Note: this usability review as done as part of my graduate coursework at Kent State University.
Usability Review of My.Go2Net.com
There is bound to be argument over what the primary, or first rule of usability is. But before any other rules or guidelines, a site must first satisfy the “zeroith” rule of usability: users must be able to get to the site. Go2Net fails this test because my.go2net.com is completely unavailable (Go2Net, 1). This is a problem first because competing sites already follow the my.[sitename].com URL convention (Welcome, 1). Worse, at one point my.go2net.com was a valid domain and had some amount of user recognition (Nasser, 1). This is especially bad for prospective portal sites, where the intention is that users will use the site as a launching point for the rest of the web. Anyone that had set their homepage to my.go2net.com has had to either update their homepage setting in their browser or pick a different site altogether. Portals need to seem stable and established–making major changes to a site’s navigation might counter that impression, but changing domain names around is even worse. Also, many users will only find Go2Net through links on other sites and pages. Although a Google search of sites linking to my.go2net.com comes up empty today (link:my.go2net.com, 1), Go2Net may have lost out on traffic from older links that have since been removed.
Additional usability rules are easy to find, but there is no authoritative list. This paper will consider four guidelines from the textbook (Dumas, 56) and five from a popular usability site (Nielsen, 1).
1. Giving the user control
Assuming they are willing to sign up for a free account, users are given some control, though not enough. The most prominent feature on the homepage is the news section, and one of the customization features allows users to choose what kind of news will appear and in what format stories will be displayed. Users are limited, however, by the small number of news categories to choose from (see Task 6 below). Users are also able to make small changes to the homepage layout, but there really are very few options and only two features aren’t already turned on by default.
2. Striving for consistency
At first glance, Go2Net satisfies consistency requirements. Most pages have the same orange navbar in the top of the left column and across the top of the page, the same Go2Net logo in the upper left hand corner as a link back to the homepage, and consistent fonts and colors. Unfortunately, once the user leaves the first tier or two of navigation, they will encounter problems. Typing in a search mysteriously takes them to Metacrawler (see Task 7), and some of the guides take them to a similar looking page, but an infospace.com URL. Also, on many pages the search bar that is supposed to be part of the top navbar has the same white background as the body of the page, which might lead the user to think that the search bar is the topmost and most important part of the body.
3. Smoothing human-computer interactions with feedback
This guideline applies more to interactive features like mail than general web surfing. Some problems exist here, specifically in the sign-up process. When a user attempts to sign up for email without signing up for a Go2Net account first, they are sent through the Go2Net signup process instead and given no indication (see Task 1). Users are then given no indication that they need to take additional steps to sign up for email. Also, after users log out, there is no message, simply a return to the sign in page.
4. Supporting the user’s limited memory
This site does not require much in the way of user memorization. The main tasks that require memory are logging in, and Go2Net has provided options for users who forget their password. It is strange, though, that users need two sets of username and password–one for the customization features, and one for email. That doubles the need for memorization for no real reason. Also, some features break from the intuitive way users might expect them to work. It would not be surprising if a user forgot that the movie theater finder feature requires an exact city and state or zip code and does not simply find all theaters nearby like most similar sites (see Task 4).
5. Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
The most basic tasks are fairly easy to use and follow web UI conventions: links are underlined and colored, search boxes can be typed in, etc. Some advanced features break from conventions in odd ways (the movie theater finder and email sign-up, for example), and others are not clear at first. On the homepage, even non-registered users can remove one of the sections from the page, by clicking on the gray “X” in the gray bar with the section name (Today’s News, Stocks, etc.). Not only is this easy to overlook, but it’s unexpected and without a clear purpose, at least for casual, non-registered users.
6. Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
The homepage, including all elements, weighs in at about 67 K, about equal to Yahoo but about four times the size of Google’s homepage. This is acceptable, but not optimum–users with dial-up connections will find the page slow to flip back and forth from. If Go2Net wants users to return to its homepage often during the same web session, the homepage should be pared down a little. Interactive features, like the email system, could be streamlined a bit. After logging in, the first screen in the email system displays links for Mail, Appointments Today, and To Do. Since most users will be using mail most of the time, and checking the inbox is most likely their first task each session, an extra step could be skipped if users began in the inbox.
7. Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
Supporting user’s memory is discussed above, but this brings up an important question: will users return? Go2Net has opted for a clean, fairly simple design, which is good, but they have also failed to make their site distinctive or memorable. The logo is bland and uninteresting, and the most striking visual element is the bright orange rounded navbar. It is just one of the thousands of rounded navbars out on the web, though, and easy to forget. The worst aspect in these terms is the search functionality, which pulls users off the site and away from all branding altogether.
8. Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
Without access to server logs or users for testing, it is hard to tell which errors users make. Some likely sources have already been suggested–difficulty signing up for email, finding theaters and restaurants (see Task 5)–and are examined in more depth below. Most errors are recoverable in the weak sense, in that they don’t destroy data; deleted emails end up in the Wastebasket instead of disappearing immediately, for example. But they are not recoverable in the strong sense, in no real suggestions are offered for failed web searches, no nearby locations are found when searching for theaters in a theaterless town, etc.
9. Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?
Go2Net is visually pleasant, with a good color scheme, clear, readable text, etc. The navigation could use some work, though. The site is consistent in that user customization and email features are in the upper right hand corner of the orange nabvar and site navigation is in the left hand column, but the customization links are white on orange and easy to miss. The site navigation is broken into three main categories: Main Today, News, and Games. Main Today is not a very clear descriptor, and some site features, like the shopping or stocks areas, are not represented anywhere in the navigation system at all and just sit on the homepage. If a user is reading in the news section and remembers that there was a stock section somewhere, the will they think to click on “Main Today”?
Task 1: signing up for email
Signing up for email may not seem like a particularly difficult task, but many web users are not very savvy and know very little about starting their own email accounts. Go2Net helps push this task a little more into the difficult category by not providing any kind of “sign up for email”or similar link on its homepage. Many users might not even know that they offer email, because the only mention of it is a “Check Email” link with a small letter icon on the orange navbar near the upper right-hand corner. If a user assumes that they can sign up for email as well, this is the only likely looking link, and following it does lead to a page that allows the user to either log in or sign up for a new account. There is also a confusing “E-mail Aliases” box in the upper right hand corner that reads “You don’t have any mail aliases registered on The Go2Net Network.” If the service somehow already knows the user does not have an account, why offer them the chance to log in? Since there is no absolute way the system could know (the user could have cookies disabled, or could be at a new computer, for example), why display this message at all? To actually sign up, there is a link to the sign up page in the descriptive text and a “Sign me up!” logo link as well. Having two links might be slightly confusing.
The next step in the process is the “Your Account” page, which has two subheads: “Create a new account” and “Log into an existing account.” Since the user just followed a link that said to sign up, it’s redundant to make them click yet another “Sign up now!” link. Clicking on that link brings the user to a form with fields for username, password, etc. Each field is a standard html form element, and each has some descriptive text to the right, which may be helpful to first-time users. There is a major problem, however, once the user gets down to the “Personal Information” subhead–there is a field for email address! How should the user know what their email address is, if they are still in the process of signing up for it? Or is this the place to type in the address the user hopes to use? Why, then, does the description read “address example: firstname.lastname@example.org?” What’s metacrawler.com? Isn’t this Go2Net.com? Going back to the top of the page, the user reads that this is the sign up for something called Personal Portal. “Once you complete this form you’ll be able to access all of the customizable search, stock, news, and discussion features of the main page using the user name and password you choose.” Why isn’t email mentioned here? Isn’t this the right place to sign up for email? Assuming the user guesses and types in something like email@example.com and hits the “Register Me!” button, they are taken to a “Welcome! Registration sign up successful” page. There is more description about other features, but again no mention of email. There is however, a “just click here to get started” link. Clicking that link goes right back to the homepage, with very little notice that anything has just happened at all.
In fact, the homepage does have a slight difference. In the orange horizontal navbar, it now says “hello username” with username as a link. Assuming out user is still mainly interested in email, the “Check Email” link is still the only likely candidate. Experiencing dÃ©jÃ vu, the user might then click on that link again, only to find the same Log In page they saw at the start of the process. Typing in the same username and password entered just a few minutes ago results in a “Sorry, your User Name or Password is incorrect” page that breaks with the rest of the site’s color and navigation scheme. What happened?
It seems that instead of signing up for email as they thought, the user only signed up for a Go2Net customizing account. Now that they are logged on, if they go through the email signup process again they will be able to sign up for email. But how likely is that? Why would the user think to try the same “Sign me up!” link again if last time it didn’t sign them up for what they wanted. Why was there no explanation that users need Go2Net accounts first before they can get Go2Net email accounts, and why is that necessary? Can’t both be done at the same time? Continuing on and signing up for email still isn’t very clear, since it requires users to sign in again, and pops up a confusing message about “Instant Rendevous.” Once in the mail section, the error message “The system cannot find the file specified” is displayed twice on the page. Even though the mail system still works, erroneous error messages are just as bad for users to see as accurate ones.
Task 2: Finding prices on a particular stock, and deciding whether or not to buy it.
