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CHI-WEB  November 2000, Week 3

CHI-WEB November 2000, Week 3

Subject:

Re: eCommerce & usability

From:

Richard Tilghman <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Richard Tilghman <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 17 Nov 2000 13:03:05 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (79 lines)

CHI-Webbers:

I recently sat through the Nielsen presentation of their results... not
worth the paper the report was printed on.  In short: they took an hour and
a half of my life, and I can never get it back.

The study employs somewhat dated information (web sites from January were
used in the study of an industry that moves fairly quickly), and the
approach was anything short of scientific, offering no conclusive data in
terms of user behavior and general interface/systems methodology.  I should
also state that, in response to many questions I and some other folks asked,
we were told that "the study was conducted in some rented space in someone
else's office over 56k lines on borrowed computers" (I'm paraphrasing here).
No testing facility, one-way glass, established environment, randomized user
sampling, etc.  Hardly what I would expect given the resources and
background of the Nielsen Group, but I guess they like bringing money in
rather than sending it out (don't we all...).

One particularly bad point made in the presentation I saw was that "users
don't like drop-down menus, especially the state drop-down in registration
forms."  However, there wasn't one contrarian example such as a straight
text-field entry situation to gauge the statement against.  Nor did the
testers approach or discuss the problems that arise if and when user's are
allowed to freely input there state information.

Another point: the study did an analysis of search presentations and
concluded that users will, at a maximum, view 3 pages of results before
abandoning search for an alternate approach.  However, when I asked if this
was simply "linked pages" or total results/pages the presenter had no data.
This is an important distinction... if I provide a user with a "view all"
function or increase the result set to 50 from 20, will the user scroll the
list and abandon after 3 pages worth of data, or will they still view 3
pages of links regardless of presentation (and browse 150 results as opposed
to the earlier 60).  Given, this may increase load time slightly based on
the system employed, but is the trade of worth it? No data... it wasn't
"sampled."

The point is this: there is supposed to be a scientific process involved in
all studies that seek to analyze the merrits of a system or approach
(medical studies provide the best example), and it has to be followed
exactly if any useful results are to be gathered.  You present the users
with the various approaches to given issues, and you gauge their reaction to
the approaches to come to a conclusion in the best possible approach.
Additionally, you can focus on specific elements OF a particular approach,
citing the merits of certain otherwise unacceptable designs.

This bring me to another large point... there were absolutely NO
specifically targeted issues or goals of the Nielsen study aside from
"ecommerce" usability.  That's mind-boggling.  Imagine consumer reports
testing cars on whether they started on the first try... how does that tell
you ANYTHING useful about the subject being tested?  You should identify 10
specific issues that continuously confront users or are the primary reasons
(identified via research or polling) for users abandonijng sites, and test
all the solutions/approaches employed to see which are viable and which are
not.  Simply saying "this way doesn't work" without establishingthe
benchmark or adequately testing the other 5 ways people approach the issue
is useless.

Understandably, there are many people in this profession for whom the
obvious points are new and remarkable.  This isn't a knock on the quality of
the talent or anyone on this list, but an observation of what I have seen
over time.  I've developed 5 huge ecommerce sites and have specific
experience with all the issues that arise, so maybe I'm looking in the wrong
place or expecting more than these studies are geared to deliver.  It just
seems that we would all be better served by studies that actually STUDY the
subject and offer well tested theorems on the different aspects of ecommerce
experience.

Just my two cents.  Of course, I have neither the time nor the resources to
back up my critique by doing it responsibly, so maybe I should just keep my
big mouth shut and be thankful for the redundant tripe I'm given. :)

Regards,
Rick

   ---------------------------------------------------------
   About CHI-WEB: http://www.acm.org/sigchi/web/chi-web.html
   ---------------------------------------------------------

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