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Usability University

     
5:14 pm on May 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Sponsored by the General Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

[usability.gov...]

3:14 am on May 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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including free seminars

Nothing is free... Our tax dollars at work.

Isn't it part of the Webmaster's job to know about "usability"?

4:25 pm on May 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Got some more reading to do. >;->
How does these papers compare to the research by Nielsen?
4:49 pm on May 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Hmm, they refer to Nielsen... Nicely put together, easy on the eyes, too. Looks like it will be a nice resource. Thanks for posting this.

LisaB

5:07 pm on May 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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This is pretty impressive usability resource. Shocking to see the US Government doing this. Not sure I understand why...
5:10 pm on May 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Nothing is free... Our tax dollars at work.
Isn't it part of the Webmaster's job to know about "usability"?

The government has thousands of people building websites, many of whom don't consider themselves webmasters as their primary job. They need something like this for training and reference. Before the web, documents like this would have been in some arcane governement publication, printed at great expense by the Government Printing Office and read by nobody. It also would probably have never travelled beyond the National Cancer Institute and, three years later would have been redone by someone else and so on and so on, each one as unread as the last.

As Secretary Thompson (not exactly one of your big-spender bureaucrats) says in the foreword to the guidelines


Guidelines are an excellent example of how we can quickly and effectively respond to the President’s Management
Agenda and his E-government Act of 2002. The National Cancer Institute’s Communication Technologies Branch in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) anticipated that all federal agencies would need such information and began the ambitious process of producing these research-based Guidelines.... Unfortunately, too many federal agencies have developed their websites according to their own needs, not the needs of the citizens they serve.

Tom

8:20 pm on May 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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PS, on the "nothing is free" part. When I used to deliver pizzas in college, people would always ask, "Is delivery free?" I'd say: "It's included in the price." Most people don't see the difference.
12:00 am on May 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Nothing is free... Our tax dollars at work.

I'd rather see them working on this than on some of the other projects they're used for.

1:02 am on May 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Nothing is free... Our tax dollars at work.

I'd rather see them working on this than on some of the other projects they're used for.

Seeing as how usability is often the best area to invest in for ROI, it's also very likely the best one to invest in to make government websites more efficient.

I tried to argue with my city councillor that having a better website meant we might not need a call center with over 12 employees answering calls about garbage pick-up dates, transit route info, etc... not that companies are necessarily more efficient: how many could lighten the load on customer service call-centers by having decent troubleshooting info on their websites?

Of course, I'm biased... I like easy to use websites, and on a personal level it's easier to sell premium services when people know about usability :)

12:27 pm on May 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Usability? Anyone run [usability.gov...] through the W3's validator? 12 errors! Made me laugh. :D
3:07 pm on May 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

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This is a joke. I can't believe it. I was impressed before now I'm not. There's 12 major errors there... especially the first one at the top in bold. This is sad.
3:27 pm on May 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Since when has validation been a *requirement* for usability?

Plenty of "valid" websites have poor usability; I'm sure there are many usable sites out there that don't validate perfectly.

Sure, it's good practice to have validating webpages, but it's not the showstopper that the two posts above claim.

Besides, none of the errors on the "What's New" page are actually that serious. A rogue <br> tag, a missing alt attribute, a couple of misnamed id attributes and a few bad character references aren't what I'd call "major".

3:55 pm on May 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Valid markup is imperative for accessibility.
Accessibility is a pretty vital part of usability.

If you're going to start deciding whether some aspects of valid markup, accessibility and usability are or aren't that serious in an arbitrary fashion then we might as well throw all standards and recommendations in the bin and go home.

What's wrong with getting it right?

4:00 pm on May 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Here Here ronin!
4:05 pm on May 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

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12 errors!

I checked 100 pages of that site and there are thousands of errors. Many are being generated by the character entity

&#149;
. And then there are blatant common errors all over the place.

This is not something I would expect from someone promoting usability. I too feel that validation is the first step in any usability testing.

5:07 pm on May 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I agree totally that webpages should be valid (x)HTML. There are few excuses for non-validating webpages - it's usually the easiest part of the usability/accessibility process to get right.

My point is this: having perfectly validating code does not make a website usable. Nor does a usable website require perfectly validating code.

The errors on the page we've mentioned aren't particularly serious ones. Sure, they should have been picked up (and are pretty ironic considering the site content). But they shouldn't detract from the site's message, as a couple of the previous posts have implied. Nor do they make the webpage particularly unusable.

ronin - I'm probably as much of an advocate of web standards as any serious web developer. But I don't agree that all aspects of the validation/usability/accessibility mix are equally important. If we have limited resources to spend on a project then we need to prioritise.

