Category Archives: websites

Age-related differences in the use of the Internet

One of my major research interests is in how people of all ages, especially older adults (those over age 65) use the Internet (shameless plug for our new book on Designing Displays for Older Adults).  The Pew Internet & American Life Project recent came out with a new survey of Internet usage across the age groups.

A counter-intuitive finding is that while those age 18-33 are more likely to access the Internet non-conventionally, it is a slightly older age group (34-45; my age group) that are more likely to engage in a wider variety of online activities.

The table below shows usage patterns by age group.  Here is the full report.

The Elusive Moodle!

Had to share this funny usability story. Google released the top searches by city today

First on the list for Raleigh, NC was “moodle ncsu.” Topping the list for Charlotte, NC was “moodle nccu.”

Moodle is the recently adopted open source courseware system we (NCSU: North Carolina State University) use. When I use Moodle to interact with my classes, I need to go to http://moodle.wolfware.ncsu.edu/

This link is impossible to remember, as it fits none of the conventions used by other university systems. I always expect it to be:

  • www.moodle.ncsu.edu (nope)
  • www.ncsu.edu/moodle/ (nope)

For example, the library is www.lib.ncsu.edu. The student center is www.ncsu.edu/student_center/.

I laughed when I saw the search results because I personally search for “moodle ncsu” at least once a week! Obviously even frequent users cannot internalize the way it is linked. I suspect that if there were a redirect from www.moodle.ncsu.edu to http://moodle.wolfware.ncsu.edu/ this would no longer be the top google search in Raleigh, NC. I bet the same is true for NCCU in Charlotte.

Was it the interface?

A story at The Chronicle discusses the appointment and immediate resignation of a faculty member elected as chairperson of their department. Below are some quotes from the article that make me wonder what one had to do to remove one’s name from the ballot.

Mr. Sheppard was elected under an online-election system, introduced last year, that was designed to make it easier for faculty members to vote and to get them more involved in campus life by automatically nominating professors for all posts they were eligible for.

Professors who logged on to the Web site but did not remove their names were assumed to be willing to serve. Those who did not log on at all were also listed, but voters were warned that the candidates’ willingness to serve was uncertain.

Mr. Hopkins says he sent multiple e-mails explaining the process.

Mr. Sheppard, who did not return calls for comment, reportedly claimed that he had logged on and removed his name from consideration. But Mr. Hopkins says computer records show that Mr. Sheppard logged on but did not remove his name, making him a viable candidate.

I’m really curious as to what the “website” interface looked like and what a faculty member had to do to to remove his or her name.

Almost Here: Designing Displays for Older Adults

After a long process and over a year of work, Anne’s and my book on user interface design for older adults is almost available!  The cover of our book has been finalized (shown below).  The book will be released September 21st, 2010 and will be available where fine books are sold or directly from our publisher CRC Press.

Price: $69.95, Cat. #: K10089, ISBN: 9781439801390, ISBN 10: 1439801398, Publication Date: September 21, 2010, Number of Pages: 232

We’ll give away a few copies of our book and in a future post provide an excerpt when we get permission.  Unfortunately, the book is not scheduled to be available in electronic format but we hope that will change. An ebook will also be available (thanks Peg!).

Here is our description of the book:

Features

  • Contains state-of-the-art aging research written in an accessible format
  • Includes four chapters of worked examples that put design suggestions into practice
  • Focuses on designing for the aging population
  • Explores the “hows” and “whys” of designing for an aging population

Summary

A distillation of decades of published research, this book is a primer on age-related changes in cognition, perception, and behavior organized into meaningful principles that improve understanding. It explores the complex set of mental and physical changes that occur during aging and that can affect technology acceptance, adoption, interaction, safety, and satisfaction. The authors apply these theories in real design exercises and include specific guidelines for display examples to bridge theory and practice. It opens the way for designing with an understanding of these changes that results in better products and systems for users in all life stages.

Facebook and Privacy: A Guest Post by Kelly Caine

Many of my friends have threatened to leave Facebook because of their concerns over privacy, but for the first time, this week one of them actually made good on the threat.

In his “Dear John” letter, my friend Yohann summarized the issue:

I don’t feel that I am in control of the information I share on Facebook, and of the information my friends share… FB has total control of (some of) my information, and I don’t like that.

It’s not that Yohann didn’t like Facebook–he did. He liked being able to see his friend’s latest photos and keep up with status updates. The problem was that Yohann (who is, by the way a very smart, tech savvy guy) felt unable to use the Facebook user interface to effectively maintain control of his information.

The root of this problem could be one of two things. It could be that Facebook has adopted the “evil interface” strategy (discussed by Rich previously on the human factors blog), where an interface is not designed to help a user accomplish their goals easily (a key tenet of human factors), but is instead designed to encourage (or trick) a user to behave the way the interface designer wants the user to behave (even if it’s not what the user really wants). Clearly, this strategy is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which from Facebook’s perspective is that users will stop using Facebook altogether if they feel tricked or not in control.

A more optimistic perspective is that the problem of privacy on Facebook is a human factors one: the privacy settings on Facebook need to be redesigned because they are currently not easy to use.  Here are a few human factors issues I’ve noticed.

Changes to Privacy Policy Violate Users’ Expectations

Facebook’s privacy policies have changed drastically over the years (The EFF provides a good description of the changes and Matt McKeon has made a very nice visualization of the changes).