Finding stock prices may be easier. There is a Stocks section right on the homepage, along the right hand side, with today’s Dow and NASDAQ values. This is a quick visual clue that stock prices will be here. There’s a “Quotes” textbox, but the user does not know the company’s stock ticker. The user has just seen “Finding Nemo” and now wants to look at Disney’s stock. Below the box is a small “symbol lookup” link. The Symbol Lookup page is pretty straightforward, with a “Keyword” textbox and a “find” button, although if the user does not read the page, the first search box they will find is the generic Metacrawler web search. This is probably intended to be part of the navigation bar, but it is on the same white background as the rest of the page, so an impatient user might begin typing there.
Typing “disney” into the corrent textbox and hitting “Find” leads to the search results page, with three entries: “DIS Disney (Walt) Co (NYSE),” “DCQ Disney(Walt)7.0%’QUIBS’ (NYSE)”, and “TDN Salomon SB Disney TARGETS (AMEX).” The first one looks most likely, and clicking on it leads to a stock quotes page with the Last price, Open price, Bid, Change, highs, lows, and other information. If the user wants to see a chart, they must find the Jump to: Price Charts link, which is a little hidden. The Price Chart page is pretty clear, showing price and volume by default for the last six months. There is a form below where users can look up a different symbol, look at different time periods, change the chart type, or compare this stock against up to three others. It would be nice to have another symbol lookup link here, because any user who does not know the symbol for the stock they’re currently viewing will probably not know symbols for other stocks right off the top of their head. Also, with all the online stock trading companies, it’s a real shame there’s no link here to any of them, since that would be a win for both usability and profitability.
Task 3: Send and email to a list of family members
Again starting from the homepage, and assuming the user already has an email account, the Check Email link is the most likely starting point for this task. Following the link the user has to type in their username and password, even if they are already logged on to Go2Net. This slight annoyance may be required due to security concerns. On the Go2Net Mail page there are three sections in the body of the page including Mail, Appointments Today and ToDo. On the navbar at the left there are buttons for Welcome, VIP, Inbox, Compose, Folders, Calendar, Address Book, Options and Logout. A user might be equally likely to go to Compose or to Address Book for the current task. Clicking on Compose, the user is presented with a form with fields for to:, cc:, bcc:, subject:, spell checker and a large body text box. This is pretty standard across most email systems, except for the spell checker, which almost all users already understand. At the bottom there are links to Send, Attach, Save, Cancel, or Advanced Editor. The user could type in all the addresses here, and if they missed the address book in the navbar they might do so again and again, each time they need to send out such an email–it would be nice to have indication of the address book functionality right by the to: field.
Assuming the user follows the Address Book link, the next page they see has links to Add, Delete, Modify, Group, Select All or Import. The page is a little confusing at first, because there are no addresses on the list and no placeholder to indicate how the list will look once filled in. Clicking on Add leads to a form with fields for Nick-name, E-mail Address, first and last name, and then a host of other fields for ICQ, phone, fax, street address, etc. These fields might be a little much, but some users might find them useful. It would be nice if the required field signifier (here, and asterisk) were the same as the one on the sign-up page (a red exclamation point). Also, throughout the email system, the links are just text with a small arrow graphic next to them. They could be a little more emphasized.
At first glance, there’s no way to email more than one person in the address book at the same time. There are links for each entry to compose an email to that person, and checkboxes next to each entry, but no “Email to selected” or anything similar. If the user selects a few entries and clicks the Group link, however, they can create a group that will have its own entry in the list that can be emailed. This could be made a little clearer.
Task 4: Find out when a movie is playing tonight nearby
The homepage has a relatively prominent link to Movie Times under Main Today on the orange navbar on the left hand side of the screen. Following it takes the user to the movies page. Again the general Metacrawler search box is the first thing on the page, and it really needs to be visually separated from the rest of the body content. The page leads with a featured movie including a photo, the genre, rating, and a description. There’s a link the “Read More” and below a link the find it in “your local Theater.” Below is a list of links to other movies under the headings New Releases, Now Playing, and Coming Soon. There’s also a search box to find movies not shown on the homepage.
Following a link from a movie to find it in a local theater, the user is brought to a form with space for City, State, Zip code, Theater name and Movie. Theater name and Movie are optional, though the movie field default to whatever movie the user just followed the link from. Typing in a city and state or zip code where a theater is located will bring up results, but if the user does not happen to live in the same town as a theater, the site does not bring up a list of nearby theaters. Most users don’t carry around a list of the zip codes of local theaters, and enough other sites display a list of nearby theaters that the user would have no reason not to expect this one to as well. This is a major usability problem in an otherwise fairly clean, straightforward section of the site.
