Writing for the Web

Comic: Venn diagram depicting intersection of "things on the front page of a university website" and "things people go to the site looking for"

I presented a workshop on “Writing for the Web” at the Libraries’ In-House Institute in early May. While I could certainly go on and on about this subject, here I will just provide a quick(ish) wrap-up and share my list of suggested readings. (You can find my slides and reading list at https://iu.box.com/s/3665524cdd7bf24464c9.)

Clear communication is essential to delivering an excellent user experience, which is why we have a Website Editor (me!) in the Digital User Experience department.

Writing for the web includes a broad range of strategies:

  • Style/usage (and careful proofreading – typographical errors impact our site’s credibility)
  • Understanding user needs
  • Content strategy

Who’s reading your content?

  • Who are you writing for? Different audiences respond to different terminology, tone, context. For example, if international students or stuffy faculty members are part of your expected readership, you probably want to avoid slang.
  • Context. Where are your readers in the research process? What have they already read?
  • Metrics can help you understand your readers – in the Libraries we use Google Analytics and Crazy Egg.

How are they reading your content?

  • People read differently on the web. They scan pages quickly.
  • LESS IS MORE – don’t bury the important content in filler
  • Mobile devices are heavily used, especially by college students. Will your content work on a smartphone or on a tablet? Does it need to?
  • Content may be repurposed. It might be included on a class page, listened to via a screen reader, shared on Facebook or Pinterest, maybe even (gasp!) printed out on paper.
  • Content structure and metadata make it easier for your content to flow into these various containers. Improved content management systems make this easier to accomplish.

Some practical suggestions.

Content Strategy!

Kristina Halvorson: Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.

  • Plans – there is an overall plan for how content is created, stored, displayed, used and reused
  • Creation – style guide, training for content writers, metadata strategy
  • Publication – editorial strategy/workflow, appropriate use of metadata to help identify, organize, and reuse content
  • Governance – responsibility for content is clear; standards are communicated to content providers; content management systems are optimized to help writers provide well-managed content; search systems and info architecture are optimized to help users find and use published content; content lifecycle is defined so that content is regularly reviewed (ROT analysis: Redundant, Outdated, Trivial)
  • Useful content – we understand our users’ needs and provide content that helps them to further their goals
  • Usable content – content makes sense to our users; they can find what they need and they know what it is when they find it; it is placed in appropriate context for them

To sum up: We need to talk to our users and listen to them so that we understand why they are here and what they need to do. We can then create calls to action that make sense to our users and help them fulfill their goals.

Suggested Readings:

Continue reading “Writing for the Web”

UX as Cereal

UX versus UI infographicI’m not a huge fan of infographics – it is way too easy to distort facts in whichever direction you want to distort them (especially if you use pie charts), and oftentimes they are just not that useful.

But here’s one that’s kind of fun. It uses breakfast cereal to illuminate the difference between UX (user experience) and UI (user interface). Click on the small image to view the original post from Usability Counts.

And now I find myself with the strangest craving for cereal… mmm, breakfast for dinner… !

Responsive *library* design

I was very excited to see the announcement last week in Walking Paper about a library site employing responsive design.

GVSU: Mary Idema Pew Library | responsive siteThe site is for the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons at Grand Valley State University, slated to open in Fall 2013. Very cool! We’d be very interested to hear of any other library sites employing responsive design, so please share in the comments if you are aware of any such.

What does “risk-aversion” have to do with information seeking behavior and library software development?

 In her lecture “Searching for Context: Modeling the Information-Seeking Process of College Students in the Digital Age” (Available here: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/events/luncheon/2012/01/head), Alison Head draws conclusions from 5 studies that she and others had conducted for the Berkman Center for Intranet and Society. The lecture presents an interesting model of how students conceptualize their research process. The model shows students weighing the cost of going down different research paths. The model shows students assessing their paths in 4 contexts (but she said there may be more): the Big Picture Context, Information Gathering Context, Language Context, and Situational Context.
The model  suggests that students beginning research are asking themselves these types of questions as they calculate the risks of the possible answers:

  • Big picture – Do I have the right overview before starting? Do I understand this topic enough to be able to form a research question?
  • Information Gathering – Do I have enough supporting material? Am I using enough primary sources?
  • Language – Do I understand the language and terms of this topic well enough?
  • Situational – What do I need to do to get an A? Is this what the professor wants?

