Category Archives: analysis

Sakai Mobile Usability

Case Study

Qualtrics on an iPhone
Pilot application on iPhone

In January 2010, Yale’s Center for Media and Instructional Innovation conducted a survey of mobile devices used to access Classes*v2, the University’s learning management system built on the open-source Sakai platform. The results of this survey and a series of related discussions prompted further development, and in 2011 the Classes*v2 team completed an alpha version of a mobile web interface. A decision was made to open it up to a select group of pilot participants during the Spring 2012 semester. Our goal was to gather student and faculty feedback to inform ongoing development efforts. With no formal usability training, but plenty of gritty do-it-yourself determination, the team set about conducting a large-scale usability study.

The process of selecting and gathering feedback from the pilot participants was a multi-phased approach:

1. Open call for volunteers

Upon logging into Classes*v2, a message invited interested users to apply to be part of the pilot.

  • Sample language we used:
    • “Help us pilot a new mobile interface for Classes*v2!”
    • “Got a mobile device? Help us pilot a new mobile interface for Classes*v2!”
    • “The Classes*v2 team needs your help to pilot a new mobile interface!”

2. Selection of pilot participants

Pilot applications simply required the user’s identity as well as which Classes*v2 tools they used regularly. Since the alpha version of the mobile web interface only worked with some tools, the team wanted to ensure a good fit between these parameters and the usage habits of potential pilot participants.

3. The call to action

We sent accepted pilot participants an introductory email:

“Thanks for your interest in the Classes*v2 mobile pilot. As a first step in optimizing Classes*v2 for mobile devices, we invite your feedback on an alpha release, which includes views of several key tools.

To access the mobile view, please visit …

We’ll be sending you a quick survey in several weeks to learn about your experience. Your input on what works, what’s missing, and what needs to be tweaked will be incredibly helpful as we continue building the mobile view.

We appreciate your participation in the alpha pilot and look forward to your feedback.”

4. Gathering post-pilot feedback

After the month-long pilot period ended, we sent participants a survey about their experience. Out of 648 participants, 220 (34%) responded to the survey.

“Thank you for your participation in the pilot of the Classes*v2 mobile alpha. Please take a few minutes to complete a quick survey on your experience with the pilot. We’re grateful for the feedback, and confident that it will help us further develop and improve the interface.”

(The final survey was individualized for tracking responses.)

Here are the results of the survey, if you’re curious. Included are some lessons learned and signposts that we used to prioritize development efforts.

Outcomes

  • Well over 500% mobile activity increase.
  • Over 300% increase in pages per visit during mobile sessions.
  • Over 300% increase in average time on site during mobile sessions (from roughly 20 seconds to about 90)
  • 25% increase in new mobile visitors
  • 57% decrease in the mobile bounce rate (a good thing!)
  • A focus group with student interns from the Instructional Technology Group to further refine the feedback we received
  • Coverage in the Yale Daily News
  • Users of phone-sized devices are now automatically redirected to the mobile web interface when logging into Classes*v2.

Lingering Questions

  • How might we have streamlined the process?
  • Was there anything missing from our approach, bearing in mind the scale of the effort?
  • What should we do when frequently recurring suggestions are seemingly impossible to deliver?

This post was written as a contribution to Users First!, a November 2013 Unconference at Yale University

Pen review: Uni-Ball Jetstream Sport 0.7mm


Uni-Ball Jetstream Sport 0.7mm (old body style with three ovals on the clip)


People on the Internet love them some Jetstreams. That much is obvious even to the casual observer. I quickly fell in love myself, but alas, it ended up being one of those love affairs that burns brightly, briefly, and then flames out. The biggest problem for me is that, as smooth of a writer as it is, at the end of the day it’s still a ballpoint. The clumps of ink are still there. It’s definitely the best ballpoint I’ve ever used, though.


JetPens provided me with a sample of the Japanese version of this pen, but for all intents and purposes, it’s identical to the American Jetstream Sport in 0.7mm (save for a single “racing stripe” near the top that’s missing on the Japanese version). I should point out that this is the older body style with three ovals on the clip, and the clip is the same color as the rest of the body. The newer body style tapers to a “pinch” just above the grip, and the grip itself appears to be slimmer and curvier. I’ve never used it so I can’t say which is better, but if you prefer the older style it seems you had better buy in bulk immediately.