Once the user finds a list of movies playing at a local theater, times, ticket prices and other information is available. Unfortunately there are no links to any of the online ticket seller websites. Again Go2Net has missed a rare opportunity to offer functionality and make money.
Task 5: Find a restaurant near that theater
Assuming the user has just found the theater listing, there is a “Restaurants Nearby” link right from the theater page. Following the link does not bring up a list of restaurants, but instead a Yellow Pages search page. There is a “Search for this business” field and City and State fields (which are already filled in). First, the user has clearly indicated they are looking for a restaurant, so why are they taken to a search page at all? Second, if city and state information can be carried to the search form, why not “restaurant” and the “Type of business” radio button selection? If the user decides to type in restaurant and submit the form, they are shown a list of restaurant categories. Clicking on one of the categories, “Restaurant American”” for example, brings up a list of restaurants are far away as Columbus, Ohio! Results like this are useless, and unless the user notices that the area codes are not local, they will have to click on the restaurant name and see a map or actually call the restaurant before they realize it is hardly “nearby.”
Starting from the homepage instead, there’s no direct restaurant link but the City Guide link under “Main Today” on the orange navbar on the left looks likely. Following the link brings up a form with fields for City, State, or Zip Code. Entering in valid information and hitting Find brings up the city’s page, with a “Restaurants” link under “Today’s Events” near the top of the page. Clicking on this link once again brings up categories, and each category once again has restaurants from as far away as Columbus. Also, even through the site logo and navigation elements stay the same, once the user enters the city guide area, the domain name changes from go2net.com to infospace.com. Both site may have the same owner and share content, but a user who notices the change might be confused as to what site they’re actually on.
Task 6: Customize news
The news section of the homepage takes up more screen real estate than any other element and is updated regularly with wire stories. If the user wants to customize what kind of news is displayed, the most place to look is the “Customize” link in the upper right hand corner of the screen, on the orange navbar. This is a fairly logical place to put it, since it is near the Check Email link and other user interaction points. There is also a small “edit” link in the gray “Today’s News” bar at the top of the news section, but it’s easy to miss.
Clicking on Customize brings up the Today Page Layout page. There, under “Current Layout,” is the gray ‘Today’s News” bar without any headlines underneath it. This time the edit link is more readily apparent (though it still easy to miss at first), and clicking on it brings up the “Your News” screen. There the user can select whether or not to display, how many articles to display, and the order of the categories, including Top Stories, Finance, Sports, Politics, World, and Technology. Users can also turn photos on or off or turn summary text on and off (for all sections, no individually). Use of the form is fairly straight forward, although it’s unclear at first what happens when two categories are set to the same place in order. The main issue here is the paucity of categories. Most newspapers have a number of additional sections, such as arts, entertainment, living, health, home, opinion/editorial, etc. The AP wire, which provides news to Go2Net, has additional sections including Business, Entertainment, Health, Offbeat, and Weather on their site. The customization process works well, but with so little to customize, is it worth the user’s time to do?
Task 7: Searching for information on colon cancer
Since this is a portal site, the goal is to have users start their internet use here. Many users search the web for medical information. Assuming our user in interested in finding out about colon cancer, there are no links on the homepage itself that look very likely. Users might spend some time looking through the news section, but since there is no health news available, it doesn’t seem likely. So the user will most likely then use the Search box near the top of the screen. The search allows users to search for “any”, “all” or “phrase”, and choose among “The Web””, “Images”, “Shopping”, and other categories. It might be a little unclear that selecting “any” brings up results that include any of the words typed and “all” brings up only results where all typed words are present.
Typing in “colon cancer” and leaving the default settings (“all” and “The Web”) brings up a page in MetaCrawler with search results. The searchbox on the Go2Net homepage clearly states that the search is powered by MetaCrawler, but this transition does break the Go2Net navigation scheme and branding. The search page shows “Metasearch results for “colon cancer” (1 – 20 of 106)” and allows the results to be sorted by relevance or by search engine. MetaCrawler is a meta search engine, meaning it searches a variety of search engines and organizes the results.
On the left hand side there is a “Refine your search” sidebar with the search terms and several likely related phrases below, including “Diagnosis”, “Risk”, etc. In the main body of the page are the results, with the site title linking to the site, some descriptive text, and then the url in light gray below. The user may notice that many of the results are somewhat relevant, but commercial–for example one advertising clinic trials of a drug, one for a malpractice lawyer, etc. Those are most likely paid links, with “Sponsored by” before the light gray URL. It is very easy to miss the fact that a particular link is sponsored, and the sponsored links seem to water down the relevancy of the results, to usability speed bumps. In fact the first truly useful link is the first non-paid one, at number 6 in the list.
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