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New activity data project
I blogged back in November on some reflections on preparing and submitting a funding bid. Well, we’ve recently received word that we are one of eight projects to be funded as part of the JISC programme and we’re really pleased to be successful. It’s a fairly short six month project but is working in an area that I find particularly interesting, that of user activity data and how it can (and should be used) to improve services.
Our new project RISE is part of the JISC Activity Data programme and the projects cover quite a wide range of data from VLEs, library systems and other corporate systems so it will be really interesting to see what comes out of them. We’re going to be looking at data from our ezproxy system which we use as the primary method of getting students and staff access to licenced library resources. As most of our use is remote (unsurprisingly as I work at a distance learning institution) it’s a critical system for us. We’ve recently put in place a new aggregated search system (Ebsco Discovery Solution) and we are going to explore how we can use our ezproxy search data to provide recommendations to searchers and see what difference it makes to their behaviour. Using data to provide recommendations are an everyday part of commercial life and taken for granted if you’re a regular user of services such as Amazon. But libraries (with notable exceptions such as Huddersfield) have been strangely reluctant to exploit the rich store of activity data that they can collect to improve the user experience.
RISE gives us the opportunity to see what we can do with the data in terms of making recommendations, what the challenges are, what we can’t do with it, and whether it is of interest to anyone else. It’s going to be an interesting few month. RISE will shortly have it’s own project blog and twitter tag #ourise and I’m aiming to blog some personal reflections and notes on how we get on here.
I’ve been using my Kindle for a few weeks now and am getting used to the pros and cons of the device. [I blogged some early thoughts here]. I’ve read a couple of books on it, used it for reading PDFs and articles, tweeted on it and even looked up what’s on at a cinema using the 3G capabilities. And I’m pretty pleased with it so far. I’ve had a few conversations with people about Kindles and iPads and what you can do with them, and what you might buy. But other than a brief play with an iPad I hadn’t had the chance to be able compare the two devices. Well, I’ve now been able to spend some time over the last couple of days using an iPad so have a better idea of the different devices and have a few thoughts.
iPad first impressions
My first impressions are that I’m actually more impressed with the iPad than I expected to be. The device is solid and is fairly easy to hold on to. I’d wondered before if it might be too heavy and big to easily hold, but it seems to be pretty easy to sit and use it. I haven’t really tried using it at a desk so will see how that goes.
The screen is really very sharp and clear and I’m really impressed with it. It does quickly get fingerprints all over it and needs regularly cleaning, but that’s something I was expecting from using RFID touch-screen systems. I’ve used an iPhone in the past so the touch screen is pretty familiar although I’ve had to look up a few things that I wasn’t sure how to do. And there’s quite a lot of information out there about how to do things on the device so it’s quite easy to find out how.
So I thought I’d look at comparing the two devices in a bit more detail. Looking at how easy they are to setup, how they compare for reading ebooks, web browsing and tweeting
Kindle and iPad setup
Having bought the Kindle online it came pre-registered with the account I’d used to buy it and setup has been really simple. Setting up wifi access was straightforward and quick and worked first time. With the iPad I was expecting a bit more complexity. But the get started guide says connect it to your PC with iTunes and follow the instructions. But it was pretty easy to setup a new iTunes account and get the device working. I skipped a lot of the synching options as it’s a work iPad. The only real problem I had was an odd screen with a load of questions in Finnish so swopped over to setting up things from the iPad and found it straightforward to setup wifi access. With a colleague pointing to some instructions about setting up Exchange email I quickly got that working. The email support is one of the big differences between the two devices. You can use Outlook Web Access on the Kindle but it’s functional rather than elegant. It’s much more integrated on the iPad but I still need to play with the email display on it as it’s not yet how I’d like. Overall I’ve been impressed with both devices in terms of the ease of setup. As pieces of computer technology they both display the ease of setup that you need with consumer devices.
Obviously the Kindle is primarily an ebook reader so reading books is pretty straightforward, if you bought them from Amazon. Tools such as Calibre can help you with managing your ebooks. On the Kindle it’s easy to page through your book and a pretty good reading experience, although there’s no backlight so you are reliant on it being light enough to see the screen. E-ink is sharp and clear although the page changing black screen effect is a bit odd at first. On the iPad you’ve got a book shelf app and you can download the Kindle for iPad app. Changing pages on the iPad needs a finger sweeping approach rather than clicking the buttons on the side of the Kindle. The iPad scores with colour but is more shiny. Trying the same book on the Kindle and the Kindle iPad app I think I slightly prefer the Kindle owing to it being easier to hold in one hand and page through it.
The iPad is a superb web-browsing device (as long as you’re not looking at flash movies). It’s natural element seems to be sitting on your lap on the sofa browsing the web. With the Kindle web browsing is better than expected but navigation is a bit clunky with the five way navigation tool. The keyboard experience is a lot better on the iPad, the touch screen keyboard is a lot easier to type on more quickly, although some of the symbol keys seem to be a bit hidden away. If you’re used to texting on a phone with your thumbs the Kindle keyboard is fine, but it’s a bit small for me.
On the Kindle you can use a tool like Kintweet. It’s a neat and functional tool and uses simple single letter codes to navigate around. On the iPad you can use the Twitter website or apps like HootSuite or Tweetdeck. So on the iPad it’s much more like a PC or Mac experience.
