26 Mar

Firefox 4 (counter) clockwise

The new Firefox 4 is out and I installed it now that most of my extensions work. There are a couple of things that I noticed:

  • It looks very much like Chrome with the tabs on top and the context menu placing “Open in New Tab” in the pole position.
  • The page loading icon is sometimes two different icons.

The latter is the one things that has been fascinating me for the entire day. So much so that I even recorded my screen to record the action. Normally, the page loading icon spins and spins and spins and you are happy when you finally get to the page, the flash movie etc. It usually spins clockwise. However, sometimes the page loading icon in Firefox spins counter clockwise. And on top of that, the graphics is a different one.

Now the big question is: Why? I’d love to hear a good explanation for these two different graphics. Is it essentially a different process, is it a bug that hasn’t been fixed, is it a feature to show a different loading process?

21 Aug

EYC unConference (Part 3)

After a wonderful lunch and small talk at the lunch buffet, we had two more sessions at the EYC unConference today. You can read part 1 and part 2 before continuing if you haven’t already done so.

Low budget user testing

Courtney Johnston offered to facilitate a session on user testing and how to do that on a shoe-string budget.

A lot of user testing can be done by using paper and web site mockups. You also do not need hundreds of users, but can often already get an idea when you ask about 6 people to participate in a card-sorting activity or give them a task to complete on a web site. Some professional usability testers may bury their head in the sand when they read these lines, but here were are talking about testing web site for communities that operate on a very low till non-existent budget who cannot afford to have sessions in a usability lab and use awesome, but expensive software and setups to conduct their testing.

Often, even only with a few number of people, you can get an idea of whether a certain navigation works, whether menu items are named logically etc. However, when you only have access to a small number of people, you should be acutely aware of their ICT background to interpret their answers correctly and not make false assumptions and objectifying these.

Getting started with user testing

Courtney Johnston provides tips of how to do low-budget user testing; CC shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Feeding back to software developers

Tim McNamara offered the last session that I went to for this day of learning more about community involvement online. It was on how to give useful feedback to software developers. That was a dear topic to me as I get frustrated sometimes when people write forum entries or send me emails from which I cannot really make out the problem and try to solve it. It always takes a lot of effort to figure out what the issue might be and how to solve it.

The Google Project Hosting issue tracker is a good example of how to guide users in providing constructive and useful bug reports. When you open a new issue, you don’t just get an empty text box, but depending on your bug report, you can choose a template which then gives a few suggestions of what to include in your bug report. The template for a “user defect report” has the following items:

What steps will reproduce the problem?
Step 1.
Step 2.
Step 3.

What is the expected output? What do you see instead?

What browser (or hg/svn client) are you using? On what operating system?

As these questions are written directly in the text box, people can’t overlook them. 😉

I will have to check if we could also add such pre-populated text in Launchpad for people filing Mahara bugs. That would be very useful.

Now what?

Currently, I am still in the processing phase because there was a lot of information today, a number of web sites to check out, things to try out for myself and wrapping my head around. It was great to meet people who create web sites for non-profits and a lot of times use open source. Joomla was talked about quite a bit as a person ran two sessions on it whereas other CMS were hardly mentioned (we should remedy that next time). However, as was pointed out when the Wordle was shown: Drupal sits on top of Joomla and has “brain” right next to it. 😉

Words shouted out during the closing session of EYC unConference to say what was important

EYC unConference in a Wordle; created by Wellington ICT

A big Thank You to the organizers and volunteers as well as the participants of the unConference who made that day a great learning experience.

21 Aug

EYC unConference (Part 2)

As written in the previous post on the EYC unConference, everybody could propose a topic for a session and gather people to discuss it. After my initiated session on how to actually get people to use a community web site in which the attendees greatly participated and did not need a lot of facilitating, I went to a similar session. There the focus was on the use of social media, in particular Twitter and Facebook.

Online communities and social media

People saw the purpose of Twitter and Facebook differently and it always came down to finding where the people you want to reach hang out and picking them up from there.

