offers studies with a limit of 10 participants, free of charge. If you decide WebSort meets your needs, you can purchase a subscription (a 50% discount is available to nonprofit institutions). Create a free account in 5 seconds and a new study in 5 minutes. Results are available in two formats: a visual tree display and a tab-delimited text file.
Broken Link Checker
Xenu's Link Sleuth http://home.snafu.de/tilman/ xenulink.html
If you do not have a broken link checker, it is in your best interest to implement one so your users never have to face the dreaded "Page not found" message. Xenu's Link Sleuth checks websites for broken links.
Interestingly, the concept for this free software was created on hotel stationery over excellent Italian food and good Chianti back in 1997. Since then, the download site has been viewed more than 1.5 million times. Link verification is done on "normal" links, images, frames, plug-ins, backgrounds, local image maps, style sheets, scripts, and Java applets. It displays a continuously updated list of URLs, which you can sort by different criteria. A report can be produced at any time, although the reports are somewhat difficult to read. You have to run the program locally. It is very accurate, but it can take hours to run on a large site, so it is ideal for smaller sites. There is no maximum on the number of websites that can be checked-it is limited only by the memory on your computer. Xenu provides a simple, nofrills user-interface and supports SSL websites (https://). It also detects and reports redirected URLs. An extensive FAQ list is offered on the website, as well as contact info for support. It is only available for Windows operating systems.
Research shows that about 60% of the time, people cannot find the information they seek on websites. This can lead to frustration and a loss of users to your site. Following basic usability principles and techniques can improve the quality of a user's experience. To learn more about these principles and techniques, go to Usability.gov. It is the primary government resource on usability and perhaps the most comprehensive step-bystep usability guide on the web. It covers everything you would want to know about usability, including how to identify your audience and user goals, determine website requirements, conduct a content inventory, perform card sorting, create personas, develop a prototype, write for the web, recruit participants for usability testing, and conduct tests. Usability.gov includes many templates, examples, the latest usability research, and training opportunities.
You can survey your users to find out what they like and do not like about your site. Find out how often they find what they need. Ask them what they think should be added to the site or needs improvement. With SurveyMonkey.com, you can survey up to 100 users, asking up to 10 questions for free. Collect responses via email or view live results as they are recorded. SurveyMonkey supports everything from multiple-choice questions to rating scales to open- ended text. You can customize the layout of every question type for the ultimate in design flexibility. It offers more than 50 survey templates in a variety of categories. You can create your survey in any language and have your own logo appear at the top of your survey. To help minimize "ordering bias," you can automatically randomize the choices in your questions.
Do you need to present a copy of your survey at a meeting? With one click, you can generate a PDF version of your results. Collecting responses is as simple as sending out a link to your survey via email or posting the link on your website. Respondents simply click the link to go directly to your survey. SurveyMonkey also lets you create a custom pop-up for your webpage that invites people to take your survey while allowing visitors to easily opt out to minimize annoyance.
Google Custom Search Engine
Do you have a specific collection of websites you would like to search from one search box? You can make this happen with the Google Custom Search Engine. Google Custom Search allows you to provide multiple, preselected sources, searchable with one search box. In other words, a user entering a search in one box can receive results only from valued, librarian-recommended sites.
Once you've signed up for an account and defined your search engine index, Google will give you a simple piece of code for a search box to place on your own website. Google also provides statistics on the number of queries entered. Plus, extensive technical support is offered.
WAVE is a tool to help web developers make their web content more accessible. WAVE was developed and made available as a free community service by WebAIM (a nonprofit organization within the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University). Originally launched in 2001, WAVE has been used to evaluate the accessibility of millions of web documents.
To use WAVE, enter a webpage address. It will present your page with embedded icons and indicators. The icons are color-coded and easy to understand with a provided icon key. WAVE also provides corresponding recommended actions to each error message.
Website Reading Level
Readability Test at Juicy Studio
Determine how readable your content is with this free online tool. At this website, three reading-level algorithms are used: Gunning Fog, Flesch Reading Ease, and Flesch-Kincaid. These can give a useful indication as to whether you've pitched your content at the right level for your intended audience. Readability tests were first developed in the 1920s in the U.S. They are mathematical formulas designed to determine the suitabil- ity of books for American students at a certain age or grade level. The formulas are based around the average number of words per sen- tence and the average number of syllables per word. Automating the process was intended to make it easier for tutors, librarians, and publishers to determine whether a book would be suitable for its intended audience.
There is a problem with readability testing. Being mathematically based, readability tests are unable to determine the likelihood that a document is comprehensible, interesting, or enjoyable. That is because it is possible to obtain good readability scores with nonsense, provided the content contains short sentences made up of monosyllabic words.
Juicy Studio's readability test service analyzes the readability of all rendered online content. Unfortunately, this will include navigation items and other short items of content that are not intended to be the subject of the readability test. These items are likely to skew the results. The difference will be minimal in situations where the copy content is much larger than the navigation items, but documents with little content and lots of navigation terms will return results that might not be correct.
With all this in mind, this readability test is still a useful tool to try with content-heavy pages. When you enter the webpage address, it will tell you how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content, as well as how easy it is to comprehend the text.
Color Vision Testing
Roughly one in 20 people has some sort of color- vision deficiency. The world looks different to these people. For exam- ple, they often find it hard to tell red and green things apart. This means that they sometimes can't see things that "color normal" people can see. As a result, many webpages are hard for colorblind people to read. Vischeck lets you check your site for colorblind visibility by showing you what things look like to someone who is colorblind.
Vischeck, developed by two Stanford University scientists, is a computer simulation of the entire process of human vision. You can try Vischeck online by selecting the type of color vision to simulate - deuteranope (a form of red/green color deficit), protanope (another form of red/green color deficit), or tritanope (a very rare blue/yellow deficit) - and then entering your webpage, or you can download the program and run it on your own computer.
Research shows that about 60% of the time, people cannot find the information they seek on websites.
Roughly one in 20 people has some sort of color- vision deficiency.
Cassi Pretlow is the web project manager at the Denver Public Library. Her email address is [email protected]
Copyright Information Today, Inc. Jun 2008
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