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TWiki Usability Feedback From Max Fordham LLP

These are some notes I've been making from my own experience and conversations with new users. I will be developing this further shortly. You can read about our company at TWikiStoryOfMaxFordhamLLP

I'm evaluating TWiki (version 4.1.2) for the dual purpose of:

  • An engineering knowledge base, incorporating a discussion forum (currently in Lotus Notes)
  • An intranet to inform people what's going on in the company

It is not anticipated that it will be used for running projects.

We have about 150 people. I anticipate 90% of users will mostly read and browse the site an only contribute occasionally. There is likely to be a small group of active contributors and a couple of people organising and maintaining the site.

I have few concerns for the frequent active users, but am a bit nervous that occasional contributors will be put off by what seems initially to be quite complicated. Ie. I think the learning curve is very steep initially, but very rewarding once you've got over the initial hurdle - but this barrier may be too great for many people.

I haven't done any formal usability testing yet, but I'm planning to sit an watch a few people learning to use it and see what theey find easy and what they struggle with.

New users feedback

General

  • Too confusing initially.
  • What is everything in the left bar for? What is the hierarchy? Which of the links on the left bar are within the current web and which are not?
  • How do you get back to the beginning if you get lost? Each web has its own Home, but where is the overall Home?
  • What is a web? What is a category?
  • The topic list is a bit overwhelming. A topic tree view would be better (I'm planning to implement this with TreePlugin)

Webs

  • This is confusing as it is not initially apparent what the significance of webs is.
  • Not obvious that you should select the appropriate web before searching. This is going to be really confusing. What if you don't know which web to look in? Most websites have a search box that searches the whole site. This is what users will expect.
  • Need to search across all webs with the option to narrow to a single one. Phil’s first search had no hits and it took a while to figure that he was in the wrong web. This will put people off using it as they will conclude that the search "doesn't work".
  • It needs to be more obvious which web you are in.
  • TWiki web should be called Help or Documentation

Editing

  • The edit view looks totally different to the topic view. This is really confusing. How do you know where to put your text?
  • What are Checkpoint and Quiet Save for? (I'm planning to remove Quiet Save and change Checkpoint to Save & Continue, as suggested elsewhere)
  • WYSIWYG editor is not much better.
    • The styles change by accident when you delete or move blocks of text. 
    • Almost more confusing that the basic editor.
    • Undo only works once
    • The edit box has no border. And it doesn't look very professional
  • Sectional Edit would probably make editing much easier. (I'm planning to install this)

Note: Many of these questions would be answered if users had worked through the introductory pages, tutorial etc. However, the reality is that people expect to be able to pick things up just by using them. They don't read the manual first. The UI needs to be pretty intuitive. My experience is that if users find something difficult or think it doesn't work, they don't tell anyone, they just stop using it. As an example, I recently commissioned an advanced search facility for our Lotus Notes project based email store which makes it really easy to find emails, but not many people are using it as there was a small bug in the first version and users just gave up at the first hurdle (only 2 out of 150 people reported the bug - the others assumed the search was no good).

I think the ideas in TWikiBasicMode are good. The out-of-the-box UI should be simpler and more intuitive, with easy ways to add complexity. Ideally there should be a basic and an advanced interface that can run in parallel (depending on the user) as there will always be novice users and more experienced ones sharing the same system and their needs are different. (I know this is discussed lots elsewhere).

Frequent user feedback (after 4 months)

Positives

  • As a novice Admin – I really like it. Have found learning to use it quite addictive. No IT Admin skills or programming & could quickly do lots of interesting things (IT person did install & initial configure)
  • I found it pretty easy to learn - but then I was very motivated.
  • The documentation is pretty good. Twiki.org very useful. Can find answers to almost anything. The live development of the software & Q&A on Twiki.org is very appealing.
  • Customisation quite easy, eg rearranging the Left Bar (haven’t been allowed server side access so haven’t touched skins yet).
  • I like how the revison doesn't get updated if the same person does several edits within an hour.
  • Available plugins looks appealing.
  • MsWordToTWikiML is marvellous.
  • Setting access permissions seems pretty easy. I like how you can define groups of people and then give them access permissions.
  • The personal section of the Left Bar is very useful.

Edit view

  • Edit screen has too many buttons for beginners.
  • Quiet Save and Checkpoint are confusing (if useful).
  • WYSIWYG would make a HUGE difference.
  • SmartEditAddOn helps.
  • Mark up is not hard to use, but when editing existing page, is hard to find correct place in absence of texture.

Webs

  • I'm concerned about the split in to webs (see new users comments above), particularly wrt searching
  • How about a single web? (with perhaps documentation separate under “Help” web or “Documentation”).

Advantages to separate webs:

  • Prevents Topic list getting very long
  • Separates Notifies, Access, Preferences by web can be useful, but can also do this for groups.
  • Prevents WebChanges getting too long.
  • Webs are a useful way to mange content, but could simply put each current web as next level down in tree i.e. Main>KnowledgeBase, though new topic might end up in the wrong place.

The search problem could be resolved by incorporating searchmulti from KoalaSkin.

Search

  • Results don’t show context (see SearchSummaryPlugin) This is critial.
  • Topics where the keyword is in the Topic name should appear above those where it is just in the body text.
  • There is no page ranking (though don’t know how this would work)
  • The lack of index is a concern. How will search speed be affected once there are >1000 topics in a web? Maybe this is OK. (The experience of others would be useful here).
  • Would like search to recognise alternate spellings (color / colour) and irregular plurals (mice / mouse) but a bit optimistic

Creating links to files on other company servers:

  • We will be linking documents rather than attaching in many cases. This is quite complicated to do
    • eg J:\J3000\blahblah.doc is linked as file://barbados/jobfile/J3000/blahblah.doc etc
  • The format is hard to remember (users have to do this in Lotus Notes too - & still can’t manage it)
    • need a browse facility to navigate to file & auto link creation.
    • does this exist with any other web – collaboration tools? Don’t know.

