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February 2008

February 26, 2008


Taking Our Own Advice: Usability in Practice

We have completed a number of usability assessments for the AIDS.gov website. However, when we were writing our latest blog post about usability, we realized we neglected to check in with our readers on the blog site. We had not assessed the usability of our own blog. Yikes!

But the great thing about a blog is that it is easy to test usability--all you have to do is ask your readers, and it's never too late to ask!

Within three days, we had developed an informal feedback form and heard from a small group of our visitors. (As we noted last week, "experts have confirmed that you can get useful feedback from 5 or 6 users.")

We asked our users:

  1. What information did you expect to obtain from the AIDS.gov blog?
  2. How helpful has the information provided by the AIDS.gov blog been for you?
  3. How clear is the information provided?
  4. How easy is it to navigate the AIDS.gov blog?
  5. What else would you like to see on the AIDS.gov blog?

What We Learned
Our respondents found the information we provide to be helpful and easy to navigate. However, they said the blog wasn't what they expected when they first visited. "I like the focus on new technology (wikis, RSS feeds, etc.), but thought I would also get program-related content (e.g., information on specific HIV/AIDS programs and policies)."

Users said they appreciated the new media focus. "I hear buzz words all the time, and now I can read what they really mean..." Another said: "Very informative and on a topic (new technology) that I wouldn't have thought I needed."

Our respondents repeatedly asked for more HIV-specific resources and personal accounts of how new technologies are changing HIV programming. They also asked for links to other government blogs and information about other government new media efforts.

Finally, they told us that the graphic we use for our exit disclaimers was distracting.

Now What?
The key to improving usability is to listen--and to respond--to your users. In the next few weeks, our blog posts will respond to our visitors' comments. We will:

  • Include at least two examples of new media being used directly in the fight against HIV/AIDS in each post. (But we need your help... send examples!)
  • Change the exit disclaimer graphic.
  • Modify the way we describe the blog, so that readers will know immediately that we are blogging about ways to use new media in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Our team referred to the resources we mentioned in last week's post, Usability - Websites and Beyond and found them to be helpful.

In closing, we are reminded of one of our favorite quotes by usability expert Steve Krug Exit Disclaimer: "How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people's lives just by doing our job a little better?"

Asking for feedback is one of those ways that we try to do our jobs just a bit better--in the hope that you can use something you find here to combat HIV/AIDS in the communities, or among the individuals, you serve. Feel free to send us your feedback anytime.

For our next post on March 4 we will report back on the Texting 4 Health Conference Exit Disclaimer and how it applies to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

February 19, 2008


Usability - Websites and Beyond

We designed AIDS.gov knowing that visitors only spend up to 30 seconds scanning a webpage. People look for trustworthy, updated, and easy-to-read information. If they can't find it, they leave the page quickly.

Question: So how do we provide our users with what they want and in the way they want it?

Answer: Ask them!

We have to admit there are many times our AIDS.gov web development team gets excited about a new design or product and puts it up before conferring with our own usability Exit Disclaimer consultant or, more importantly, our users. So, we have to remind ourselves to focus on usability.

To help us better understand usability, we spoke with two experts: Ginny Redish Exit Disclaimer, an independent consultant, writer, and trainer; and our AIDS.gov consultant, Jason Rendel.

What is usability?
According to our colleagues at Usability.gov, "Usability measures the quality of a user's experience when interacting with a product or system--whether a website, a software application, mobile technology, or any user-operated device. In general, usability refers to how well users can learn and use a product to achieve their goals and how satisfied they are with that process."

Ginny emphasized that usability is "an attribute of absolutely everything. It allows your audiences: 1) to find your site, blog, podcast, etc.; 2) to find what they want or need on the site; and 3) to understand what they find. Usability means that they can do all that in the time and with the effort that they think is worth spending." Ginny likes to describe usability as "a conversation between you and the people out there."

A key principle of usability is that it is user-centered Exit Disclaimer, meaning that users are involved throughout the development process. All of our time, energy, and good intentions must always come back our users--their needs, interests, preferences, and limitations.

How can you improve usability?
To ensure that your new media tool or website focuses on your users, you must involve them in planning, developing prototypes, writing content, and conducting usability tests. Usability.gov provides a good step-by-step visual overview for this process.

Start with asking your current and potential users for input--and remind yourself that you are not your users. As Jason told us, "the main point in building something for users is to build something they need. If what you build is burdensome to your users, they will find another way to get what they want [somewhere else]."

Assessing the site early and often is key. Once you have a prototype, even if it's on paper, make sure the site works for your users! This doesn't need to be costly, or take a lot of time. The experts told us that you can get useful feedback from just five or six users. At first, the AIDS.gov team found that hard to believe--but we were wrong, and the the experts were right! (Just be sure to get feedback at different stages along the way...)

