Feedback Loop

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I forgot to mention that our Central Oklahoma Mensa web site won two awards at this year’s National Mensa Annual Gathering. We won the “Best Calendar” competition, and we received a special mention for being “people friendly.”

Today, I was sent feedback provided by the judges. I want to look at that and see what we can learn from it. Where there is emphasis, it’s mine:

Well-organized, easy to navigate, informative for Mensans and non-Mensans. On the calendar page, would like to see the map link open a separate window.

I suppose a lot of sites do open maps in a new window. I just don’t open new windows. Ever. Unless the client specifically requests that feature, or there is some overwhelming reason why that needs to be done. It is a bad practice from both an accessibility and usability stand point. When you open a new window, you take control away from your user. You break browser navigation. You confuse screen readers. And, you annoy people like me who want all their browsing to happen in one window.

The calendar link is rather hidden; perhaps you might want to make the link more visible .

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this complaint. There are two links to the calendar on every page — In the sidebar, under the “This Week’s Events” header, labeled “More Events…” and in the drop-down menu under “for members”. Apparently we need links that are more obvious. I admit vanity here: I haven’t figured out a way to fix this problem without taking away from the look of the site. It’s something I’m going to keep working on.

All links were good, well organized, complete information, lots of links, no privacy policy, liked the availability of calendar in different formats with one click to details and even map links, questionable security of members only

It never crossed my mind to create a privacy policy, because we don’t store anybody’s information on the site. However, people do submit their e-mail addresses to join the mailing lists, so that is probably reason enough to have one.

The statement that the members only section has “questionable security” is completely inaccurate. It actually has no security. :-) Ok, that’s not quite true. We password protect the directories with the online version of the newsletter. We do this for a few reasons: To keep out bots that are harvesting e-mail addresses and other personal information. Also, the newsletter is a benefit of membership, so we try to limit it to active members. We change the password every year right around renewal time.

However, we do publish the user name and password in every issue of the newsletter, and I post them to the mailing list whenever I announce the latest issue is online. If someone e-mails asking for access, and I know they are a Mensan, I’ll give it to them. I do these things because I think making it easier for people to access the web site is more important than protecting the data. Nothing in there is particularly private — it would be just as easy to call one of the officers and ask for a copy of the newsletter. You would get it, and have the same information. Besides, we have a policy that we are not being hacked.

great side navigation bar and ultrafast opener

Behold, the power of CSS.

Technically good but very locked-down. Even the News section is a hidden link.

I’m not real sure what this one means. The News is hidden in plain sight — it’s the home page. This probably falls under the same category as the calendar link. Clearly, I need to think some about navigation.

good! Posted Bylaws. Email list signup, no preview. No boards. No extra articles. Photos.

The “no preview” thing had me scratching my head at first, but I think I figured it out. They think the e-mail list is like a newsletter we send out on a regular basis, so they expect to see an old copy to see if they want to join. It might be beneficial to revisit the e-mail lists page and see if I can make it more clear these are discussion groups.

No boards.” I assume they are talking about bulletin boards. I’ve wanted to do that for a long time. I even had someone in the group suggest it. But, when I asked who would use it, all I heard was crickets chirping in the distance. We just don’t have enough members who actively use the web site enough to support a bulletin board. No one would post anything, and it would just end up making the site look sad and lonely.

No extra articles. Photos.” Well, technically we do have photos — they’re in the gallery. And, we do have news articles. But, this is an area where we are definitely lacking. I have begged people to write for the web site. I have begged people to send me photos. What do I get? More chirping crickets. Angela does more than her fair share posting all the news and helping with the calendar and online newsletter (particularly considering she’s not currently a member). I never have the time to write much of anything, which should be obvious to regular visitors of this site. Although, I have been thinking about trying to create the occasional puzzle. I used to make some for the newsletter, and that was fun.

I thought the responses were interesting. I love feedback — good or bad, useful or not, it helps. I wish I could get more feedback from our users.

Somewhat related: Keith got user feedback about his fake band site by trading free beers for opinions at a local bar. A good idea, and something I might consider doing for the right project.