Exploring the Facebook Experience: A New Approach to Usability

There were a study made at the end of last year to understand Facebook success and popularity using traditional usability methods and user experiences. The study was performed by Jennefer Hart, Charlene Ridley, Faisal Taher, Corina Sas and Alan Dixand consisted on carrying  out  a Heuristic Evaluation  to assess how well Facebook complies with usability guidelines  and  by  conducting a user study to unveil unique user experiences.

The paper that resulted from the study can be obtained through the website of the Computer Department of the Lancaster University.

They took into account user experiences because traditional usability methods don’t consider the user’s ‘felt experience’ when interacting with social networking sites. But user experiences are something difficult to empirically measure due to the fact that they are personal judgments and opinions. However, it is something that is growing in importance as technology becomes far more ubiquitous and moves out of the office into the wider environment.

The study was done with 26 participants (16 female and 10 male) within the age of 18-44. It was a three stage study, being the first one the evaluation by experts of the participant’s Facebook pages using Nielsen’s 10 guidelines. The second stage consisted in interviews with the participants to uncover trends in the patterns of Facebook’s usage, as well as its perceived satisfaction. The last stage involved observation of participants’ interaction with their Facebook accounts, followed by in-depth interviews. Those interviews was performed to explore users’ experiences and to probe into their attitudes towards Facebook.

The usability evaluation revealed that Facebook only adhered to 2 of the 10 heuristics, while 4 were rated as having minor problems and the last four were rated as having major problems. The main problems were of consistency and standards, error prevention and recognition rather than recall.

The user study revealed that users would usually visited Facebook several times a day while doing some other activity (like visiting other websites). Afterwards they would periodically revisit Facebook, ‘hanging around’ in it instead of the traditional way of web surfing (get in, get it and get out). That fact further raised the question about   the  relevance  of  traditional measures  of  usability  such  as  task  completion  time  when designing and evaluating social web services.

To measure the user experiences it was built a self-reported experience scale consisting of the ten most prominent positive and negative aspects thought relevant for online social networking. The participants then used those aspects to tell how they felt in relation to Facebook main features. As expected, the features that were most often used by the participants were those that they felt created better experiences.

Two of the main aspects that were chosen were Curiosity and Enjoyment. This is due to the fact that Facebook takes advantage of curiosity by enticing users in to find out more about their friends through the numerous options on a profile page. That is done using several mechanisms like feeds, walls and applications, which has the consequence of clustering the user’s personal page. And even though that results in poor usability, the user is motivated enough to ignore the clustering.

Another key aspect that came out of the study was self expression, i.e. the fact that Facebook allows users to create of a personal profile. By having the chance of creating it and sharing with friends, they can express themselves and reflect their values. However, participants revealed they felt limited and confined in the creation process of their profile pages.

The data collected in the study also revealed that the majority of the participants described Facebook as easy or very easy to use. They also said that it allowed them to effectively communicate with friends. Another thing the researchers found out was that the Facebook applications that were personalized, yet simple, quick and reflected real life were preferred. One example of that are the applications that allow users to send gifts to their friends.

As a conclusion, the study showed that even though Facebook failed in traditional usability evaluation it excels in providing many positive user experiences for its vast community of members. Providing not only a great deal of social pleasure but also curiosity and a base for self expression.