Miscellaneous 

  • Having to put Main. before each WikiName is problematic and that WikiWords only apply to current web or will get _?
  • I find the History view is really hard to interpret, even after 4 months. It is not a clear summary of changes. This is quite important for us as users will need to refer to the page history to to see who contributed what and whether they trust the content (within the knowledge base)
  • I think users will find WikiWords confusing and would prefer to use separate words with square brackets around them – We will want to have some single word topic titles (I think this is possible).
  • The way WebNotify works is pretty confusing for a novice. I think occasional users will be put off bothering. There needs to be a button on the topic page to set up notification of that topic. (I will be investigating the Plugins for this, but think this should be a core feature)

Plugins which I think would improve usablilty....

TamsinTweddell - 29 Jul 2007

Customisation we have done to improve usability

In the month since writing the above, we have focused on improving usability. This has included reviewing and installing several plugins:
  • SmartEditAddOn makes editing much easier.
  • We have installed the updated WysiwygPlugin which is an improvement, and expect to install TinyMCEPlugin shortly.
  • We have installed SectionalEditPlugin and used it on many topics.
  • I was very concerned about the history view, so have installed CompareRevisionsAddOn and Plugins.History which is a great improvement. But it is still a bit complicated for the occasional user. We will probably simplify the oppshistory template a bit and reduce the options.
  • SearchSummaryPlugin makes it easier to identify the most appropriate search results.
  • We now have a WebTopicMap button on the WebLeftBar which uses TreePlugin to generate a tree view of the web's topics (excluding those starting with Web). This offers a browse view of the topics for those who don't like using search.

We have made it more obvious which web you are in by making the whole web Header as solid web background colour with the web name in white bold 36point. It is not subtle but it is effective!

We are trying to add a pair of radio buttons below the Jump and Search boxes to search This web or All webs. This is to make it more obvious that the search default is just the current web, but to allow people to easily search the whole site if they wish to. As the site grows larger, there could be a speed issue with this.....but we'll deal with that when the time comes.

We have removed the Quiet save button from Edit mode and renamed Checkpoint to Save and Continue.

We have added a QuickHelp button to the WebLeftBar which takes you to a page of questions and answers such as How do I add an attachment, How do I make internal links, What does WYSIWYG stand for. This is similar to the FAQ on this site, but all on a single page and aimed at people who haven't read any of the introductory material.

Hopefully we'll get a decision soon whether we can start developing the main content of the site.

TamsinTweddell - 07 Sept 2007

-- Contributors: TamsinTweddell - 29 Jul 2007

Discussion

Thanks for this excellent writeup. I'm facing the same issues with new users and you've saved me a lot of searching and work.

-- CathyMoore - 01 Oct 2007

For TWiki 4.2 we have followed your advice you have opened our eyes and we have renamed Checkpoint to Save and Continue. There are other point we don't have time to change at this point (code freeze) but we will come back to this. Thanks for sharing.

-- ArthurClemens - 01 Oct 2007

Thanks for sharing this experience which I can acknowledge for our company.

We plan to use the following PlugIns (not only for usability-reasons):

  1. CompareRevisionsAddOn
  2. TagMePlugin
  3. WorkflowPlugin
  4. SectionalEditPlugin
  5. SearchSummaryPlugin
  6. ChartPlugin
  7. EasyTimelinePlugin
  8. FlowchartPlugin
  9. SmartEditAddOn
  10. GaugePlugin
  11. EditRowPlugin
  12. TreeBrowserPlugin
  13. RedirectPlugin
  14. GoogleAnalyticsPlugin

-- MartinSeibert - 02 Oct 2007

One remark on search speed: My experience is that up to one or two thousand topics there are no real problems. I have a web with 10.000 topics and a normal search takes about 15 seconds. Not bad, if I see the 100 MB of data but for sure too slow for a normal user. To speed that up, have a look at SearchEngineKinoSearchAddOn: Indexing takes 5 minutes and then search results just come up, when you press the return button.

-- MarkusHesse - 02 Oct 2007

I find this kind of topic very interesting. In some cases I've run into the same issues, and you have found solution I haven't. For example, somehow I hadn't noticed SmartEditAddOn before. Thanks for mentioning it, I will have to give it a try.

I haven't posted a summary of my mods like this, just bits & pieces. I'll have to find time to do this. In the meantime, here are a few things relevant to your summary:

  • I agree that users expect search results to span webs: I changed the search to do that by adding <input type=hidden name=web value=on> to WebTopBar. But your radio button makes more sense for large sites.
  • To simply WebNotify for novices, take a look at TWiki:TWiki04x01.UserCommentsTemplate#WebNotify_Sign_Up_Button
  • I also used TreePlugin for a site map. However I used it enhance the existing 'Index' page (which isn't as useful).

You've probably found those since you wrote this last year, so my comments might be more useful to other people who come across this article.

-- SeanCMorgan - 19 Aug 2008

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TopicClassification TWikiDeployment
TopicSummary Review of usability issues at Max Fordham (evaluation stage)
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Topic revision: r8 - 2008-08-19 - SeanCMorgan
 
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