Another important point that was raised was that not everybody is using social media and should not be forced to do so in order to join a community, but they should have alternative means for engagement. though that does not mean that the lowest common denominator should be chosen. It is worthwhile to educate community members about the possibilities of social media and offer them training so that they can become literate in its use.

Despite that, especially established community members should not be forced to go out of their way to continue engaging. Somebody came up with an analogy to a restaurant that was picked up by Joanna McCleod. When regular patrons come to a restaurant, they should not be made to go out again to find a flyer that is being distributed on Lambton Quay in order to be able to dine at that restaurant. They should still be able to just go inside without any detours.

The session attendees agreed that it is about the way of communicating and not necessarily the tool. Twitter and Facebook can change rather quickly in this day and age. So you may have to switch to another service. However, the idea of the social networking will persist. And you should not be afraid to pull the plug and discontinue using a tool when you realize that your community does not take to it. Your efforts can be used elsewhere more productively.

group discussion about using social media with communities

Never mind the nice weather outside. Community's social media use is as good. CC shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Web accessibility

Robyn Hunt talked about what everybody could do to improve their web sites to embrace accessibility. That does not only mean that people with disabilities can get more out of a web site, but it also means that the web site is improved for everybody as accessible web sites often also include looking at usability issues that might frustrate “regular” users as well.

I know that I have to improve the accessibility of my blog here, e.g. give meaningful alternative text and not just my picture caption and probably improve a whole bunch of other things that are normally hidden to the eye, but help people greatly who use screen readers.

Learning more about accessibility is a project on my ToDo list for which I will have to set aside a time and either participate in a workshop or read relevant texts.

One thing that particularly stuck in my head was that Facebook is not a good page in terms of accessibility because it is quite busy among things. However, when viewed on a smartphone, people with disabilities can participate as the content presented in the smartphone apps is basically clutterfree making it easier to use. Thus, though the service was not changed, a change of device suddenly enables a number of users to finally participate. And the internet offers independence and freedom to a great many people with disabilities as they can now get information that they had previously no access to and they can also engage in online conversations.

I cover the rest of the day in part 3 on the EYC Conference.

21 Aug

EYC unConference (Part 1)

Today the Engage Your Community unConference, initiated by Wellington ICT, took place at the Rutherford House at Victoria University in Wellington. It was “a day long learning event for community webmasters and others using IT for Wellington’s communities”. On top of that, it was free thanks to its sponsors.

Around 90 people fought the urge to stay outside in the wonderful sunshine and rather warm temperatures to engage with like-minded people in discussions around using the web with communities. Some people had already thought about a topic to present beforehand while others decided on the spot.

I belonged to the latter category. After listening to a number of people shouting out their topics in the opening session, I thought I did not want to bring yet another tool-centered session to the table. Therefore, I decided to offer a session on online community engagement after all the tools had been set up and talk about what happens then, how to get people to participate, and how to keep them interested in the conversation.

Engaging communities online

As I do not have eternal wisdom in that area, but wanted to share my experience as well as tips I had learned at WordCampNZ just a couple of weeks ago, in particular from Suzanne Kendrick on Day 1 and Matt Miller on Day 2 (using his example of story telling to not talk about your business but just something interesting), I started the session also hoping that others would want to share their thoughts.

The group of about 18 participants took to the topic and brought in their own perspectives and community management tips that worked for them. Tim McNamara volunteered to jot down notes. It became clear that people in one community do not all communicate in one space, but that community organizers who want to reach their community, should be present in a number of spaces online and offline to cater to the community. Discussions on Facebook may differ greatly from those in a discussion forum on the community site itself. Sometimes just having a “like” button next to a post already helps to engage those (the majority) who would otherwise not comment.

A great book to read on the topic of online community stewardship is Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith.

Whiteboard notes on the session "Engaging Communities online"

Whiteboard notes thanx to Tim; CC shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Are you interested in learning more how the day progressed? Continue with part 2 and then part 3.

