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Posts within the category: Research
September 17, 2010
Ugh. I thought it was just me. But last month's survey (by Xobni and Harris Interactive) on the e-mail habits of American workers shows it's true of most of us: we can't separate ourselves from our work e-mail.
- 72% of Americans check their e-mail outside of regular business hours (vacations, weekends, non-work days).
- 27% percent of Americans who check e-mail outside of business hours do so because they feel they are expected to provide quick responses, even outside the old 9 to 5.
- 37 % of Americans are afraid to go without checking their e-mail because they might miss something important.
- 43% check work e-mail outside of regular business hours to ease their workload.
- 18% feel they must check e-mail outside of work hours to have a successful career.
One curious finding: we're not doing all this e-mail just to impress. Only 5% of the people surveyed admitted to e-mailing to gain brownie points from their boss or a colleague.
Inspired by the Sabbath Manifesto's National Day of Unplugging, I am proposing that each of us establishes an e-mail sabbath, some "sacred" hours that will never include work e-mail. (Whether you have your e-mail sabbath in bed or elsewhere is up to you.)
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
March 4, 2010
Since 2006, pundits have been predicting the death of e-mail. The word on the street is that people--particularly under 30s--have abandoned e-mail for IM, texting, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Jim Lodico, author of the Social Media 2.0 blog, summarizes the reasons most often given for e-mail's demise (among them: too slow, takes too much time, too much spam).
But new research suggests it may be too early to give e-mail last rites. In "View from the Social Inbox 2010," Merkle, a customer relations marketing agency, finds that time spent with personal or social e-mail in the fall of 2009 was even with the prior year. "Nearly three-quarters of respondents spent at least 20 minutes a week e-mailing friends and family." What's more, Merkle found that social network users check their inboxes more frequently than those who shun social sites. "Forty-two percent of social networkers check their e-mail account four or more times a day, compared to just 27% of their non-networked counterparts."
Merkle's findings were similar to those reported by The Nielsen Company in "Is Social Media Impacting How Much We Email?" Nielsen also found that social media use makes people consume more e-mail, not less. In part, that's because you can choose to get an e-mail every time a friend comments on a posting or engages in an activity. And as people make connections though social media, they "may extend those connections to e-mail."
The prediction that social media will kill e-mail reminds me of the premature death notices that accompany nearly every new technology: TV will kill radio, videos will kill movies. Most times, old technologies survive by changing. (Do you want to see Avatar on video at home or in 3-D on a big screen at the theater?)
Communications consultant Flora Novarra, commenting on Lodico's post, makes a succinct case for e-mail's survival. "Would you really want to get your bank statement through your social network? Would you want a tweet from your ex arranging weekend visitation?"
New technologies simply give people more choices.
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
October 23, 2009
While updating our web writing courses, I've been scouring usability research to find new studies that apply to web writing. The findings from two separate research studies from the Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL) at Wichita State University remind me that old web writing guidelines apply to new media—social networking sites. Both studies flagged common writing issues—confusing and unfamiliar terminology, and inadequate user feedback and error messages—as problems that harm usability.
- Usability Evaluation of Three Social Networking Sites. The study evaluated the usability of MySpace, Facebook, and Orkut. Users completed 10 tasks for each site, including adding new information to a profile, making a photo album, and changing notification options for messages. Users rated the difficulty of each task and their satisfaction with each site.
- Trick or Tweet: How Usable is Twitter for First-Time Users? Users performed eight tasks on Twitter, including creating an account, posting a tweet, and responding to a tweet. Users rated the ease of use and their satisfaction with the site.
Confusing and Unfamiliar Terminology
SURL researchers found that inconsistencies in link terminology resulted in users' failure to complete tasks. For example, My Space uses the Term “My Account” as a link. But clicking on the link brought up a page with the heading “Settings.”
Users were confused by unfamiliar terms. MySpace users clicked on “Photo Cube” expecting to make a photo album. They found that “Photo Cube” is a function that allows users to print photos. Twitter users were unclear about whether to use “Profile” or “Setting” to edit their information.
Not surprisingly, most new users “had difficulty learning the ‘language’ that was unique to Twitter.” What was the difference between followers and following? Users were confused about Twitter-unique terms such as “RT” (retweet) for reposting a message from another user, the use of @symbols to indicate usernames in tweets, and the use of hashtags (#) to indicate topic tags for messages.
Twitter language proved so confusing that users had very poor success rates in some tasks: Only 15.4% were successful in sending a message and only 38.5% were successful in replying to messages. Users concluded that Twitter was “complex and felt they would need to learn quite a bit before using it.” Participants reported that "they would not use the service often.”
