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Thursday 18 December 2008

'E-democracy' and, er, democracy

Jakob Nielsen has produced for Pew a very interesting usability study of voter information websites from all 50 united states and the District of Columbia.

Some points of interest. He identifies these neglected usability aspects:
  • Homepage usability
  • Search
  • Accessibility
  • Web presence (that is, how users get to content from outside the site, or "usability-in-the-large")
And makes this spot-on comment on his results:
there's a negative correlation of r=-.1 between homepage usability and accessibility ... the negative correlation indicates that designers aren't treating accessibility as a component of user experience quality. Most likely, government agencies are focused on complying with legalistic accessibility regulations instead of trying to make the sites easy for people with disabilities to use.
As an observer of 'e-democracy', where's usability in the mix? Well it's nowhere - because it's simultaneously nowhere in egov. That's true of the UK and - Nielsen suggests - the US also.

Not very democratic, I'd venture to suggest.

According to E-Access blog, Robin Christensen now of AbilityNet and formally of the RNIB reviewed the FAB! NEW! WEB 2.0! Number 10 Downing Street website and found it wanting:
While relatively accessible in many ways, still has various untagged links which read simply ‘click here’ [sic], offering the audio browser no clue as to what lies behind. The website also features auto-start videos, with unlabelled control buttons, so that blind users are confronted with video noise drowning out their own audio controls and cannot work out how to turn it off.
A very polite way to put it. Picture the scene ....

Again with the not-very-democratic.

Sez Jakob:
There's a reason that we have a "total user experience" concept to encompass everything that users encounter. It's not enough to have a great design for part of the user interface. Good navigation, say, is certainly a necessity for a great user experience, but it's not sufficient. Offer a bad homepage, and users might turn away before they even start navigating.

We can liken a website's user experience to the metaphorical chain that's no stronger than its weakest link. If any one usability attribute fails, the overall user experience is compromised and many users will fail.
It's all very obvious, really - auto-start videos FCS!! Unless one is sitting inside a walled garden ....

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