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Posts Tagged ‘measurement’

I had a stimulating conversation yesterday with colleagues about some of the issues we are grappling with when developing our web presences for government. We basically boiled it down to a pair of intertwined issues.

Assumption-based design: making choices in your design process based on assumptions about the intended audiences, rather than facts. This happens all the time — often in expressed as “design for my [insert stereotype of older, out-of-touch family member].” Where we imagine how our mum or uncle or whomever would react to our nav bar or wireframe concepts, colour scheme, etc., when faced with it onscreen. This tends to be the situation in organizations that avoid user testing or those that under-value analytics data. (Here’s a great example of the pitfalls of assumptions guiding the design process in another field — an incredibly hokey mobile phone for seniors.)

Self-referential design: designing for oneself rather than for the audience. The web developer or content owner is not like a more typical user, so their savviness and familiarity with the material actually prevents them from being able to solve the users’ problems. The frame of reference is too different. Again, this happens in environments where user testing doesn’t happen or analytics data are ignored. (Cooper et al discuss self-referential design in books like About Face and The Inmates Are Running the Asylum.)

Basically, these two issues result in building web presences based on what we think we know about our audiences, without actually verifying it. Then we solve users’ (imagined) problems in ways that make sense for us rather than for them. We don’t really take into account what our audience’s needs are. The result? Ineffective web presences the provide difficult user experiences.

This is about valuing measurement. When it comes to government communications, my experience has been that a lack of testing and measurement is an endemic condition no matter whether you’re talking about print publishing, PR, marketing campaigns, internal communications or any other area. The sole exception might be advertising, and then only because the rules we have in the Government of Canada force it on us. In an environment where we are competing with each other for resources and everyone is strapped for time, measurement tends to be the first thing that gets knocked off the budgets. Why bother, we think, when there’s always the next project/issue/crisis to focus on?

Does this sound familiar? What’s the situation in your organization?

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I got curious about this question when reading the comments Mathew Ingram’s recent post on social networks and uptime. Mathew noted the curious case of Twitter, which is the social network “that everyone wants to use” despite it’s near-legendary struggles with downtime last year. Another commenter asserted that Imeem was actually more popular than Twitter (really? hmmm, maybe that comment was planted by Imeem).

Anyhow, this got me thinking about ways of measuring popularity. I could have easily just looked up traffic stats for social networks on compete.com, but that’s too straightforward.

Instead, I turned to my favorite quick-and-dirty buzz tracker – Neilsen’s BlogPulse. After all, a reasonable way to measure something’s popularity is to look at how much it’s being talked about. Tracking blogosphere mentions of social networks also removes the bias inherent in tracking mentions on the social networks themselves.

So I punched a few keywords into BlogPulse. Here’s their track of blogosphere mentions of Twitter, Facebook and MySpace over the last 2 months:

Facebook still gets more mentions than Twitter

Facebook still gets more mentions than Twitter, MySpace getting less attention

Facebook’s recent spike no doubt due to the terms of service kerfuffle. Funny, the Facebook and Twitter lines seem to rise and fall in lockstep with each other — I guess there’s a lot of posts out there comparing these two. (Like this one.) And it looks like people have pretty much stopped talking about MySpace in the last few weeks, despite healthy chatter before Xmas.

Here’s another one, to test that assertion about Imeem in comparison with attention hogs Facebook and Twitter.

Imeem? Did somebody mention Imeem?

Imeem? Did somebody mention Imeem?

Ha ha, looks like almost nobody at all is talking about Imeem. I guess bloggers don’t like music or something.

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