The model, which focuses on questions of “what is enough?” and “what are the risks of one decision over another?” has interesting implications to how libraries serve students in their research. As someone involved in the building library software to help students in their research, I find fascinating possibilities of creating solutions that help address risk-assessment of following different paths in the different contexts researchers find themselves in.

IM help using LibraryH3lp

For several years, the IUB Libraries have offered reference service using instant messaging and text messaging – staff at reference desks provide the great service and DUX manages the care and feeding of Libraryh3lp, the system we use to provide the service. Libraryh3lp is an awesome product, and an awesome project – started by Pam and Eric Sessoms four years ago, it has grown so successful that they’re now doing it full time (Pam previously worked as a librarian at UNC-Chapel Hill) and they recently hired a third full-time person to provide support. You can read more about the history of the project at their blog.

We get all sorts of questions, from ‘are you open?’ to ‘how do I do X in Y database?’ to very in-depth subject related questions … and there are lots of them, too – in the fall semester we averaged about 775 instant message transactions per month, peaking in November with 925 interactions. We have IM widgets in several places throughout our web site, including the Ask A Librarian page and the 404 (error) page. You can see an example widget below.

IUB Libraries IM reference widget

So how does it work for us? Well, library staff log into a web-based chat application, and the questions pop up in little windows, as illustrated below. We sort the questions out in three ways, based on where they initiate:

  • Our website: questions from the Ask A Librarian page, or any other web-based widget. In the webchat interface, we see a red ‘REF’ icon.
  • Text message questions: In the webchat interface, we see an image in the corner that looks like a phone for these.
  • Ebsco databases:  We added a chat widget that appears along the side of the search results in nearly all of our Ebsco databases, and in OneSearch@IU. In the webchat interface, we see an EBSCO image for questions from these locations.

Libraryh3lp adminstrative viewWhy do we bother to sort them? To make it easier to identify the point of initiation for each question, whether that’s a specific page in our website or a results page in one of our databases. The reference desks can get a bit hectic, with staff balancing in-person traffic, telephone calls, and the IM questions. The more we know about the context of the question, the better the answer we can provide – for IM, it’s easiest to do this with visual cues in the chat application.

We are also working with the Business/SPEA IC so that they can place a widget on resource pages they create to support the research in specific courses, and those questions can be funneled directly to those staff.

These changes have had very little practical impact on staff (that is – no disruptions!) and instead seem to be pretty popular with our users. We’ve already had several contacts from within the Ebsco interface in which people just wanted to tell us how happy they were that we were there to answer questions!

If you’re interested in knowing more about the partnership between reference and DUX to support virtual reference services, contact us, or check out the slides and other supporting materials from a talk I gave on the topic, titled UX + VR FTW, at last weekend’s ALA Midwinter meeting at http://bit.ly/vrdg-alamw12

So what’s UX anyway, and why should libraries care?

rubber duckieOur department, Digital User Experience (aka DUX), is a fairly new one in the IUB Libraries organizational structure. In fact, having a department devoted to user experience (UX) is a fairly new concept for libraries in general. There are a few others scattered thither and yon; for example, the University of Michigan Libraries have one, although theirs is a part of their Library Information Technology unit, while ours is a part of Library Academic Services (our public-services division).

So if you’re here at IUB, you may still be wondering just what we mean by “Digital User Experience” (never fear, we occasionally wonder this ourselves) and how it relates to the mission of the Libraries. I recently came across a great article from UX Magazine which struck me as a great summary of the principles of UX and how they apply to the way people actually think and process information:

Weinschenk, Susan. “The Psychologist’s View of UX Design.” UX Magazine May 19, 2010. Web. 19 October 2011.

