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Introduction edit

The term usability is a combination of the verb "to use" and the noun "ability" and is usually employed to refer to the user-friendliness of an application (Göbel, 2009, p. 39). The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) defines usability as "[t]he effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments." According to Nielsen (1993) usability comprises

  • learnability,
  • efficiency,
  • good memorability,
  • error tolerance and
  • satisfaction.

Another important aspect is the emotions of the users: Is the use of the application pleasant or even enjoyable?

Recommendations: What Can You Do to Make Your Online Community More Usable for Older Adults? edit

Excellent usability is the essential prerequisite not only for a satisfactory user experience but also for an initial buildup of trust in the online community. Keep in mind: Basic usability rules apply to users of all ages. So check your communities concerning:

  • Quality of content: Choosing the right topics is useless if the quality of the content is unsatisfactory. Many “one topic” online communities suffer from outdated content, a lack of contributions and insufficient quality assurance. Only content of quality can attract quality contributions from users. Thus, less will often turn out to be more.
  • Coherent information architecture: The basis of a usable online community is a stringent concept for the structure of the site in order to allow users to get an overview of content and functionalities easily and to facilitate orientation. This is achieved by choosing the right classification of content and distinct labels as well as providing the adequate navigational features. The core community features must be highly visible and must not be buried under piles of other information and features.
  • Sufficient user guidance: It is very important that users are guided intuitively. I.e. they have to know at all times where they are, what their options for action are and how they can get where they want to go. Steps that require previous knowledge have to be explained to the users. Finding out about those needs implies that community operators know their target group well.
  • Elaborated processes: All processes have to be thoroughly defined. I.e., it must be clear to users how to start, where in the process they are currently standing, which steps are optional and which ones are essential and how the process will be completed.
  • Good graphical design: A suitable graphical design is needed that supports the usability of the online community in an optimal way.
  • Applying user-centered design for creating user interfaces and processes in an online community is a promising strategy of designing online communities for everyone. The operator will involve users in the development process. This approach has a high probability of creating community features and processes, which guarantee that persons regardless of their age will be able to use community features successfully.
  • Building trust through communication: Media reports about privacy breaches in certain online communities influence users’ expectations of online communities in general. Thus, communities have to address the perceived risks, in particular concerning privacy. Users should easily be provided with transparent information concerning the data that are visible to others and on how they can change respective settings. The default settings after registration should be restrictive.
  • Tell us about you: Persons are motivated to participate in an online community if they feel that this community is congruent to their own values. Thus, in order to create a clear profile, an online community should be able to communicate its values. Vice versa, administrators of online communities should know something about the values of their target group.
  • Moderation and motivation: Once a person starts to contribute, they will return to see how other community members have reacted. It is thus of great importance that new members start contributing as quickly as possible – even if their contributions are only minuscule – and that they receive feedback.
  • Talk about benefits: Persons will continue to use the online communities if they see a very clear personal benefit in doing so and if this benefit is greater than the perceived “cost” of contributing. Clearly communicating this benefit is mandatory for online communities aiming to attract new members regardless of their age. Moreover, it is important to point out that online communities are not only about getting to know new people, but that they provide manifold other possibilities (e.g. simplified communica-tion, an agenda for joining offline activities, an opportunity for sharing knowledge with others, etc.).
  • Promote active users in the target group: Target well integrated senior users and their networks first, in order to attract the necessary number of members from that particular age group. Probably, the most promising approach in this respect is using models or positive examples, i.e. by demonstrating how persons who are similar in important respects (personality, interests, age, level of education etc.) profit from their participation in online communities. This, however, requires a detailed definition of the target group so that the persuasive messages can be tailored fittingly.

Examples: What Are Typical Usability Problems That Older Adults Experience? edit

Registration processes are difficult to manage

Lengthy and complex registration processes are bound to set back even the most highly motivated user right from the beginning.

A Lack of orientation for new users

An insufficient overview of functionalities and central community features can put a swift end to older persons’ beginning involvement in an online community. These problems tend to be rooted in missing or unclear process indications especially concerning the different possibilities of taking action (e.g. imprecise naming, poorly perceivable links, suboptimal design of error messages and references, poor marking of optional action steps, complex password requirements, non-readable “CAPTCHA”). A lack of coherent information architecture and user guidance is also a common problem. This refers to the clustering and labeling of content, the characteristics of navigation, the use of orientation aids, and the integration of specific functionalities.

Fundamental Features of the Online Community Are Difficult to Use

It should go without saying that in a community all functions of social exchange (e.g. contacting other community members, sharing content, answering others' requests) should be easy and inviting to use. However, the upload of content such as photos or the creation of blog entries is often experienced as difficult by older adults.

