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1 February 2007
Dr. Moria Levy
A person using a computer

What is usability of portals and organizational websites?

Usability of portals and organizational websites is an indicator of how easy is navigation and orientation throughout the website/portal while performing its designated purpose while performing minimum mistakes. In short, usability is intuitiveness of access.

A complementarily used term is accessibility which means organizing the portal/website's content in order to attain a high level of access and effective and efficient utilization of its featured items.

  1. Learnability- how easy is initial use for new users who encounter the portal for the first time?

  2. Efficiency- the ability to perform tasks in the portal (after studying the portal) quickly and efficiently.

  3. Memorability- how easily can users who return to the portal, use it for performing tasks quickly and efficiently.

  4. Errors- the amount of errors performed by users and their potential amount of mistakes.

  5. Satisfaction- how enjoyable is using the portal and how favorably do users respond to it.

Why is it important to consider usability during the characterization process?

The portal, the website and even the community organize and gather data, information and knowledge. In our world, there is an inflation of knowledge and information as well as an immense number of data systems. The website and portal are meant to confront this challenge by making whatever data relevant to us accessible under a certain title or context. There is, however, a fly in the ointment. If the website and portal are difficult and uncomfortable to utilize, they will remain unused since the organization's workers will cease to enter them. Unlike other solutions, accessibility is the essence of websites and portals and therefore usability is a CSF (Critical Success Factor). If lacking usability, launching a website might not be worthwhile at all.

Two additional factors enhance the need for a high level of usability:

  1. Lack of guidance. Internet systems are systems we also access in our personal lives, outside of the confinements of our workplace environment. The standards are similar and enable orientation without any need for guidance. Personal orientation is therefore important sevenfold.

  2. The second factor is related to the website/portal's dynamism. Knowledge Management is an evolving subject: firstly, the knowledge itself evolves the more of it is shared. Secondly, understanding evolves and develops as users who are exposed to knowledge sharing and its success wish to share more. The dynamism of managed content requires excessive accessibility in order to provide the user with structural stability despite the lack of content stability.

Note: the time factor is a critical one. A worker who will attempt to understand the website's interface and will not be able to find whatever he/she is looking for will probably choose to abort the search. Aborting is generally the first optional course of action when a difficulty is encountered.

How is usability implemented?

In order to implement the usability it is important to perform a usability test during the characterization and construction of a portal or organizational website. There are several ways to plan and examine usability prior to the actual setup:

Planning usability

Usability Planning is the stage in which we review which menu format suits this portal/website best and how can we organize its different portlets, shortcuts and items.

  1. Card Sorting: we write down all content items which we wish to include in the portal/website's menus on cards (a card for each item). We then let different workers to sort the card into groups and name each group. The manner the cards are sorted in is a fairly good indicator for the desired menu format. By the way, there is a variety of software that computerize the entire process. for more details, click on the following link :

  2. The user's perspective: searching for common denominators and contexts according to the user's perspective; this means focusing not on organizational structure rather on processes in which the worker requires knowledge or content of interest.

Usability Testing

The usability test is the last stage of the characterization process after which setup can take place. We wish to see if our planning indeed appeals to the users as we assumed. There are two main methods commonly used for usability testing. Both rely on the setup of a prototype or demo (even a PowerPoint presentation!) which simulates the planned newly-attained accessibility. The first method is using usability labs, which are designated labs in which the portal/website is activated and researchers records users' actions. The second method is experience, which in practice means short usability tests in the form of 15 minute meetings. The examiners come to the worker's natural work environment and request him/her to find 10 items located in different places. This method also involves examining the workers' performance by recording their quickness, indecisiveness, number of mistakes made and number of items which remained unfound. In order to receive a substantial result, it is recommended to perform both the planning and the usability test in front of at least 10 users (according to some opinions, 15 is an optimal number of users).

In conclusion

It is fair to say that a usability test is a vital tool in the process of constructing a cont-endowed portal/website. This is all the more true when there is reason to worry of a time factor which might cause workers to use or not use an organizational portal. Unsatisfactory usability can cause much effort to go to waste. Unsurprisingly, well designed usability can upgrade any knowledge solution’s level of usage.

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