When you read this article, keep good old Ranganathan and his Five Laws of Library Science in the back of your mind. To refresh your memory, those are:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

Granted, Ranganathan only talked about books, since digital resources didn’t yet exist in his time – but these laws apply to users of electronic resources as well. Check out this article from LibraryJournal.com discussing how the third law, in particular, applies in the digital world:

Cloonan, Michele V. and John G. Dove. “Ranganathan Online: Do digital libraries violate the Third Law?” Library Journal April 1, 2005. Web. 19 October 2011.

I would argue that the fourth law is even more important in the digital world – a huge part of user experience design involves getting people to the information they want as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Anyway, as you can see, Ranganathan’s laws largely revolve around the relationship between the library user (“the reader”) and the library’s intellectual content (“the book”) – and it is precisely that relationship, in particular the quality of the user’s experience when using the library’s resources and services, that UX practitioners hope to improve. In the case of DUX, of course, we’re specifically concerned with the library’s digital resources and services along with the digital representation of the library’s analog content (e.g. paper books and in-person resources).

Once you’ve read through the two articles I’ve linked here, I hope you’ll have a better understanding of what we mean when we talk about UX, what DUX can do to help improve the lives of our libraries’ users (patrons, customers, whatever we’re calling them this week), and why when you think of DUX you shouldn’t only think of cute little yellow quackers. If you have questions or comments, of course, we’d love to hear from you!

rubber duckie in a tub

image credits:

More responsive design

Call me a nerd (I admit it! It’s true!), but I just can’t get enough of looking at responsive design. Ethan Marcotte, Mr Responsive Design himself, recently wrote a piece for .net magazine listing his twenty favorite responsive sites. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at re:build this July – not only is he tops for UX & such, but he also came across as a super-nice guy with a sense of humor (exhibit A: his website, unstoppablerobotninja.com).

Check out our earlier post on responsive design for more info, or have a look at this super-quick video to see a very simple responsive design in action.

A Simple Demonstration of a Responsive Web Design from Monkey Do! on Vimeo.

Mobile Redesign Project Needs Assessment

DUX recently completed a needs assessment as part of our mobile web site redesign project. We surveyed 52 students at several IUB Libraries and asked them to comment on how they use the IU libraries, how they conduct research, and which mobile devices and applications they use. Participants also provided feedback on the current  IU Libraries Mobile Site. A summary of our findings is listed below.

Key Findings

  • 60% of respondents own a smartphone.
  • Undergraduate students appear more likely than Graduate students to own a smartphone.

Respondents' ownership of smartphones

  • Smartphone operating system usage is divided: 57% use Apple iOS, 37% use Android, and 6% use Blackberry OS.
  • 96% of respondents do not own a tablet computer, 76% have no intention of purchasing one, and those that will purchase will do so at least 6 months in the future.
  • 75% of respondents indicated that they visit an IUB Library daily.

Respondents' visits to IUB libraries

  • Library Web Site usage is more divided: Daily 39%, Weekly 24%, Occasionally (every couple of weeks) 24%, Seldom (once or twice a semester) 13%.
  • Respondents reported their most heavily utilized services on the Library Web Site are IUCat and Research Databases.
  • The most requested additions to the IU Libraries Mobile Site are access to IUCat and Research Databases.
  • Facebook, Google, and e-mail were cited as the most frequently used web sites, followed by OnCourse and OneStart.

Respondents' most used websites

Wrap-up: Google Analytics webinar series

We certainly enjoyed the recent webinar series on Google Analytics, Library Analytics: Inspiring Positive Action through Web User Data (an ALA TechSource webinar/workshop), and we hope that you did too. If you missed the sessions the first time around, we do have access to the archives, so give us a yell if you’d like to see them.

We also wanted to collect some information here, for easy access. Enjoy!

