The Digital Library is a searchable database of computing literature, but it was hard to use. People loved the content, but had trouble registering, searching and reading documents.
My colleague, Ron Perkins, and I did a three-part project: an expert product review to find the "easier" problems, a usability study to find the deeper ones and a follow-up survey to gauge user reactions. ACM worked hard to create a test site with recommendations from the review, making the usability study easier. Results: the survey showed that users were very happy.
Here's some of what ACM said about our work:
"Based on your feedback and an extensive usability study, the new Portal interface offers significant improvement in searching, visual clarity, help text, and relevant information including links to FAQs and more."
Users can now go right to a PDF from the result page, or go to the citation page for more detail about the article. We made other improvements to the citation page as well:
We improved the Portal in these ways:
Clearer terminology We changed text before, during and after the usability study to sure the site used the users' terms. We now have "Full text of every article ever published by ACM" where there was once a whole paragraph.
Simpler windowing Navigation uses one window instead of three, as shown below.
Clearer home page The home page is arranged better so people find what they want.
Easier to search The DL used to treat search terms as a phrase instead of as a set of words. Terms are now treated as a Boolean expression with implicit ORs between words. You don't have to understand what that means it works the way you expect it to because the design is right.
Faster to see full text Search-result and article-citation pages are better organized, as shown above. The result page has a link directly to the full text of an article rather than making users go to the citation page first (that page has full details on the article).
More is available for free We convinced them that letting people do more for free would be good for business. People sign up for a service when they find value, not just when they're prompted to.
There are fewer windows to manage. Instead of four, there are now just two: one for searching and one for the actual document. Users loved this in usability testing and the survey. Before and after:
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