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Drupal development, project updates, occasional knee / head slappers

Feb 16, 2011

Today I'm reviewing several screen-sharing apps to conduct some remote usability testing. These particular tests have some interesting constraints:

  • My subjects are parent-volunteered kids, 8-16 years old and all in the same family
  • I'm on a mac, they're on PCs
  • Tests should be about 45 minutes long
  • If possible, I should be able to take over the screen to type in URLs

I tested on the following hardware

  • Presenter: Windows XP with 1920 x 1200 resolution
  • Client: Macbook pro running Leopard

Yuuguu

Pretty good, but not quite good enough for usability testing.

  • Free
  • Marginal refresh rate (I foresee missing some important clicks and mouse wandering)
  • Requires registration of host and client for optimal use
  • Very easy transfer of control to attendee
  • Nicely integrated chat notifications (for passing URLs, for example)

TeamViewer

Pretty much pure awesomeness after looking at all the other apps.

  • Not so free (free for evaluation, $39/mo or around $650 for full license)
  • Awesomely spectacular refresh rate
  • Transfer of screen control is more difficult than with Yuuguu, but not bad
  • Presenter can run a small executable without having to install anything
  • No account is needed on either side, however the presenter has to type in a 9-digit code plus 4-digit password to connect.

Mikogo

Very simple interface, but didn't quite cut the mustard. The Mac version has a permanently disabled 'preferences' menu item, indicating it's probably in beta whether they say so or not.

  • Free
  • Uber-simple interface
  • Extremely crappy refreshing, probably totally unusable for a usability test
  • Registration needed by host, but not client

ShowMyPC

Not too bad, except for that refresh rate. Darn you, TeamViewer, you've spoiled me!

  • Free
  • Surprisingly works for a mac
  • No installation required
  • No accounts required, just pass a (long) code (and don't forget to type the dash)
  • Fairly dismal refresh rate
  • Rather obscure interface (screen sharing button is a black box in a gray box in a another gray box)

Bosco's Screen Share

I *maybe* should have been wary of the playful doggy-centric identity, but I gave it a go anyway. Apparently you have to configure your router and firewall to get it to work. I don't think I'm going to start a usability test with a router configuration. No sir.

Persony

Pretty cool stuff, especially the 3D conference room motif </toungeincheek>.

  • Free for 1-to-1 meetings
  • Web-based, you just need to pass a code. You might need to install some Java though, which could really hang things up in a usability test.
  • Absolutely the worst refresh rate of all the apps
  • Setting permissions for different attendees is pretty nifty
  • Lots of features, like voice and webcam sharing
  • Did I mention the horrible refresh rate?

Conclusions

I guess we'll be using TeamAssist tomorrow on an evaluation basis. The other apps just don't compare in terms of refresh rate.

Sources

http://webtoolsandtips.com/freeware/screen-sharing-remote-access-web-tools/ - Good leads on several apps
http://www.masternewmedia.org/screen-share-top-25-best-screen-sharing-tools/ - Good list, not entirely accurate

Jul 7, 2010

Below is a live list of Drupal usability resources and issues I want to work on. Right now, it's just links, but I'd like to put together some help for people just getting started with tackling usability issues. There's a lot of really great initiatives right now, and some good improvements to the Drupal issue queue workflow, but it's a little overwhelming, even for the veterans. I would assume there are two main audiences to address: 1) Those who want to learn more about what's going on, and 2) Those who want to get down to business (designers, coders and communicators).

Drupal.org pages

User Experience (in Community Initiatives section, some organization of a few patches)
User interface best practices (great list of links to explore)
Helping with Usability (in Contribute section)
Improve usability (in Getting Involved section)  

Issues:
Issues tagged 'usability'
Issues tagged 'needs usability review'
Issues tagged 'killer end-user features'

External resources

Usability group on groups.drupal.org
www.drupalusability.org - Issues discovered during the 2009 UofB usability testing
www.d7ux.org - What's going on with the Drupal 7 redesign by Mark and Leisa

Issues I want to read

Vertical tabs - This issue will nullify several other issues if it goes through, so I'd like to see if I can link up the discussions a bit. The 'promoted' is one issue I've been working on that applies.

Jul 7, 2010

I had short, but interesting dialog with sun on groups.drupal.org regarding how to go about getting a better menu interface into core. Sun maintains the Administrator Menu project and it sounds like the module might be earmarked for core inclusion in Drupal 7. The discussion got me thinking about what it would take to unify the efforts of module creators and maintainers and develop really solid api and tool set for getting around in Drupal. I maintain the Navigate module, which is a proof of concept for the kinds of tools I'd like to see, and I've been trying to decide if I should continue improving the module, or see if I can combine efforts with other like-minded folks in the community to can get something good enough for core.

Leisa, the usability professional working with Mark Boulton on the new Drupal 7 design, mentioned that what Drupal really needs is a genuine interfacelift (get it, interface + facelift? </whimsy>), not just small incremental changes. To this end, they set up a booth at Drupalcon soliciting ideas for improving Drupal's administration system, and have recently posted the videos. This 'facelift' might be a perfect opportunity for getting the infrastructure required for new - more usable - tools into core.

It's premature for me to assume that this kind of effort would be welcomed in the community or that I will have the resources to head up the process, but - at least in my head - it seems like it could have a much more lasting impact than releasing an updated version of a single administration module among many.

Jul 7, 2010

I made a decision a while back to starting working through the established cannon of usability / user interface design books. The first book I picked up was Designing Visual Interfaces by Kevin Mullet and Darrell Sano. In the book, they break down the different aspects and components of design and offer examples both in software interface design as well as other disciplines like poster and map design. Many of the poster examples were (forgive me if I use the name to broadly) fairly modernist. Probably the most remarkable feature of these pieces was the use of restraint and subtle proportioning.

Restraint is an aspect of design (and life) I've wanted to improve the execution of for quite some time. The irony with restraint, however, is that it can be distracting in excess. Remove too much of the cruft people are used to and they start to miss it. The trick - I assume - will always be in the blending the correct pinch of attractive cruft on a highly focused interface.

The theme of this site is a demonstration of restraint. I attempted to imply divisions and containment rather than make them explicit with lines and boxes. I also attempted to remove any elements that didn't serve the primary purpose of the site, which is helping visitors figure out who the heck this bozo Chris Shattuck is. I think it's reasonably attractive, but I know from experience that I think so only because of overexposure. Bad design is like coffee - it's crap at first, but force it down long enough and you actually start to like the stuff.

So, is this design a decent example of restraint, or has it totally missed the mark?

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