Group Says Web Sites on Insurance Have Pitfalls

If you happen to get Insurance companies as clients, NY Times has an article about a survey of life insurance Web sites. Many Web sites that sell life insurance do not show the lowest-priced coverage, and some have misleading information, according to a survey by a consumer group. ... The survey of 25 Internet sites that sell life insurance, conducted by the Consumer Federation of America, found that 75 percent did not show the least expensive coverage and 40 percent were somewhat misleading.

Chatty Databases

In March, Internetweek talked about a vendor that was linking SQL databases to Instant Messenger (IM) and allowing end users to query databases using human language. In this week's Reload: Chatty Databases they say that uses for the new technology have begun emerging. The first to hit the mainstream is the GooglyMinotaur AIM screen name, the front end of an SQL database containing information about the alternative rock band Radiohead. ActiveBuddy, the company that has been beta testing the technology, says a new product called Corporate411 will allow companies to access employee information via IM.

Web sites as architectural spaces

Matt Jones discusses "A web site is a public place", an article in Ignition Design's Journal of Design Science which compares the environment of Web sites with architectural spaces. In the article, they say, A Web site is like any other public place where people come to look, to learn, to search, or to experience. And as in any public place, visitors will succeed in what they came to do only if the site gives them a clear indication of * where they are * where they can go * what they will find there. A good navigation system uses the site’s information structure as the basis for a visual hierarchy that guides the user experience. ... There is no one “right” path through an interactive product. Ideally, viewers should be able to call up information in whatever sequence seems logical to them. A product that’s easy to use will accommodate any reasonable request at any time. On BlackBeltJones, Matt ponders: If there's one problem I've struggled with over and over and over, then it's the old chestnut of whether a piece of content or information* should have:

  1. a single 'location' in the structure of a website,
  2. or have a single 'location', but multiple access routes,
  3. or be able to be accessed from *anywhere* and have no 'location'.
Does the child have many parents, or just one (but perhaps lots of friendly aunts and uncles...!) In digital environments I think it probably helps to reinforce a sense of position because as we experience life in the physical world, we often rely on cognitively mapping objects to their respective places in order to recall their position later. The concept of creating an information architecture that's built around a category/topic/subject hierarchy with a system of cross-references and thesaural term management has great advantages for aiding the information seeker. I think, most importantly it aids in navigating an information-use environment by:
  1. allowing cognitive mapping of the site's domain of content which aids in understanding the scope of content on the site and in the elimination of unwanted search paths
  2. allowing browsing, which makes possible serendipitious discovery of related documents within a category/topic
I think Yahoo! does it right with the way they treat categories. In their category listings, they list categories with an @ symbol that do not reside in that branch of the topic hierarchy. It's called a cross-reference, and it's a concept borrowed from information science. Take a look, for example at their Computers and Internet > News and Media section and you'll see that at that level they list several subcategories you can drill down into, and several categories that reside in other parts of the site's hierarchy. I believe that, especially in large information collections, hierarchical systems, where each entity is classified under one node, continue to be sucessful as effective systems for navigating content. However, there are other ways to make use of indexing methods so that hierarchical browsing isn't the only way to find an entity. For instance, I am still compelled by the concept of using Ranganathan's Facet Analysis as an alternate method for information discovery. I think most IA's would want to see alternative methods of navigating content used successfully and repeatedly before considering them, but there is a great opportunity now to add to the user experience by adding new models of navigation to the Web. In meat-space, this would be like inventing the elevator in a world where only stairs exist.

Modest Growth Prevails on the Web

NY Times talks about the small e-commerce successes that remain. The thing that's kept these small, focussed businesses afloat has been moderate growth and disciplined, measured spending.

IA areas of practice diagram

Jess McMullen diagrams Lou Rosenfeld's view of the field, where he says I see information architecture as the intersection of three areas (imagine yet another three-circled Venn diagram): users: (who they are, what their information-seeking behaviors and needs are) content: (volume, formats, metadata, structure, organization) context: (business model, business value, politics, culture, resources and resource constraints)

Again, on the topic of pop-under ads

InteractiveWeek discusses the Jupiter Media Metrix report in 'Pop-Under' Ads Mostly Ignored. Web advertisements that launch in a new browser window - have become more common, a new study suggests that they may be an ineffective form of advertising. However, while Jupiter Media Metrix continues to include traffic from pop-up and pop-under ads in its overall traffic statistics, the firm cautions that it is "impossible to determine" whether a user intended to visit a site or whether the visit was the result of a pop-up or pop-under advertisement. ... Jupiter Media Metrix estimated that between January and May 2001, reached 32.8 percent of the Web's entire audience with its pop-under ads - in other words, about one-third of all surfers during that period were served an X10 ad. However, the study said, 73 percent of those who were served an X10 ad left its site or closed the pop-under window within 20 seconds.

Search engine with screen-shot previews of sites

Here's a novel idea and another good use of the Open Directory project. Paul Rydell's SearchShots search engine shows graphic previews (screenshots) of pages on its results pages and builds a tabbed interface showing your previous searches. Here's what he says about the site: The idea for SearchShots was conceived in December 1999 because I thought it would be interesting to see what a website was going to look like before I clicked on it. The more I thought about the idea I realized that seeing a preview of what a website looks like along with its description is also very useful... The presentation of data on a website can tell you a lot about its quality and content. ... The first version of SearchShots went live in February, 2000 with screenshots of only 500 websites. The SearchShots' database currently has over 1.3 million screenshots. Nice work, Paul, and another great example of how open source applications make the crafting of cooler experiences possible.