The pen feels good in the hand and is an unquestionably smooth writer, a fact on which Uni-Ball’s marketing department has capitalized in a YouTube video featuring one “Doctor Uni-Ball.” At first, I loved it so much that I purchased a box of a dozen just so I could share them with friends and coworkers. Perhaps I was caught up in the effusive praise that every Internet review seems to lavish upon this pen. And in fairness, as I’ve already stated, I would still choose this pen over any other ballpoint within reach, be they hybrid or conventional (although I have yet to try the Pilot Acroball). The problem is that the ink still tends to clump up occasionally, though not nearly as frequently as with conventional ballpoints. I also don’t see the consistent lines that I typically get from gel pens. There’s plenty of evidence in my writing sample for this review.


Maybe it’s because I was also trying out a variety of other pen and ink types for the first time while I was getting acquainted with the Jetstream Sport. But after a brief period of infatuation, it seems to have gotten lost in the crowd. I can’t see grabbing this pen when it’s on the desk next to a Pentel EnerGel, for example. The latter would win almost every time. Their price points are very similar, especially now with the EnerGel-X line. The Jetstream is starting to look a bit less attractive lately, but I’ll always look back fondly on our time together.

Pen review: Pilot B2P

Pilot B2P writing sample
Pen: Pilot B2P 0.7 (furnished by JetPens)
Paper: Rhodia No. 12 Graph Pad
I wanted to hate this pen. After all, it’s just a G2 refill in an eco-friendly body, right? I’m supposed to look down my nose and scoff at it, aren’t I? Well, I don’t hate it. I don’t know if I love it either, but it has enough redeeming qualities that I can’t dismiss it outright. It feels better in my hand than the standard G2 barrel, though not as good as a G2 Pro. For this ink, the 0.7 seems to flow more smoothly than the 0.5. To be continued…
…I definitely prefer the aesthetics of the B2P to those of the standard G2, but that may be simply because the G2 hasn’t had an update in eons, and I’m just sick of looking at it. (Enough with that gross, rusty-looking area near the top of the refill!) The biggest design differences in my opinion are that the B2P barrel is a little wider, and the “grip” is simply some indentations cut in the plastic. The eco aspect (89% recycled content) is a nice touch, and the price differential is actually insignificant enough that it’s easy to justify choosing the B2P over the G2. That was an important business decision by Pilot, because as the premium prices of hybrid vehicles have shown us, sometimes the upfront cost of going green can be hard to swallow.
At the end of the day, it’s still a G2 at heart. That can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your writing habits and personal preferences. While I may be a tad biased, I will share a story that I hope proves the degree of objectivity with which I approached this review. I put the B2P up against the three other pens that JetPens recently sent me for review, and let a small group of my work colleagues evaluate them with no pretext whatsoever. This is a group of people with diverse tastes in writing implements, and every single one of them independently chose the B2P as the winner. Take that as you will, but it certainly speaks to the broad mass-market appeal of this pen.

Pen review: Kaweco Sport Classic

Kaweco Sport Classic

Kaweco Sport Classic

Fine Nib

Rhodia No.12 Graph Pad

I’m a firm believer in maximizing utility. Perhaps that’s why I shied away from fountain pens for so long. They always struck me as overly fancy instruments that tethered the writer to a desk. This pen completely changed my mind! Form follows function here, no doubt about it. It writes smoothly, is lightweight and is perfect for carrying around all day in a pocket. Bravo, Kaweco. You’ve made a believer of me!

Pen review: Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.3mm


There must be something I’m missing when it comes to Micro Tip Gel Ink pens. The Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.3mm feels good in the hand, but it seems like it will take some time for me to get used to. This is definitely the finest point I’ve ever used for writing, and there’s undoubtedly going to be an adjustment period. They seem to be well-loved by aficionados, so I’m being very patient and giving it a chance.


Every stroke is like sandpaper across the desert. And I can hear it, too. For my writing style, at least, it’s quite fatiguing. Nor is it a smooth writing experience. Perhaps this was a poor choice with which to begin my journey, but if nothing else this will give me a valuable sense of perspective as I continue to explore different options.


Love the push clip design, and I suspect I’d love the whole package a lot more in a 0.5mm or 0.7mm tip. The Viridian Green ink is gorgeous in color. I don’t usually give much consideration to color when writing, but this ink’s vibrancy made me take notice.