If you're going to start deciding whether some aspects of valid markup, accessibility and usability are or aren't that serious in an arbitrary fashion then we might as well throw all standards and recommendations in the bin and go home.

Who said anything about deciding arbitrarily? No-one can argue that, say, a missing alt attribute on a single pixel gif is as bad as omitting the doctype declaration. Some aspects are more important than others.

Another example. The W3C prioritise their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines: they recognise that some aspects of accessibility are more important - and more achievable - than others. Just because a webpage doesn't achieve a Triple-A conformance level doesn't mean we shouldn't have bothered in the first place.

What's wrong with getting it right?

There's nothing wrong with getting it right. Unfortunately commercial concerns sometimes mean that we can only get it 80% right, rather than the 100% we aim for.
5:39 pm on May 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

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pete_m
I would agree to a point of what you said. But correct me here if I'm wrong, to create a usable site you require accessibility. If your pages are not compliant you are potentially breaking the usability/accessibility of the page. Each browser would handle the situation differently to over come the non-valid pages. Mozilla for example would kick into quirks-mode which in return would potentially cause the page to render improperly and the way it was intended. This goes for all browsers you need valid code and proper DTD to ensure usability/accessibility. Sure these errors are not huge I suppose but they are in the realms I just mentioned above (potentially). We can't assume.

Saying all that however, I don't say that the usability material on the site is not of quality or of use. I haven't read the guide yet but will see when I do. It's just disappointing when they are trying to put a message across and then to don't even bother to do a simple page validation. It's sad and it does hit the bottom line in regards to usability whether we like it or not. Sure there is priorities and only so much time in the day but this one is simple not time consuming. Anyways enough of my two cents...

6:02 pm on May 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

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pete_m > Sure thing, you're right, some aspects are more important than others. I really appreciate the way the W3C sets out the WAI guidelines in three conformance levels and it would be nice if somebody could come up with a similarly authoritative set of usability guidelines with progressive conformance levels too.

But as you say, validation is one of the easiest things to get right and I imagine if there were a set of usability guidelines it would probably fall into the conformance level one category.

If those errors we're talking about aren't very serious or numerous - they aren't really - it should take less than half a morning to fix all of them.

Failing that, if it's outside the contractually paid time, one of the developers should do it at home one evening in their own time - just as a matter of personal pride. I honestly don't think it would take more than 2 hours maximum. Why leave it undone?

9:46 pm on May 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Wow, looks like I've sparked a debate! :P

I wouldn't be so bothered about the errors if the page didn't have a doctype declaration. Why include one if you aren't going to adhere to it?

11:32 pm on May 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

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What I find to be the most amazing thing about the site is that there is no internet-based method of contact - no email link, no comments form - just a phone number and snail mail for the HHS main address.

That said, a site can offer great access to information about usability without being a model of usability itself. The two issues are distinct. Many great coaches of professional sports teams were never any good at the sport as athletes. That does not invalidate their advice.

Tom

12:32 am on June 1, 2004 (gmt 0)

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no internet-based method of contact

Maybe they picked up the idea from here.

Remember when Brett advertised staff vacancies at WMW recently?

The only way to reply was (AFAIR) to send a fax. Even the thread was locked after the first and only posting.

8:30 am on June 1, 2004 (gmt 0)

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ronin - The authorative set of usability guidelines is a really interesting idea. Maybe we at WebmasterWorld can do something like this - worth a thread of its own?

I do agree that the usability.gov site should be fixed. As we've witnessed here, its credibility as a website is somewhat shaky until it validates.

Usability.gov's Tip of the Week #8 [usability.gov] - oh, the bitter irony [validator.w3.org].

12:55 pm on June 1, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Usability.gov's Tip of the Week #8 - oh, the bitter irony.

Yee-ouch! In situations like these, I would write a short e-mail to my representative and point it out. That is truly pathetic.

4:55 pm on June 1, 2004 (gmt 0)

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LOL, thats too funny.
5:05 pm on June 1, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I would write a short e-mail to my representative and point it out. That is truly pathetic.

No need to. Any responsible webmaster is going to see the referals from WebmasterWorld and investigate. If they don't clean up those errors within the next week or so, they'll lose some credibility, at least with this community they will.

5:21 pm on June 1, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Gee I just realize that this site doesn't even validate the HTML either. Come people we should all be validating our pages/code. CSS validates fine.
12:17 am on June 2, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Usability.gov's Tip of the Week #8 - oh, the bitter irony.

Um. Anyone who's lived in the US since birth (as I have) should have no trouble believing this (and WORSE!) of anything promulgated by the gov't.... As to being SURPRISED by this, er.... of WHICH planet are you a native?

 

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