Participants lose interest due to insufficient quantity and quality of the content

This is especially true of online communities with a low level of activity and slow or even missing responsiveness. Sometimes these problems are worsened by poor graphic design and an unclear separation of paid-for and user-generated content.

Lack of a clear concept for providing different modes of access

Quite frequently, too little thought is given to the different pathways through which various target groups should be able to access the online community. In addition, the different stages of the process that new users of the online community will have to go through are often not addressed sufficiently well (e.g. finding the online community, comprehending its content, deciding on whether to participate, taking action, sharing content).

Theoretical Information edit

Usability in the Context of Online Communities edit

Preece (2001) argues that most barriers to using online communities are related either to usability or sociability. Usability refers to the easiness and intuitiveness with which the technology of the online community can be learned and used. Sociability includes the purpose of the community, the ways in which people are allowed to interact and, finally, community governance, which is characterized by formal and informal policies. Good usability is widely understood to be crucial for the success or failure of an application or service. However, because of their very nature as virtual social spaces, questions of sociability may be more relevant for participation or non-participation in online communities than questions of usability. Preece (2001) proposes four main usability issues for online communities.

  1. Dialog & social interaction support,
  2. information design,
  3. navigation,
  4. access.

Dialog & social interaction support refers to all aspects of the used surface that promote interaction. How easy is it to execute commands? Can avatars be moved without difficulty? Information design deals with whether the community information is readable, understandable and aesthetically pleasing. A good navigation will allow the user to move easily and to find that which he or she is looking for. Many online communities face problems of insufficient compatibility between imported software modules and the website housing the community. Access to the online community is dependent on the prerequisites of a full usage of the community software. This includes questions of required bandwidth and state-of-the-art hardware and operating systems. Text versions of community information should be available as alternatives. If certain prerequisites are essential, it should be made clear how they can be fulfilled (Preece, 2001).

In the framework of the TAO project (cf. Bennett & Loetscher, 2012) a broad concept of usability was applied:

  • Are the planned functions really useful (utility)?
  • Do users accept and use them (user acceptance)?
  • Are the business model, contents, terms used within a site as well as its name understandable and credible (branding aspects)?
  • Is the user satisfied with the possible options?
  • Do users feel intimidated by unexpected or unwanted contents and functionalities?
  • Is the user's image of the brand being distorted by the experience he has?

Rubinoff's reasoning (2004) is similar and includes content, branding and functionality as parts of a satisfactory user experience.

Do Older Adults Have Particular Needs With Regard to the Usability of an Online Community? edit

There is evidence that older adults take longer when using typical functions of online communities or simply when surfing the internet than do younger persons (Buss & Strauss, 2009). This is not because older adults are per se slower than younger adults. Rather, the reason for this is that younger persons tend to have more knowledge about and more specific experiences with online communities than do older adults. So what in fact many older adults need is a very clear navigational framework, easily interpretable error messages and unequivocal terminology (Buss & Strauss, 2009). When asked directly, beginning older adult users may not name very many particular usability problems. It would, however, be short-sighted to conclude from this that they did not encounter any such problems. Because of their limited knowledge about online communities it is difficult for beginning older adult users to pin down verbally their experiences so that they can be categorized easily. Rather, they often express a kind of general uneasiness or insecurity about their dealings with online communities. It does not seem far-fetched to assume that usability problems play an important role in creating these feelings even if they are not voiced in a concrete manner.

References edit

Bennett, J. & Loetscher, S. (2012). How Online Communities Can Make a Contribution to the Social Integration of Persons Aged 60 to 75. An Exploratory Study. Available online http://www.thirdageonline.eu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/TAO_Expl-Study-60plus_v1-0_2012-02-10.pdf (02/22/2012).

Buss, A. & Strauss, N. (2009). The Online Communities Handbook: Building Your Business and Brand on the Web. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Göbel, K. (2009). Das Web 2.0 unter dem Aspekt der Barrierefreiheit. Untersuchung der Webanwendung XING. Hamburg: Diplomica Verlag.

International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO; 2008). ISO 9241-151:2008 Ergonomics of human-system interaction - Part 151: Guidance on World Wide Web user interfaces. Available online http://www.iso.org/iso/home/store/catalogue_tc/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=37031 (09/17/2012).

Nielsen, J. (1993). Usability Engineering. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Preece, J. (2001) Sociability and usability: Twenty years of chatting online. Behavior and Information Technology Journal, 20 (5), 347-356.

Rubinoff, R. (2004). How To Quantify The User Experience. Available online http://www.sitepoint.com/quantify-user-experience/ (03/12/2012).

Links to Other Handbook Chapters edit

Chapter on "Target Groups" (gives an overview of older adults as a target group for online communities)

Older Adults and Online Communities