Users, especially expert users, had likely already developed expectations about what profile information would be shared with whom. Each time Facebook changed the privacy policy (historically, always in the direction of sharing more), users had to exert effort to reformulate their understanding of what was shared by default, and work to understand how to keep certain information from being made more widely available.

Lack of Feedback

In general, there is very little feedback provided to users about the privacy level of different pieces of information on their Facebook profile. For example, by default, Facebook now considers your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and Pages to all be public information. However, no feedback is given to users as they enter or change this information to indicate that this is considered public information.

It is unclear what is public and non-public information

While Facebook did introduce a preview function which shows a preview of what information a Facebook friend would see should they visit your profile (which is a great idea!), the preview function does not provide feedback to a user about what information they are sharing publicly or with apps. For example, you can’t type “Yelp” into the preview window to see what information Facebook would share with Yelp through Facebook connect.

You cannot preview what information Facebook shares with sites and apps

No Training (Instructions)

Finally, Facebook does not provide any training and only minimal instructions for users on how to manage privacy settings.

Solutions

Fortunately, there are some relatively simple human factors solutions that could help users manage their privacy without writing their own Dear John letter to Facebook.

In terms of user expectations, given the most recent changes to Facebook’s privacy policy, it’s hard to imagine how much more the Facebook privacy policy can change. So, from an expectations standpoint, I guess that could be considered good?

In terms of interface changes to increase feedback to users, Facebook could for example, notify users when they are entering information that Facebook considers public by placing an icon beside the text box. That way, users would be given immediate feedback about which information would be shared publicly.

Globe icon indicates shared information

Finally, in terms of training, it’s fortunate that a number of people outside of Facebook have already stepped up to provide users instructions on how to use Facebook’s privacy settings. For example, in a post that dominated the NYT “most emailed” for over a month Sarah Perez explained the 3 Facebook settings she though every user should know after Facebook made sweeping changes to their privacy policy that dramatically increased the amount of information from a profile that is shared publicly. Then, after the most recent changes (in April 2010) Gina Trapani at Fast Company provided easy to use instructions complete with screen shots.

Perhaps if Facebook decides to take a human factors approach to privacy in the future, Yohann will re-friend Facebook.

Kelly Caine PhD is a research fellow in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University. Her primary research interests include privacy, health technology, human factors, hci, aging, and designing for special populations.

(post image from Flickr user hyku)

Facetted Navigation Primer

A List Apart recently posted an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Search Patterns by Peter Morville and Jeffery Callender that presents a great description of facetted navigation (FN), a type of search interface.

FN is contrasted with just text searching (e.g., Google), taxonomies (e.g., Windows Explorer or Mac Finder), and tag-based interfaces (e.g., Flickr).  See illustrative figure below if you aren’t familiar with these types of interfaces.

Three types of search interfaces

My most recent encounter was at the online shoe store Zappos.  When looking for some shoes, the user is presented with a very dynamic FN:

Initial search (no facets selected)
Four facets selected

Tabs, tabs, and more tabs…

This post on Smashing Magazine about vertical navigation had me thinking about the book Anne and I are writing (manuscript due this Friday; panicking…I’m a 10 on the Wong-Baker scale).  In one of the chapters I discuss tab navigation.  When I was looking for a particularly bad example of the use of tabs I remembered Amazon’s website circa 2000.  Fortunately, the Wayback Machine had preserved the travesty of UI navigation for posterity:

Amazon's homepage in 2000

There is a grand total of 15 options and they are not really in alphabetical order (they seem to be grouped).  Amazon can’t be blamed–we probably didn’t know as much as we know now (I can’t believe it was a decade ago!).  But browsing the Wayback entry for Amazon’s homepage through the years certainly shows evolution and an iterative process to  reach the current Amazon navigation scheme which eschews tabs almost entirely for a cascading, vertical navigation:

Amazon's homepage today (2010)
Amazon's homepage today (2010)

Do you have any examples of particularly good or bad examples of tab navigation?

(post image:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/ciordia/399354425/)

HF Potpourri

  • James Rubinstein sends along a this post about a 32 inch LCD TV presumably designed for older users.  It has features such as a dramatically simplified remote control, fewer wires, and a shut-off timer.  [Engadget]
  • Designing Devices is a relatively new blog devoted to “how and why to create devices” from Dan Saffer (author of Designing for Interaction).  I’m loving the long posts (especially the one on Controls).
  • In the “why didn’t they do this sooner” category is an Ethnography application for the iPhone called Everyday Lives (warning, link opens iTunes).  It lets you record audio, video, images and other data in the field (via UXforward).

Vision-themed Potpourri

Today’s potpourri happens to be related to understanding or enhancing what your users see (or don’t see):

Browser Size view of HFB
  • Google Browser Size let’s you see how much of your web content is visible by users.
  • Rocker Lou Reed (of the Velvet Underground) designs an iPhone app for near-sighted users.  It basically increases the font size in the contacts application.  It appears that Mr. Reed has common ground with older users?  (OK, lame attempt to insert the Reed song, “Good evening Mr. Waldheim”).  [Wired]
  • When minimalism in user interfaces is too much (UXforward)
  • Perhaps confirming what we suspected, visual alerts are more disruptive than auditory alerts (LiveScience).
  • Lifehacker has an interesting discussion of the merits of multiple-monitors or single big ones as well as a list of useful utilities (I prefer multiple versus a single big one; use 2-24 inches).