Now I’ve had the chance to try the two devices and I’m clearer now how different the two devices are. The Kindle is an ebook reader with a few extra useful features, especially the internet access. The iPad is an internet device really, reading ebooks on it is a compromise, just as browsing the web is a compromise on the Kindle. As a device to carry around for reading a book on the bus and occasional Internet access then the Kindle is fine, for browsing the web, accessing emails and reading the occasional ebook then the iPad is probably a better bet. But with a price at four times that of the Kindle and large numbers of new tablets likely to be flooding the market this year then other devices will soon be challenging the iPad. But now I’ve ended up trying a Kindle 3G and an iPad wifi and I can’t help thinking that maybe that is the wrong way round!
In the middle of last year we changed the terminology on one of the main navigation sections on the website. The Help and Support section of the website contains a large amount of the content of the website. The reasons behind the change were several. The tab was getting quite low levels of usage and informal feedback seemed to be showing that users were a little confused about the purpose of the section. So we changed it to Help which benchmarking against other similar sites seemed to be the most common term that was used. Ideally we would have A/B tested the two versions, but we tend to stay away from having different versions as they can cause their own support headaches. So our question is – What difference has changing the terminology made to usage of this section?
We settled on using four sets of data from Google Analytics and looked at the last six months of 2010 compared with the equivalent period of 2009. The four pieces of data we decided to use were:
- the percentage of clicks on the Help and Support/Help tab on the home page – using the beta In-Page Analytics tool against the home page;
- the percentage of total site page views represented by the page views of the Help/Help and Support home page – by comparing the site page views with a filtered version of Top Content to look at the Help home page;
- the page views of the whole Help/Help and Support section as a percentage of the whole site page views – using a similar filter that includes all the help content; and finally
- the percentage of users of the help home page that come from the home page – using the Navigation Summary in the Content section
Looking at those four pieces of data gave us some results that showed that across all those measures use was down by small amounts. The percentage change varied a bit between each of the measures but there was a distinct reduction in the users accessing that section.
Oddly there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that people are finding it harder to find the help they need – we don’t seem to have more telephone enquiries or people saying they can’t find the help they need on the website. So it’s some more evidence to fit into our redevelopment of the website.
One of the problems with the data is that we can’t be sure that there has been a change in behaviour that would have happened anyway and isn’t to do with the website terminology change. On reflection we should have A/B tested the change so we would know that the data was being collected at the same time. And we need to think some more about how to apply what analytics is telling us.
Workshops… and yet more workshops
In parallel with some of the technical preparatory work we’ve kicked off a series of workshops with our staff. Organised by one of the web team we are using them as a way of getting library staff involved in the process and generating some discussion about aspects such as user requirements. These ideas then lead on to a prototype information architecture and a set of ideas that can be tested with users to validate or modify them.
So far we’ve run three different workshops. About half of the library staff have been to at least one of the workshops so we’re pretty pleased at the amount of engagement we’ve had so far. And they’ve brought up a lot of interesting ideas and some challenges. In this blog post I’m going to outline the activities that we’ve been running and put down some thoughts about the things that are coming out of the workshops.
We kicked off the process with a small workshop with participants drawn from the two groups in the library who are most closely involved with the website: our website editorial group and our User Experience Group. Between them there is representation from across the library, with a strong core of learning and teaching librarians, who have day to day contact with users via our library Helpdesk service.
The workshop was asked to carry out an exercise to identify the different types of users of our website, identify what their needs were, why they were coming to the website, and what tasks they were trying to accomplish. The background to this is that at the moment there is a single website that tries to meet all user needs, yet the library services that are available to students are distinctly different to those available to academics for example. So, whilst knowing how to renew a library book is important for an academic based on campus it isn’t much use for a student who isn’t able to borrow.
This workshop was open to staff across the library as part of our regular programme of Staff Development activities. In an hour-long session a fairly large group were asked to carry out two activities. Firstly a card sort exercise, taking the current 2nd level website titles and structuring them into what seemed like a logical structure. They were also asked to comment on any terminology that was unclear.
As a second exercise the group was asked to look at some examples of retail websites and look at them from the point of view of their Help and Support services. This exercise was to get staff away from a narrow view of what library websites could be (as there is a tendancy for them to end up with similar features – although you could argue that they are trying to meet similar needs).
The final workshop had a smaller number of staff (about 10) from across the library and again looked at the website structure. The workshop looked at the output from the earlier structure workshop and refined it further. It also looked again at page naming and how best to handle the different requirements of distinct user types.
Outcomes and reflections
There were a few key messages coming out of the workshops.
- Separate landing pages for some of the main user groups may be a good idea – this implies users having to login which opens up some customisation and personalisation potential but means that users would have services relevant to them on the home page
- A simpler structure and simpler terminology e.g. About Us rather than Library Information
- Language should be used that is more familar to students
- Some pages need better names, could be dropped or merged – there was quite a lot of feedback that it wasn’t clear what some pages were about
- Where pages have information aimed at different user groups then they either need to have a consistent format (i.e. always with the student information at the top), or be split into separate pages that are fed to appropriate users
As an output from the workshops we now have a prototype Information Architecture and some ideas around naming conventions. Our next step is to start to check these ideas with users, probably through surveys at this stage. So we will want to check what they want to see on the home page, how they would like the site to be structured and what they would prefer sections to be called. Ideally it would be good to use something like treejack to help with testing the structure.