What Web Users Hate Part 3: Reading

 This final point from Sandra Rossi's article, "What Users Hate About Websites", that I feel is relevant to knowledge sharing systems is one that really drives me crazy!

5. War and Peace length: "A common mistake in Web design is to just [convert] a brochure to the Web. But the Web is its own medium, and communication has to change to reach users. Users are known to read 25 percent slower on the screen than on paper, read fewer words and don't like long pages which require scrolling down," she said.

This is not applicable to OPACS, as it does not fit their function. It is a danger to libraries creating home pages. However, I will credit librarians with seeming to know not to throw long pieces at their users. However, websites by librarians for librarians do sometimes violate this issue.

Many organizations, MPOW for one, are still struggling to transition from print to online writing. Many writers do address the various audiences by using the appropriate terms (parents, teachers, chemists, members, etc.). However, if there are legal issues the lawyers often won't allow them to reword things in the level appropriate for the general public. ARGH! In this case, I know the writers are not at fault and simply try to avoid having to rewrite things to please the lawyers. Thus, lawyers need some writing and usability training.

Many professionals (librarians included) seem to forget, or do not realize, that publications targeted for the general public are written at a sixth grade level for a reason. Bemoaning the state of education and lack of reading does nothing to reach these users. Even users who are highly intelligent appreciate a more friendly voice.

Scrolling for a lengthy piece is not user friendly. Throwing a PDF or other attached document at the user is not user friendly. Why should I have to use my computer resources to open your information? Reading something written in a formal voice is boring and sends the users elsewhere.

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June 16, 2006 at 9:56 am 3 comments

What Web Users Hate Part 2: Scanning the Site

This post is a continuation of my comments on Sandra Rossi's article, "What Users Hate About Websites"

3. 'Leap of faith' links: that means disclosing information on content and file size.

For the most part, I think that systems that an organization purchases do this rather well. Most users do seem to know the pictorial symbols for PDFs, Docs and pictures. However, home grown sites rarely include this important element. I think that we get so spoiled by our fast work connections that we forget that many users may be on dial-up.

4. Attention-deficit Web sites: "Users have a special hatred of flashing icons and banners, because they draw the eye away from what is important and hinder their progress," Cunnington said.

Doing something because "it's cool" is a violation many organizations make in creating internal home pages. For some reason this has not lessened in intranet pages even as organizations have realized that public websites with these features give an unprofessional impression. OPACS certainly don't have this problem. If anything, they are notoriously ugly

 

June 16, 2006 at 9:53 am 1 comment

What Web Users Hate Part 1: Search and Browse

Sandra Rossi has written an article for Computer World that is posted in InfoWorld, "What Users Hate About Websites" She is sharing what she learned from interviewing Theresa Cunnington from iFocus.

Several of these are relevant for web services offered by libraries and knowledge management intranet/portal sites. I am leaving her numbering.

2. Re-inventing the wheel: people do not want to have to learn how to use a site before they can browse it, Cunnington said.

This is a BIG issue with many systems. I know that most OPACS I've seen present this issue. In fact this is probably one reason OPACS Suck. Users also have to learn the system just to search it. Similarly, enterprise intranet and portal  interfaces out of the box are often not intuitive enough. I know that we have to train our users to search our portal. This just should not be the case. As I keep saying to my co-workers, users should not need to learn the system! 

In our case, if a user wants to limit the search to a particular section, they must use the drop down next to the banner search box and select "search this folder".  However, I don't think many realize that the dropdown is available until we point it out. Many of our users would prefer this option, so I have suggested that we change dropdown listing so that "search this folder" is the default. However, this requires quite a bit of programming!  Users do not like using advanced search. While we can reasonably expect "power users" to need to learn to use such advanced tools — our call center employees should not need to do so.

June 14, 2006 at 9:28 am Leave a comment

Creating a culture that embraces change

Michael is responding to one of my comments:

MPOW is in the process of implementing a new telephony system that will include all employees — not just call center agents. This software adds VOIP, headsets, presence awareness and messaging for all employees. These are disruptive features that will require quite a bit of training. I know that if it could have been done incrementally — it would be better accepted. Yet — how can one do this in this example?

