Study Shows Users Confusion About Blogs

Opinion: A study by the Catalyst Group finds that users couldn't figure out what the blog was or how they should react to it.

If youre honest about blogs and you pay close attention, there isnt very much in a blog-usability study thats going to surprise you. If, however, youve signed up, been drawn in, drank the Kool-Aid or have merely gone simple, the Catalyst Groups new report is a must-read.

Or maybe its just that youve never thought about blogs, in which case this report is an excellent introduction to some of the problems blog users face.

I will start with the studys limitations: Catalyst tested only nine users and looked at only one blog, a BusinessWeek blog called "Well Spent."

If you havent already followed the link, this is a fairly typical blog in which the magazines writers contribute short items from their beats. If you understand what a blog is, this is pretty straightforward.

The big problem is that the nine people Catalyst "tested" couldnt figure out what the blog was or how they should react to it. These were not computer illiterates who tested, but people who said they felt quite comfortable finding information on the Web. All of the subjects used the Internet for at least 10 hours a week in addition to e-mail time, and each had at least two years of Internet experience.

The executive summary of the report, titled "Net Rage" from one of the participants comments about using the blog, is available for download here (PDF form). Here are the major findings as I see them:

1) The participants looked at the site and were surprised to find out they were on a blog. Whatever "fuzzy ideas" the participants had about what blogs are, they didnt match what they found.

2) Nearly all of the participants said there was no clear distinction between the blog and BusinessWeeks online magazine. The blog pages didnt identify themselves as such, and the style of writing (short items) and format (categories, archives) didnt communicate "blog" to the subjects tested.

3) Participants didnt understand what would happen when they posted a comment, whether all posts appear or just an edited selection. It was not clear why the subjects might want to post.

4) The concept and mechanics of RSS "failed utterly with test participants," the executive summary said. While frequent blog users see RSS feeds as a central part of a blogs value, the test participants didnt understand that at all.

5) XML and RSS buttons, even brightly colored ones, didnt attract the subjects interest. Terms more common to newsletters and e-mail (subscribe, update, etc.) would be more easily understood.

6) You cannot underestimate users privacy and security concerns.

7) None of the participants understood trackbacks or trackback pings, which makes me feel better since Ive never paid any attention to them.

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