Session 1: The Basics of Turning Numbers into Action
Continuing the Conversation: ALA Techsource blog post with slides, additional resource links and content

Session 2: How Libraries Analyze and Act
Continuing the Conversation
: ALA Techsource blog post with slides, additional resource links and content

The presenters provided the following list of recommended readings:
Wikipedia Entry: Web Analytics
“About Us” Page, Web Analytics Association
Measuring Website Usage with Google Analytics, Part I
Measuring Website Usage (from http://coi.gov.uk/guidance.php?page=229)
Library Analytics (Part 1)

Arendt, Julie and Wagner, Cassie. 2010. “Beyond Description: Converting Web Site Usage Statistics into Concrete Site Improvement Ideas“, Journal of Web Librarianship, 4: 1, 37 — 54
Black, Elizabeth L.2009. “Web Analytics: A Picture of the Academic Library Web Site User“, Journal of Web Librarianship, 3: 1, 3 — 14
DANIEL WAISBERG and AVINASH KAUSHIK. 2009. “Web Analytics 2.0: Empowering Customer CentricitySEMJ.org Volume 2 Issue 1.

You may also be interested in this recent interview with the presenters, “Paul Signorelli and Char Booth Discuss the Role of Web Analytics in the Library.”

Google Analytics and the Library

As an undergraduate and, more recently, a graduate student, I have noticed many students no longer want to go to the library to conduct research.  In fact, many times when students go to the library, they are going to meet with a study group or rehearse a presentation because of the availability of study rooms.  Many resources are in digital format and only require a computer with an internet connection for access.  This means that more and more students are using the library”s website to find information and conduct their own research.

One of my main projects as a graduate assistant for the Digital User Experience has been working with Google Analytics to understand what information it can provide to increase usability and accessibility of Indiana University-Bloomington’s library website.  The first few months were spent mining data and exploring the wide range of information that Analytics can provide.

What I have been doing on a monthly basis is mining four separate statistics about page usage.  These are the number of visits a page receives, the average time spent on a page, the number of visitors who exit from that page (exit %), and the number of visitors who enter and exit on a certain page (bounce rate).  They are presented in charts that can be graphed by month, week, or day.  This is incredibly useful for noticing trends in a page’s usage and can provide great information about the page.  For example, a page may see little use but have several days where usage spikes.  This could mean that the page is being taught in a seminar, which would account for many people using it on the same day.

The statistics of these pages can provide great feedback on the usage of the page.  A page full of information should have a higher “average time on page” statistic than other pages.  If it is low, then there may be a problem with how the information is displayed; is it too difficult to read, is it in a logical order, etc.  By knowing the date the page was last modified, one could see on the graph if those modifications have had an impact on its use (whether it be more visits or people spending more time on the page).

Another tool that I’ve found useful is In-Page Analytics.  This allows you to view any of your tracked pages with an overlay of information about visits, average time, etc.  Through this the user can see which links are used the most (ranked by percentage of total page clicks and with the number of clicks) and be provided with a more visual idea of the navigational flow of the site.  The page can be browsed using the same view as the visitor, but also contain information on how the user passes through the site.  If an information page has a low “average time on page” statistics, you could view that page and, with the overlay, see what links people are clicking to leave the page.  Maybe they don’t readily see the information they are seeking and think another page may be of more use?

Google Analytics is also great for providing information about the demographics of the site’s visitors.  It allows you to see where your users are from, right down to the number of users per town or city.  It can provide information on how people are viewing the site based upon operating system, browser, screen resolution, screen colors, and what version of java or flash they have.  This can help page design be optimized for the specifications of the viewers.

Mining the data is fairly easy; the difficulty is what questions to ask of the data and what it can answer.  Analytics provides a huge array of information, but is useless if there isn’t a way to interpret the data.  We have been in the process of looking more closely at the data for subsets of the library (services and departments) and other libraries.  With these groups we have been asking cursory questions such as what trends are occurring, is this page still needed, who uses these pages, are people delving deep into the site’s hierarchy or only looking at top-level information, and is this page being properly utilized?  This has helped to understand how to use the data, but I think there is still so much more to be gained from the information Google Analytics can provide.