Michael posts: Great question and one that, in my opinion, illustrates that no matter how hard we try to integrate change into our regular organizational structure we will at some point always face moments of disruptive change. Disruptive change is not always bad! The situation you describe, moving to VOIP telephony, will be good in the long run. There may be growing pains, certainly, but the end result should prove the effort worthwhile.

But moving to a VOIP system is not something that is planned overnight, and it is this sort of big move that can benefit from having a structure already in place that allows an organization to implement change smoothly and with as little stress placed upon customers and staff as possible.

Read the full text, I'm only including snippets!

There are many ways to integrate change into an organization’s structure, but my favorite way to is to create an environment where customers and staff are involved in facilitating change and maintaining the ability to change at all levels.

Michael makes a good point that even a large project does not come "out of the blue" and will generate a better rate of change if multiple levels of stakeholders are involved in the process.  In this case, it comes down to the work environment and leadership style.  If the environment is not open and transparent, it is more difficult to implement Michael's very good suggestions. (more…)

June 6, 2006 at 2:56 pm Leave a comment

Tagging and Subject Headings

Jane suggests that LC Subject Headings are Dead
Are we afraid that a simple tagging structure might be more effective and make more sense to our users than headings that look like this “United States — History — Civil War, 1861-1865 — Participation, African American”? Are we just afraid to learn something new? What are we afraid of?

I will be the first to allow that certain LoC headings are outdated and LoC needs a more efficient and effective means of updating the headings. I will even say that some of the ways that the headings are formulated (reverse listing such as Participation, African American") are outdated and could be much more user friendly now that we have the ability to link the terms without needing to flip terms around in order to collocate them.

However, as I stated on her blog:

I’ve participated in this conversation many times within the taxonomy community! I don’t know that “afraid” is the operative term )

I assume you are discussing allowing user tags in a specific resource (perhaps a library OPAC or intranet). I find that internal and focused collections really need the structured terminology more than the enormous collection we call the World Wide Web. When we are talking about Subject Headings, we are really talking about controlled vocabularies (CVs). Taxonomies and thesauri are often used to inform CVs, hence the cross over into the taxonomy forums.

The short answer is that loose tagging is a great way to provide *additional* access points and gather potential updates to an internal controlled vocabulary. However tagging alone can muddy the results in a specialized and/or relatively small resource.
When you are searching the web, you are statistically more likely to surface relevant results using algorithms that include free tagging because of the sheer number of possibilities. When you have a finite group of resources being searched, such approaches tend to pull too many results to be useful to the user. Free tagging can become as problematic as only providing free text searches in a smaller resource. There are a number of organizations that benefit from free text, usually users that do not require complete resource listings nor the most precise result. These users have a lower satisfaction level and may benefit more from user contributed tagging than they do from LoC headings (and other controlled vocabularies) (more…)

June 6, 2006 at 12:33 pm 2 comments

Leadership styles and Communities of Practice

 Does leadership style affect Community of Practice effectiveness?
But what of the leadership style applied to the CoP? Can the executive sponsor, or community leader, or other influential champion of a CoP be an autocrat when it comes to managing the community? Must a community leader be collaborative, participative, sensing, and so on, in order for the community to function effectively? Read: the rest.

As Ron notes earlier in his post, Community of Practices (CoP) are meant to create a democratic, egalitarian environment. I recall a discussion on one of my KM lists not so long ago as to what differentiates a project team from a CoP (particulary when describing internal groups). I would postulate that an internal group cannot develop into a CoP under autocratic leadership. I would question any group's ability to develop into a CoP if they are not free to share, make mistakes and learn. Thus, even your less autocratic but still authoritarian cultures will have difficulty developing internal CoPs. Of course senior management attitudes will vary depending upon the group of employees and it is possible that specific groups could develop into a viable CoP. However, note that the management attitude would still need to be more liberal toward this specific group.

Bulletin boards are a great example of a tool that can be used by a project group or a CoP.  Many bulletin boards (and blog comment tools) have a setting for moderation. I have experienced debate over how much moderation might affect dialog and how much moderation is effective in several forums. The style of moderation would reflect the style of group leadership. If members are strictly constrained in their posting to simply commenting upon the linked object or project and not about concepts and ideas —  the discussion benefits only that particular project and not the greater good of the participants and/or team and/or organization.

