Usability 2.0 Questions

by April 29, 2007

I recently spoke at a Silicon Valley Web Guild event with Sean Kane (Netflix) and Jon Wiley (Google) about Usability 2.0. Here are my responses to some of the questions asked at the session:

How would you characterize usability 2.0?

If we focus on Web usability, one could define Usability 2.0 as the set of design considerations that arise out of recent shifts on the Web. As outlined by Terry Winograd, humans have three predominant ways of interacting with the world: locomotion (moving from place to place); conversation (communication with others); and manipulation (using/editing/creating).

The first phase of the Web was all about locomotion. Businesses and people scrambled to set up Web sites and Web users traveled between them using directories and hyperlinks. The recent explosion of social software (blogs, social networks) and Web applications (content creation, remixing, editing) has enabled conversation and manipulation on the Web. Now instead of navigating from place to place, people talk to each other, express themselves, manage their productivity, entertain themselves, and more.

As a result, designing usable Web experiences requires more then effective navigation systems, hyperlink design, and download times. These considerations were critical when all Web users did was move from site to site. Now a whole new set of usability considerations are required for communication and content manipulation.

What has changed from usability 1.0 to 2.0?

The shift to conversation and manipulation online has introduced a different set of Web experiences. Tom Chi recently pointed out that most successful sites online are primarily either: content creation sites (blogging platforms, productivity applications); content aggregation sites (social news sites like digg, etc.); display surfaces (for showing off content like MySpace); or entertainment destinations (content portals). Each of these experiences has a unique set of usability requirements and metrics. Quite often, these considerations are more complex than what sufficed as usable for standard “brochure-ware” sites.

As the barriers for designing and developing these new experiences continue to diminish (lower operating costs, freely available software), more sites will be launched. And the more sites there are competing for people’s attention, the more crowded online shelf space will become. As a result, Web applications may need to look to traditional packaging design best practices to better communicate what services they provide, how people can utilize them, and why they should care to try.

Search, content distribution, community tools, and rich interactions also give Web users more control over their experience with the ability to: chose how and where they access content, respond to content (rate, vote, flag); remix and share content; and interact with content in new ways (drag & drop, inline editing, etc.)

This surge of new Web experiences that give users more control is probably the biggest change impacting usability online.