Poor Feedback and Unhelpful Error Messages
Poor feedback and unhelpful error messages also contributed to the failure of social network users to complete tasks. MySpace provided a poor error message to users who forgot to give their photo albums a name. Twitter users often weren’t sure whether they had successfully completed a task such as sending a message. They were looking for feedback, a completion message or visual confirmation—an icon or a change in font color—to confirm their success.
Tips for Applying the Research to Your Writing
The studies’ usability findings are specific to social networking sites. But applying the recommendations to your writing will improve the usability and user satisfaction for both traditional and new media websites.
- Use terms consistently. Don’t change language mid-stream. For example, is “editing” a profile the same as “updating” a profile? If so, choose one term and use it throughout the site. Consistency is especially important for links because the repetition of link language assures users that they’ve landed on the correct page. If users click “My Account,” the landing page should be labeled “My Account” not ‘Setting.”
- Use plain and intuitive language. The link “print photos” is more intuitive than “photo cube.”
- Explain new terms. You may think a term is self-explanatory, but first-time users may not know your language: tweets, followers, following, photo cube, wall. Provide a brief explanation of terms when users encounter them or link to a glossary.
- Provide helpful feedback and useful error messages. Provide confirmation messages to users: “You have successfully added photos to your album.” Write error messages that explain why the user failed. “Your user name and password do not match” is more helpful than “login failed.”
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
June 28, 2009
I’m a big fan of collaborative writing. So no wonder I found Andrew Lih’s book about the world’s largest collaborative writing project fascinating: The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia.
Wikipedia is often my first read when I need a quick explanation or overview of a topic. I knew that Wikipedia was user generated, but I hadn’t given much thought to how it came about or just how many users it took to generate more than 13,000,000 articlesin more than 260 languages.Turns out, what was started by a group of hackers now counts more than
Wales sees Wikipedia as a social innovation: a way of creating community. Anyone can become part of the community and create, edit, or verify content.
December 4, 2008
A nightmare from Christmas past: two days before my family’s holiday gathering, I realized that I hadn’t received the many books and CDs I’d ordered from Amazon. When I called Amazon to check, I found out there was a problem with the order and it hadn’t been shipped.
Worse, Amazon told me that I wouldn’t get the gifts in time for my holiday celebration. I angrily canceled the order and scurried to a jam-packed mall for some power shopping.
Now I look for—and welcome—transactional e-mails that confirm my purchase and track my packages. But while these e-mails are now ubiquitous, they are not as useful as they could be. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen called transactional e-mail a powerful tool for “strengthening customer service and increasing user confidence and trust. ” But his research (Alertbox, October 20,2008, “Transactional Email and Confirmation Messages”) found “appallingly low” scores on transactional e-mail usability.
The problems: e-mails from unrecognizable senders with vague subject lines, body text that is too long and difficult to scan, and content that doesn’t provide the information users want. So how can you write transactional e-mail that your customers welcome and find useful?
1. Identify the brand and purpose in the “From” field
Bottomline: “People don’t open messages from senders they don’t recognize,” says Nielsen. Use “From” to let your customer identify the sender and know why it was sent. For example, “Best Buy Online Store” identifies the seller’s brand and lets the user know the mail is about an online transaction.
2. Write e-mails with specific “what about” subject lines
The best subject lines are specific to the customer transaction. A winner in Nielsen’s user testing was the simple and direct: “Order has shipped.” This subject line—coupled with a recognizable “From”—was so useful that many customers didn’t open the e-mail. They saved these messages in case the package didn’t arrive. (And to use to place future orders with the company!)
3. Be brief
Customers are turned off by transactional e-mails that begin with marketing messages or have other irrelevant information. Write and format the message so that users can quickly find the information they need.
4. Provide information customers want
- Tracking number. Almost all users looked for this. Even if they didn’t track the order, users found the tracking number “comforting evidence that a package was on the way.”
- Order summary. Provide a simple description of what was actually ordered. This helps users verify their purchase and notify the company right away if the order is incorrect.
- Contact information. Provide a phone number, e-mail, web address and procedures for contacting the company if there’s a problem.
Nielsen also advises against sending too many e-mails. Sending a confirmation message immediately after the order is processed, then a second e-mail when the item has shipped, works best. More e-mails confuse customers; they may overlook an important message, thinking they’ve already read it.
I love transactional e-mail—the confirmation that arrives within seconds of placing the order. (This company is efficient!) And I like tracking the package through the process of order packed for shipment through delivered. In a disorderly world where I can’t find my eye glasses on my desk, it’s comforting that someone (okay, a computer) knows exactly where my package is at any time.
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
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