Monday, November 19, 2012

Draft outline

While I am busy analyzing the usability test findings, I don't want to lose focus on the eventual outcome of this study: how can I help the open source community improve the usability of open source software? At the start of this project, I suggested an article in a journal or magazine related to open source software. I'd like to continue with that goal, using Linux Journal as a target.

LJ is a front-runner among Linux and open source magazines. First published in 1994, LJ used to be a traditional subscription print journal, but recently (2011) switched to electronic only. LJ focuses mostly on Linux, but discusses open source projects in general. Articles published in LJ will see the widest distribution in the open source software community. Senior Editor: Doc Searls. Associate Editor: Shawn Powers.

So, what would be the outline of such an article? Here's one draft outline: (Note: I've updated this a bit since yesterday. Adjusted 1, 7, 8 with new content.)

  1. A bit of background: we've all experienced open source programs that were difficult to use or confusing. Or you may have heard from someone, "this is a great program, once you figure out the menus, or once you learn how to use it." That's a problem. i.e. bad usability in many open source programs makes people unlikely to use them, OR the main uptake for open source programs in the non open source community is programs that are easy to use/have good usability, so how do we improve usability to make open source more widely used. - Make this a strong beginning with the thesis of the study, uses an anecdote to draw in the readers.
  2. What is "usability," and what is good usability?
  3. Why do so many open source programs have bad usability? In short, because most open source programs are written by developers for other developers. The functionality is most important; the menus and usability are generally second thoughts - if they are considered at all.
  4. How can developers improve usability? Ideally, you should start with user profiles and usage scenarios - but a usability test will get you there. Talk about the methods of usability: heuristic review, prototype tests, formal usability tests, questionnaires, etc. But you don't need to do anything big and complicated to get useful/helpful information - a simple in-person usability test is all you need.
  5. How to do a usability test.
  6. My usability test.
  7. What I learned from my usability test: what works in usability, what needs work. - What makes these programs usable, and how I determined that.
  8. Summary and next steps: how open source programmers can do their own usability tests, you don't need many users to get useful feedback. The challenge is how to incorporate usability into your project so it becomes part of the "culture." Summary should include wrap up of paper (this is what makes for good usability, etc.) as well as tease the next steps.

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