One bulletin board failure I experienced failed because management insisted upon heavily censoring topical discussion posts. These message boards were set up to provide a space for employees to ask questions about specific topics. These were not related to organizational projects. So, without this linkage this was not a project team communication forum. Anyone could (as far as the technology set up) post a question or answer. Only specifc Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) could post a summary and close and archive the thread. Thus, from a technological stand point we provided a fairly egalitarian environment in hopes of developing CoPs.

However, leadership style affected our outcome dramatically.  Rather than seize a teaching opportunity, they removed any posts they saw as incomplete or incorrect. The really sad thing about this is that it demonstrates how clueless organizational senior management can be about the informal lines of communication and status. The same person who posted the censored post will simply return to verbally telling their peers the incorrect or incomplete information.  So knowledge sharing among peers is still occuring just not in a way that will benefit other groups and future queries and can not inform employee education.

I found Ron's post via Jack Vinsen's blog

June 6, 2006 at 11:19 am 1 comment

Can trust transfer from blogger to corporation?

I stumbled into a <new for me> word press blog that seems to talk about KM types of issues via Scobleizer today!

Orcology has a post about how allowing employees to blog can benefit a company as the positive reputation of the blogger can overflow into the  company.

The original post became a conversation with Scobleizer and Shel Israel. T his is how the inter-connected world of the 'Net works! I began my thoughts in Orcology comments section and am continuing here:

I think the idea of trust (and image) transference from blog sources to companies could take the place of the old style transference used in advertising. Advertising often uses celebrity and professional endorsements to ellicit viewer's trust. I think that the US public has finally started to become jaded to this approach.

It would be interesting to see if the positive feelings associated with a blogger can effectively be transferred. Unfortunately, it will be more difficult to measure — since a blogger like Scobleizer is not affiliated with any one campaign but with the brand as a whole. Businesses dislike (with some good reason) allocating resources to activities with unmeasurable results.

The primary thing that is preventing this kind of posotove reputation transfer is the companies, their advertising consultants, and marketing & PR departments. They do not seem to understand that the net is a conversation. I have noticed on some marketing and PR blogs and other sources that they are trying to encourage more businesses to offer articles and other value to via a blog. It's not bad advice — but they still focuses upon any readers as potential consumers.  Until they see readers as people with ideas and needs — their efforts will be seen as insincere. And — frankly — having a one way conversation that does not honestly listen is insincere!

Smart companies trust their employees not to do something stupid that will violate basic terms of most employment contracts, such as do not directly compete with your employer, do not badmouth, misrepresent or embarrass your employer in public, do not reveal tradesecrets. These are things that an employer does have a right to demand of their employees and they apply to any form of communication. This is why I never understood the need for seperate blogging policies. Outside of a whistleblower situation — employee efforts are supposed to support, not sabotage, their employer. An employer that trusts that their employees are capable of writing within these parameters go a long way in creating an atmosphere of trust.  Where one is encouraged to trust and share within the firewalls  — it is likely one will be able to do the same outside of the firewalls.

However, trust continues to be a large issue in many organizations. I don't see hope of this improving until old power structures are overturned. Lack of trust is one of the major reasons that KM initiatives can fail. Employees who are afraid are not going to willingly share. If they are required to share, they will toe the party line. An organization that is a strict hierarchical top-down organization is going to continue to have these problems. KM depends upon open two way communications — well thought out but honest feedback is important. I'm not sure that such things are possible. If an organization is controlling its message tightly — readers know it! We can all spot "PR" or "Market speak." 

We cannot entirely blame the marketing, advertising and PR professionals. Often, they are operating within constraints set by executives who may refuse to understand that transparency can benefit the organization. I believe that some do get it — and I read some blogs by such advertising and marketing creatives who are generating conversations. On the other hand I receive articles from those who think they understand how this marvelous new and inexpensive medium can be used — in generating more of the same old inside to outside messaging. In other words they don't "get it." It is just an extension of the concocted petition signings, bussed in protestors and other astro turfing antics. Until they become part of the conversation — I don't think that companies will be trusted. Even with an employee blogger, such as Scobleizer, there must be consistancy.

June 5, 2006 at 12:21 pm 1 comment

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