Maybe I’m just not ready for the 0.3mm yet. It’s too scratchy for my inexperienced hand. I’ll have to revisit this down the road. I’m not ready to pass final judgment, but for now, this isn’t a pen I’ll be returning to on a regular basis.


Pen: Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.3mm, Viridian Green (furnished by JetPens)
Paper: Ampad Envirotec Recycled Steno Book # 25774

Cloud Integration Shootout: Office Suites part 2 (the Mac conundrum)

Users of modern Macs face an unfortunate dilemma when it comes to cloud-integrated office suites. Google Cloud Connect is not available for Macs; the company blames Microsoft for their lack of support for open APIs in the Mac version of Office. And the OOo2GD extension for OpenOffice (and friends) doesn’t work properly on any version of OSX after 10.4 (Tiger) due to Java issues. What this effectively means is that true Google Docs integration is simply not possible at the current time. Users are left with two equally cumbersome and unappealing options.

Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac includes native (though rudimentary) hooks into Microsoft’s own cloud infrastructure. Applications in this suite offer the ability to “Save to SkyDrive” or “Save to SharePoint.” There is not, however, support for automatic synchronization. It is still a manual process, an extra step in your workflow which means this is not true integration. And for established Google Docs devotees, it requires a separate collaborative space to be created and maintained.

NeoOffice is a Mac-specific fork of OpenOffice. I tested version 3.2 Beta Patch 1. Through a feature known as “NeoOffice Mobile,” it does provide support for saving to Google Docs; but again, true integration eludes us here. Users are inexplicably required to create a separate NeoOffice Mobile account, even if they’re only using it for the ability to save directly to Google Docs. The account creation process is tedious (you are asked to donate money), and credentials do not appear to be saved between sessions. So when you quit NeoOffice, and then start it up the next time, you have to separately login to both NeoOffice Mobile and Google Docs. And you have to do this every time. There’s no automatic synchronization, either.

The elegance and seamlessness of both Google Cloud Connect and OOo2GD are sorely missed in OSX Leopard and Snow Leopard. Hopefully someday soon, one of these options will be available, or perhaps an entirely new solution will present itself.

Cloud Integration Shootout: Office Suites

google cloud connect

 

 

Analysis: LibreOffice 3 + OOo2GD versus Microsoft Office 2010 + Google Cloud Connect

 

The following is a comparison of cloud integration options for two popular office suites. Both options allow synchronization of documents, spreadsheets and presentations to Google Docs. Both options allow for either automatic or manual syncing, depending on user preference.

 

 

LibreOffice 3 + OOo2GD advantages:

  • None of the costs associated with Microsoft Office
  • Multi-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux, many other Unix variants)
  • Supports other cloud services besides Google Docs (Zoho and generic WebDAV)
  • When used with user-controlled WebDAV, allows for total control/ownership of all data
  • Translated into many other languages besides English

 

LibreOffice 3 + OOo2GD disadvantages:

  • Some problems with certain versions of Mac OSX (seems to be Java related)
  • Needs Java 5+ to work, on any platform

 

Microsoft Office 2010 + Google Cloud Connect advantages:

  • Allows user to disable Protected View for documents synced with Google Docs
  • Allows application-level configuration of a proxy server to access Google Docs
  • Does not require Java

 

Microsoft Office 2010 + Google Cloud Connect disadvantages:

  • The cost of the office suite
  • Limited to the Windows platform
  • No option for end-to-end control and ownership of all data
  • Does not support any services other than Google Docs

 

Conclusion:

The most impactful factors to consider are the platforms being used by all potential collaborators, and any enterprise requirements for internalization of data.

If you’re dealing with a heterogeneous client environment, OOo2GD is the way to go. The interface looks the same across all platforms it supports, which simplifies training through consistency and uniformity; the only caveat is that you may have problems if any Mac users are running one of the versions of OSX affected by the known Java issue. If you’re an all-Windows shop, none of the above is a concern, and either option will work fine.

Some companies are hesitant to embrace cloud computing because of the inherent risks of having your data stored on someone else’s hardware, in a physical location you do not control. This would be a show-stopper for Google Cloud Connect, because all synchronized documents will live on Google’s servers. Assuming your company sets up its own internal WebDAV instance, which could be accessed by employees via VPN, OOo2GD would provide a completely self-owned and internally-controlled solution. This would allay many of the typical fears associated with cloud computing.