Steve Walker

Some less or more well-organised thoughts

Archive for March 2009

Donating online – limits of usability?

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This week, Jacob Neilsen’s ‘Alertbox’ “Donation Usability: Increasing Online Giving to Non-Profits and Charities” summarises some research of his company’s looking at the usability of online donations (thanks to John Naughton for the link). The article highlights difficulties that his test users had in deciding which organisations to donate money to. The article may be useful in helping to understand better how to optimise a web site to donating, but I think it’s wise to treat this with a little caution.

Firstly, it would be interesting to know how realistic a user task this is. While I’ve donated money online, it’s never been as a result of thinking ‘I want to donate a tenner; now who should I give it to?’. The decision making process is rather more complicated than that, and is typically made well before I get to the web site. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the aims and objectives of an organisation in making such a decision. Am I typical? I don’t know, but I doubt I’m that atypical among online donors.

Secondly, and more widely, this type of usability report says little about ‘what’ such a website should be doing in the first place. As part of the Practical Design for Social Action project, we conducted several case studies of how not-for-profit organisations designed technologies (primarily web sites). In one case, a large medical support charity consulted its users about their preferences and desires from an online web site/community. Here, new users were often people recently diagnosed with serious illness and their friends and families. It emerged from the consultation that requesting donations from such new users was not felt by them to be terribly appropriate. In the redesign of the site, requests for donations were reduced in prominence, and the support functions of the web site increased. Of course, this may lead to a reduction in income, at least in the short term, though it seems plausible that engaging more users in the online community may well increase future donations. Either way, users gave feedback that the charity acted upon, changing the priorities of the web site.

The unspoken assumption in Neilsen’s article appears to be that the primary purpose of a web site must be to generate donations. Neilsen goes on to argue that “the worst user experience erosion in this study was caused by heinous integration of local chapters with the higher-level organization”. Now, of course, this (that is, the reported erosion of the user donation experience in a controlled test) may well be true, but also there may be strong reasons for an organisation to want to ‘integrate heinously’ that are unrelated to income generation. It may be about providing a service, mobilising support or encouraging participation, for example.

Findings like Neilsen’s clearly have value, but might be rather more useful if they acknowledged their own context and assumptions rather more clearly.

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March 30, 2009 at 5:02 pm

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A man of many talents crosses swords with MySpace

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Another Steve Thompson story. Steve is clearly a man of many talents – I knew he had written songs and been involved in the pop scene, but not that Sheena Easton, Elkie Brookes and Celine Dion had performed his work. This has led to his most recent online episode; this time an IP episode with MySpace – see http://tinyurl.com/co25kv.

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March 30, 2009 at 12:22 pm

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Clause 152 removed

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I have yet to hear from my MP (see earlier post) but it evidently worked…
According to the Register, the government has announced that the clause has been dropped from the Coroners and Justice Bill. See:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/03/18/data_sharing_drop/

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March 18, 2009 at 3:59 pm

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Digital Discovery

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Another of Steve Thompson’s projects: Digital Discovery is a wiki with simple explanations of the meaning of manyweb-related terms that he’s developing for participants in his community learning initiatives in Teeside. Help out if you can!

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March 18, 2009 at 9:32 am

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Broadband stimulus in the USA

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In the UK we have the Digital Britain report. As noted in earlier posts, Tony Hirst and Joss Winn set up http://writetoreply.org/digitalbritain/ where you can comment the report paragraph by paragraph, and a wiki-based counter-report.

In the US Obama has committed $7billion to a broadband stimulus package. Activists there have similarly established various mechanisms for commenting and discussing this initiative a mailing list at: http://groups.dowire.org/groups/bb and Facebook group.

I’m sure some cross-fertilisation of ideas would be of benefit.

Written by Steve

March 9, 2009 at 7:18 pm

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Clause 152 – government and personal data

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The Open Rights Group are calling us to write to our MPs as part of their campaign against Clause 152 of draft Coroners’ and Justice Bill. This clause allows for extensive sharing of personal data between government departments. I won’t repeat the arguments here – see the ORG’s Refuse consent for information sharing and Privacy International’s Blackzone report ‘Sharing the Misery’ for that.

The ORG have also suggested we blog our correspondence with our MPs. So, first, I try MySociety’s writetothem.org, as ORG suggest. I get the response:

Sorry! Something’s gone wrong.
Colin Burgon MP has told us not to deliver any messages from the constituents of Elmet. Instead you can try looking them up on the Parliament website. There you will get a phone number, a postal address, and for some MPs a website or way to contact them by email.

Hmmm… someone seems a little cagey about their own data. So, off to the Parliament web site, as suggested. Here, I can fill out a web form which doesn’t go to Mr Burgon, but will be forwarded to him once a day. It includes a link to his web site: http://www.colinburgon.co.uk/. A couple of links down (deeper than, say contacting the Labour Party or subscribing to his newsletter) I find his address: burgonc@parliament.uk.

To be continued…

Written by Steve

March 7, 2009 at 1:24 pm

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Digital Britain counter-report

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In an earlier post I mentioned Tony Hirst’s writetoreply.org site which supports commenting of Lord Carter’s widely criticised ‘Digital Britain’ report, and more recently the BBC’s ‘Project Canvas’ proposal for a ‘standards based open environment for internet-connected digital terrestrial and digital satellite television devices, and the government’s open source Action Plan.

Tony’s also created a wiki for people to draft a ‘Fake’ (perhaps Counter or Alternative would be better names, but I may be showing my age) version of the report, so if you’d like to contribute, it’s at:
http://wiki.writetoreply.org/wiki/The_Fake_Digital_Britain_Report

Written by Steve

March 1, 2009 at 8:47 pm

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