We've conducted successful usability tests for AIDS.gov at several national HIV/AIDS conferences. We give participants different sample tasks and then observe how they use the site--what they click on, what their reactions are, where their eyes are drawn, and how they interact with the information.

Another usability technique is an expert review. This involves asking usability experts to evaluate the site and provide input about things that might be problematic.

We often think of usability for websites, but it is equally important for new media products. For example, if you're developing a podcast, ask some of your listeners questions such as:

  • How useful do you find the information?
  • Do you find the podcast easy to understand?
  • Does the podcast keep your attention?

Blogs can also benefit from usability testing (and we'll be doing that in next week's post). The beauty of a blog (and many other forms of social media) is that there are mechanisms inherent to the tool, such as the comments feature, that facilitate gathering information from users.

Ginny reminded us that we have to plan for, and test, more than the navigation. "From the beginning you should also be thinking about the content." She told us that we need to ask ourselves, "Whom are you talking to? What are your key messages? What do people need to hear?"

Usability and public health
Ginny shared with us an example of how usability can have an impact on public health. She explained, "The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries handles workers' compensation payments, which can be a complicated process. When they developed their website, they used a technique called "personas" to imagine their user--a young construction worker who has fallen off a ladder, is in pain, is worried about money, and is not very computer-savvy. The result is a very usable website that really considers the needs of their users."

Where can you go to learn more about usability?
At AIDS.gov we find the following resources and organizations particularly useful:

In the meantime, we'll be conducting a quick assessment of this blog, and will report our findings in next week's post. Stay tuned!

February 12, 2008


Wiki - What?!

"A 'wiki' is a webpage with an edit button*"

The AIDS.gov team loves wikis—but we aren't so crazy about the term "wiki" itself. Why? Because we get blank stares when we tell others how wikis have made our lives easier. Many of our colleagues do not know what a wiki is—and neither did we, six months ago. But now we're hooked!

We have also been impressed by how wikis have dramatically improved communication and collaboration among public health officials—particularly among those working on pandemic flu. To help us learn more, we talked with Dr. Greg Dworkin, the founding editor of the well-known Flu Wiki Exit Disclaimer. We also talked to David Weekly, CEO and co-founder of PBwiki Exit Disclaimer.

What is a wiki?
The term "wiki" comes from the Hawaiian word for "fast." Wiki technology essentially creates a webpage that anyone with access to it can modify—quickly and easily. "'Wiki' is a webpage with an edit button," explained David.

Dr. Dworkin made an analogy with newspapers and blogs to help us understand how wikis work: "A newspaper publishes its stories in print or online. If you find an error, or want to express an opinion about something in the paper, your option has traditionally been to write a letter to the editor," he explained. "With a blog, you can comment directly on what someone else has written." (want to leave a comment about this post?) These were the precursors to the wiki, Dr. Dworkin said. "With a wiki, you write the story and people get to edit you in real time." He added, "It's kind of like democracy."

Wikipedia Exit Disclaimer is the largest wiki on the planet. It has more than 75,000 active contributors, who work on more than 9,000,000 articles. According to Nature Exit Disclaimer, Wikipedia is about as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica Exit Disclaimer. Dr. Dworkin emphasized, "You have to believe that the wisdom of crowds will eventually get it right."

We encourage you to visit the Wikipedia entry on AIDS.gov Exit Disclaimer.

How can you use wikis in the fight against HIV/AIDS?
We use a wiki to create this blog, and we started doing this because several members of the AIDS.gov team collaborate to create the posts.  We found that it was difficult to keep up with all the e-mails flying back and forth. We were never sure who had the last version, or how things had changed since the last edit.

With a wiki, we can easily edit a document and there is no confusion about which is the latest version, or who was the last person to edit. In addition, the wiki gives us the option to go back to earlier versions if we decide we like them better!

There are many other possible uses for wikis in the fight against HIV/AIDS. You can:

  • Work with others to create resources like Web sites, fact sheets, and policy papers on HIV prevention, testing, and treatment
  • Maintain up-to-date resource lists for your HIV/AIDS directory
  • Create calendars for your World AIDS Day events (or any HIV/AIDS Awareness Day)
  • Manage a project among individuals in geographically dispersed locations
  • Create an on-line journal for a youth support group or other social network
  • Write a grant application

How do you create a wiki?
For our colleagues who are interested in starting their own wikis, please know that hosted wikis are available and usually free. At AIDS.gov we use PBwiki Exit Disclaimer, but there are many other hosted wiki solutions, such as Wetpaint Exit Disclaimer and Wikispaces Exit Disclaimer. You can also download and host free software from companies like MediaWiki Exit Disclaimer (the software used to run Wikipedia). Find a wiki to match your personal needs at wikimatrix.com Exit Disclaimer.

