Usability & Digital Information

Great posts this week, especially from our discussion leaders! I particularly liked the Morville readings and his honeycomb approach. I love his focus on findability, although I hope his views on SEO evolve a bit. Don’t get me wrong — search terms matter a great deal, but content and inbound/outbound links are important to findability as well (particularly as Google updates its algorithm to include mentions on social media).

I particularly liked his example regarding medical websites. When I was pregnant a couple years ago, like any other pregnant woman, I would occasionally turn to Dr. Google for paranoid anecdotes medical advice. A website for the American Pregnancy Association kept turning up in my results, but something about it didn’t meet the credibility spoke in the honeycomb. So after some digging, I found that it grew out of Texas crisis pregnancy center and had ties to the antichoice movement. The site is very usable and very findable, but I wasn’t convinced it was credible. (And in the end, I turned to the Boston Women’s Health Collective, Dr. Sears, and Mayo Clinic for my questions.)

Anyway! Onto lsteckervitz’s excellent questions, and what I think is the most important one: What effect does a site/system’s usability have on information seeking?

The short answer: All the effects! Seriously, though, how can we expect users to seek any kind of information, much less find it, if they can’t use the site? The goal of information seeking is to give users the tools to find the information they need, whether it’s with a librarian’s assistance or on their own. A site with bad usability will never deliver on that promise. And to bring Morville back into it, the fact is different users learn in different ways, and they seek information in different ways: some people bookmark non-homepage content, some people always use their browser’s search box rather than typing in a URL, etc.

I wouldn’t call myself a usability evangelist, per se, but I do think that any project needs to begin with its audience. Find out what your users need/want, and then find out from them the best way for them to get there. Make sure your site/system’s usability is easy to follow and make it the best possible user experience you can. That’s when you’ll really allow your users to connect with what they want to find.

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