WebWord interviews Jared Spool

John Rhodes of WebWord talks with User Interface Engineering pricipal Jared Spool and reflects on the last 4-5 years of Usability Engineering and the Web, what UIE is up to now and how Jared wants to challenge the Usability community.

Banner ad placement study

This study assessed the impact of banner ad location on click-through rates for The site caters to webmasters, providing information on the creation and maintenance of web sites. Most of the webreference's revenues come from the sale of advertisements (namely banner ads) on their content pages. Therefore, it is essential that the ads have a high click-through rate to stimulate future advertisement on the site. Several studies have been performed on other sites by independent agencies to determine the role that elements of the ad (animation, etc.) play in click-through rates. This study determines if location also plays an important factor in the click-through rates.

The Webification of TV is happening

Television is imitating is the web experience according to this article in CNET News (see also this related article: Cramming more data on to tv screens). Rigid programming disaggregated into bite-sized chunks. Hypertextual pointers between content elements and between different media. Boundary-blurring. Interactivity. Digital graphics enhancing and transforming the live video experience. ... If you care about the evolution of the consumer Internet, you should watch what's happening to TV as a medium. Television programming provides a glimpse of the converged future. At the same time, it highlights the weaknesses of the broadcast model. In so doing, it poses the challenge that any true new media must answer.

Formal complaint against pay for play search engines filed with FTC

More on the pay for play search engine mess in this article in Online Journalism Review. Commercial Alert, a 3-year-old consumer organization in Portland, Ore., founded by Ralph Nader, filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission last week, charging that eight of the major search engines were "inserting advertisements in search engine results without clear and conspicuous disclosure that the ads are ads."

Watch What I Do, Not What I Say

This Dow Jones Business Wire article talks about the value of user testing. 'Watch What I Do, Not What I Say' Holds True for Web Surfing and Other Pursuits, Says Web Usability Psychologist Susan Weinschenk. According to Weinschenk, who studies users' responses to Web sites, going by what people say about their experiences on the Web can mislead an organization into making its Web site worse rather than better. Observing how users interact with a site provides a more valid picture of how well the site works.

Visio wireframe stencil

Inspired by Peter Van Dijk and Jesse James Garrett, I have uploaded the Visio stencils I use at work for creating wireframes. My stencil exists of a very basic set of shapes for printing on 11x17 inch paper. Shapes include browser chrome, form elements, a label shape for identification purposes, an x'ed out block for graphics or areas where content is TBD, a greeked text block, text headings, and some arrows. I'll try to keep the stencil updated as I add other commonly used shapes.

Web design patterns

Martijn van Welie has put together a very nice site illustrating patterns of user interface elements used on Web sites in order to establish a Pattern Language. He indicates in many cases the problem addressed by a pattern and explains how it solves the problem. There are also examples of the pattern in use. Good stuff. Also seems to be collected in his article "Designing your site's navigation" (Download PDF). Sites listing interface design patterns resources:

The Short-term Benefits of a Usability Strategy

Frontend Usability Infocentre discusses the benefits of a usability strategy. The typical software sales process could almost have been designed to favour those products that present a clear, intuitive, attractive and easy-to-use interface to the user.

Universal Usability

You can find definitions, resources, research, publications and a discussion list on the topic of Universal Usability on this site created by the Universal Usability Fellows as part of the Conference on Universal Usability.

Dimensions of Culture and Global Web Design

This white paper introduces dimensions of culture and and how they might affect user-interface design (View report in HTML format or download PDF from Aaron Marcus and Associates). thanks international-usability

The Usability Industry

In this Clickz article on the Usability industry, Michael Roberts of MarketFace discusses why one Jakob Nielsen session doesn't make an industry, and suggests that Usability engineers need to be embedded in the process of design rather than just being post-release consultants.

Where should you put your links?

I'm surfacing some interesting research from Usability News 3 (2) today. An article reporting findings in a study of link location found that links embedded in the text of a page was preferred over top-left, bottom and in left-hand margins corresponding with content in right columns. Their conclusions: Participants indicated that they believed that embedding the links within a document made it easier to navigate, more easily recognize key information, promoted comprehension, and was easier to follow the main idea of the passages while searching for specific information. Moreover, participants significantly preferred the Embedded link arrangement to the other arrangements. Conversely, placing links at the bottom of a document was perceived as being the least navigable arrangement, and was consequently least preferred. Although no significant objective differences were found, the consistent results of the subjective perceptions of link navigability, as well as general preference, suggest that the Embedded link arrangement is perceived as being the superior format for online documents within a single frame. For this reason, it is suggested that for documents using a format similar to the type tested in this study, embedded links should be considered.

A Comparison of Popular Online Fonts: Which is Best and When?

An article in Usability News 3 (2) shows the result of a study of user perceptions of fonts on Web sites and suggests which fonts may be appropriate based on several broad categories of use. Their conclusion: In this study, the font types that were perceived as being most legible were Comic, Courier, Georgia, Times, and Verdana. The results of this study also provide information regarding the aesthetic appeal related to specific font types. For example, the ornate fonts Bradley and Corsiva were perceived as having a great deal of personality and elegance (However, one should be cautious in using these ornate fonts to any great extent because of both their low performance and low popularity among the font types studied). Furthermore, Courier and Times were perceived as being the most business-like, whereas Comic was perceived as being the most fun and youthful. Applying this information can help establish the proper mood of a particular site.

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