15 Mar

Slow-moving, solitary, but adaptable

Bob Reuter drew my attention to the Web Behaviour Test that can be found on the BBC site. I created an account and took the test. My answers revealed that I am a web bear who has the following characteristics:

I am a web bear according to the web behaviour test

I am a web bear according to the web behaviour test

  • Slow-moving: Web Bears like you browse the internet at a leisurely pace – just like real world bears who like to take their time over things.
  • Solitary – Like real bears, Web Bears tend to be solitary animals. Your results show that when you are looking for information, you are less likely to use social networks or other sites whose content is created by its users, preferring instead to go it alone.
  • Adaptable – Web Bears are highly adaptable multitaskers, able to do several things at the same time. Real-bears are also very flexible, particularly in their diet, and will eat fish, insects, salmon and even scavenge in human refuse for new sources of food.

I am always a bit critical about such tests. Of course, they provide some truths, but some of the characteristics I am supposed to have puzzle me a bit.

Slow-moving

I guess, they got that result from the amount of time it took me to continue to the next page while reading the search results. Often I am much faster than I was on this test. Here I wanted to make sure that I choose the best option available as I only got one shot. But I do tend to read the brief descriptions below the links on Google so that I do not necessarily spend time on pages that are not worth visiting. This habit has manifested itself since the first links on the result pages have become links to sale web sites.

Solitary

Being solitary seems to have a negative connotation in this context. In the test I was asked to search for nutrition and other factual information. Applying basic information literacy (or as Howard Rheingold calls it “crap detection“) skills, I look for trustworthy sources. These are not necessarily blog posts by random people who do not have any reputation in the field, but sites from organizations that I know have authority. For calculating the Body Mass Index I could have chosen almost any site because that is a set formula, but many sites only regurgitate what can be found on an official site or do not show the entire picture. Hence, I prefer to refer to a site of some standing.

Had I been asked to solve a computer or software problem or anything that resembles a do-it-yourself activity, I would have most likely chosen a forum discussion, blog post or video to assist me and not a vendor homepage.

Thus, for me it depends on the type of information I am looking for which internet sites I will populate for finding an answer. If facts are concerned, I’d like to stick as close to an official source as possible, if other issues are concerned that require to discover a certain procedure, I will most likely be more successful in user discussions. Depending on my knowledge about the field and experts in the field, I may also choose to search somebody’s blog instead of the site of an organization if I know that they are years behind in their research.

I am solitary in the sense that I do not have Facebook open all day long or broadcast what I am doing to Twitter and / or Facebook at all times. Usually, I scan Facebook updates only briefly in the evening, but have Twitter running all day. However, I am not reading all messages. Echofon in Firefox is funny in the way it displays messages: Some are displayed, others are just “You have received 7 new tweets” and I would have to open them actively. Thus, many go unnoticed throughout the day.

Being solitary or social should not only be seen in regard to consuming information. There could have been a question on what to do when the answer cannot be found on a site. Social also means that you actively ask questions in a discussion forum or ask your Twitter / Facebook buddies etc. Consuming information is one thing, but participation is quite another and in today’s age with the possibilities of social media well worth looking at in such a test.

Adaptable

My test results must have been mixed up with somebody else’s. 😉 At the beginning of the test I selected that I hardly ever do two things at a time. Later, during the concentration tests, I scored pretty well when there were distractions. So that probably counts for my multitasking. Most of the time I think that I cannot multitask very well. I like to concentrate on the task that I am performing so that I do not get sidetracked and forget something.

Having a phone conversation while writing an email is not really possible for me as I am not able to give the caller my undivided attention that s/he deserves. But of course, I can jot down notes, send a link etc. However, I do have Twitter and email open all the time and briefly check updates throughout the day. If something interesting comes across on Twitter, I usually open the URL in a new browser tab for viewing it later. Thus, I do multitask a little, but actually think that I still do these things sequentially:

I read something online -> I see that Twitter has new messages -> I briefly scan them -> I go back to my reading OR I follow a Twitter link in a new tab and scan the link’s content and bookmark it.

Now. Which web animal are you? Are you a bear, elephant, fox, hedgehog, leopard, elk, octopus, or ostrich?