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Usability Test

I just read an extremely interesting article by Nielsen on a study of the usability of the census.gov site.

If you've already read it, skip it, but if you haven't, please measure the time it takes you to visit this web site, find the current US population, then return here when you get it:

http://www.census.gov/

Report how long it took to find the information and just those results until Friday evening or so, then we'll discuss the implications of all this so everyone gets a chance.
Scott
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
2 clicks, ~30 seconds.
G Jones Send private email
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
2 seconds.
John Cromartie Send private email
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
about 2/3 seconds.
IanH. Send private email
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
14 seconds (mostly waiting for page to load...)
sgf
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
The page took about 20 seconds to appear. I was about to give up when the page arrived and overlayed a survey dialog. One of these always makes me leave the site ASAP.

So, to answer your question, I never did find the population.
Adrian
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
About 2 seconds, yes.
Iago
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
Oh well, a popup with a website visitor survey jumped to the top, without a Close button or an X in the upper left or right corner, which I usually press without caring for any content, FORCING me to read this bullshit to see the "Don't take this survey" link. I don't care where the US population is on this site, because I won't visit it ever again, at least not voluntarily.

Yes, I know, I could block popups. So what?
Secure
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
1 1/2 minutes
C.E.
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
yeah - I concur with the irritating popup. 

I found the population with the search feature.  If I'd had to do it through the menus, it could have been years. . ..
C.E.
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
1.5 minutes.

But I'm not sure if that is a very good test. You are asking for a specific piece of data that is NOT the actual main purpose of the site itself. If the census site was solely about the US population then I think it would make sense for it to take less time.

As an example of what I'm talking about, go to www.google.com and find the account fees and payment options in British Pounds for Adwords. Yes, you will eventually find it buried somewhere in their system. But that's because that specific piece of information is not the primary reason why people go to google to begin with.

However, I can say that I was able to find what I wanted on the Google site much easier than I could on the US Census site. So clearly the census site needs some major work.
anon
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
Is this a trick question? The current US population is right on the front page in a nice big font.

Dan
Dan Boris Send private email
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
ha ha, you are right.  I didn't see it though and I found the 2000 census total population in about five seconds.  However I knew that I was being timed so I went faster.  I probably would have taken a minute normally
Tom C
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
"Is this a trick question? The current US population is right on the front page in a nice big font."

Hah! I totally missed it! I spent 1.5 minutes drilling down through the site to find it somewhere and what I found wasn't even the current US population. It was the 2006 population. I guess I'm just an average dumb user after all.
anon
Friday, September 28, 2007
 
 
about 20 seconds - 3 clicks

It was luck though. This site sucks, which doesn't surprise me given how lazy & stupid government workers are.

Saturday, September 29, 2007
 
 
Thanks for doing this. Yes, the amazing thing is that it turns out that most visitors can not easily find this data on the census site. It's the most commonly looked for data on the site, so the site's designers have placed it in gigantic bold red letters in the right side of the page. Despite this, only 14% of visitors were able to get the right number AT ALL. 86% either could not find the data at all, or found the wrong data, like the population for some previous year.

Here's the study:

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/fancy-formatting.html

It's not necessarily a design issue - the site follows most guidelines and is a decent design.

The article speculates that there are two problems. First, anything in a large font or alternative font is now IGNORED by all visitors, filtered out by their brains, because it looks like an ad! Second, the number is labeled "Population Clocks: US", and maybe visitors are looking not for a clock, but for something that says "Current US Population = n". Even so, eye tracking data shows that almost all people didn't even read the label or look in that area, so changing the label would not have made a large difference in the results.

The reason I posted this is not to criticize the census site, but to show this amazing study with surprising results, which is relevant I think to all of our own web sites. Obvious data may not be obvious at all to site visitors, no matter what you do. Secondly, people simply do not look at any ads. The article does note that the single known exception is people will look at text ads embedded in google search results, probably because they have learned that such ads are frequently relevant to their search, and are not annoying them by using large bright text or moving elements, all of which the brains of our users now know how to completely ignore as an annoyance.
Scott
Saturday, September 29, 2007
 
 
Thanks Scott. That was interesting. I didn't even see the population over in the corner because I immediately went to the left and started looking for what I wanted. I rarely look at stuff on the right hand side of the page because I am conditioned to know that navigation is on the left and ads are on the right.
anon
Saturday, September 29, 2007
 
 
It's worth adding that after I spotted the population clock (in 2 seconds) I then spent a further 5 minutes or so trying to find a more authoritative figure, because the population clock is obviously an estimate and I wasn't sure that was what the question was asking for.  It wasn't till I looked up the Nielsen study that I was reassured that I'd met the challenge as intended.

I wonder how many of the people taking part in the study spotted the clock and rejected it because the figure kept changing?
Iago
Monday, October 01, 2007
 
 
I don't know, but the question makes clear that it is the current population we're looking for, not the 2000 or some other population. Yes, in reality, this is going to be an estimate because there is no real time system to monitor all births and deaths as they happen up to the second. I would hope that would be obvious, but you never know what people are thinking.
Scott
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
 
 
I missed it completely, because it looked too much like ad space.  Thanks for the eye opener.
Mark Ransom Send private email
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
 
 

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