We encourage you to do two things:

  1. Get the feel of what a wiki is and how it functions by exploring the wealth of information on sites like Wikipedia Exit Disclaimer.
  2. Watch the Common Craft video, Wikis in Plain English [NOTE: View captioned/subtitled Exit Disclaimer version].

Ultimately, despite the unusual name, wikis are a serious tool that helps us to work effectively and inclusively.

Let us know how you are using wikis!

Stay tuned for next week's discussion of usability.

*Quote from David Weekly of PBwiki

February 07, 2008


National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Today is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. For more information, visit the HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Website.

February 05, 2008


R U Texting?

High school seniors can send hundreds of them in a day. The show American Idol Exit Disclaimerdepends on them. And staffers for presidential campaigns are using them to contact potential donors and voters.

"They" are text messages--and they are fast becoming a preferred form of communication for many Americans. During June 2007, Americans sent 28.8 billion text messages! Exit Disclaimer

Text messaging Exit Disclaimer is a way of sending information to and from cell phones and certain personal digital assistantsExit Disclaimer(PDAs). To send a message, you can type it directly into your cell phone, using the number/letter keys on the keypad. Text messages are easy to send, and we are seeing growing use by those of all ages.

For World AIDS Day, the AIDS.gov team and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started working with the Kaiser Family Foundation Exit Disclaimer to promote text messaging for HIV testing. Mobile phone users can send a text message with their zip code to “KNOWIT” (566948). Within seconds, they receive a text message with information on nearby HIV testing sites.

And text messaging is being used in all kinds of new and interesting ways:

  • In California, a city health department Exit Disclaimer allows clients to text questions about HIV/AIDS.
  • In Australia, texting helps AIDS patients adhere to complicated drug regimens.

We are often asked, "How can HIV/AIDS programs benefit from text messaging?" To help us explain this key new media tool, we spoke with Erin Dixon, Acting Senior Advisor for Partnerships at the CDC's National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, and Tina Hoff, Vice President and Director of Entertainment Media Partnerships Exit Disclaimer at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"Text messaging is critical to public health initiatives because it allows us to reach audiences in a way they prefer," explained Erin, "Young people in particular seem to prefer this technology, and—by getting on board with it—we extend our reach and our ability to get information to those who need it."

Tina agreed, "If you ignore new media tools, you miss out on an opportunity to reach millions of people who rely on these tools as a form of communication. Incorporating these tools is just part of a good media plan."

  • Personal—each phone is connected to a particular person
  • Ubiquitous—people often carry them at all times
  • Connected—they allow you to connect to peers, caregivers, and other resources for support and information

Erin and Tina acknowledge that there are also some challenges associated with text messaging. "There are character limits for messages, and there are costs associated with texting," Tina says. "We have to be conscious of that--but texting is a real opportunity to connect with our audience and share information."

How has text messaging reached a person living with, or at risk for, HIV/AIDS?
We tested the KNOWIT campaign with MTV, which did on-air promotion," Tina told us. "That month, we got close to 15,000 text messages. People got the information when and where they needed it, and they could follow up and call an HIV center right away." And in Connecticut, the local health department aired PSAs on local radio stations that brought in over a 100 inquiries for HIV testing sites.

In November 2007, five students from the New Media Institute Exit Disclaimer at the University of Georgia teamed up with students and faculty from four universities, three AIDS organizations, and Verizon Communications to develop AIDS Personal Public Service AnnouncementsExit Disclaimer. The project is testing a new mobile production model to create messages that can be sent to young people’s cell phones encouraging them to be tested for HIV.

How can you start your own text messaging campaign?
If you want to start your own text messaging campaign, Tina says, "I would certainly talk to people who are using text messaging. It will open up ideas about how you can apply text messaging to public health issues. We’re trying to tap into text messaging and how people are using it in their personal lives. If you're putting out information that young people want, there seems to be a real receptiveness to that format."

There are many ways to conduct a text messaging campaign. Several texting service companies our colleagues have worked with include:

In a few weeks, the AIDS.gov team will be participating in and reporting from Texting4HealthExit Disclaimer, a conference that will focus entirely on text messaging and health, which is sponsored by BJ Fogg's Exit Disclaimer Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab Exit Disclaimerand the CDC. One of the key speakers at the conference will be Richard Adler Exit Disclaimerfrom the Institute for the Future Exit Disclaimer and the author of the important report, Health Care Unplugged: The Evolving Role of Wireless Technology.Exit Disclaimer

Other public health examples using text messaging include:

We hope you will explore ways to adopt this new media tool to fight HIV/AIDS --  either by promoting existing campaigns or creating your own. Let us know what you learn, and share your experiences in the comments below.

Stay tuned for next week's discussion of wikis!

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