Roughly 70% of visitors who open an account do not go on to make a single edit to OpenStreetMap. Why do the majority of people interested in editing OSM fail to add data? Is the user experience not good enough? What are some specific issues that stop contributions? These are some of the questions that I, together with Dr Kate Jones, are currently investigating through an in-depth OpenStreetMap usability study, which will be presented at the upcoming SOTM-EU conference.
We just finished our data collection exercise, which included eye tracking and screen recording ten OSM novices through their first experience registering, adding and editing information to OSM. A OSM test server enabled participants to complete registration, search for a specific scenario area, add and edit 11 features using Potlatch2, while being tracked and observed by a researcher. Although we will present comprehensive results from this study at the conference and the proceedings, I want to give just a quick glimpse into some of the very basic issues we have uncovered so far.
Where is the OSM Search?
We discovered that users have difficulty locating the Search on openstreetmap.org. This has been highlighted before. This video shows the gaze plot of one participant looking for the OSM search. The participant first tries to find the search functionality at the top of the page, scanning from left to right and back in vain. Only after having spent 6 seconds looking at the top, the participant starts to scan and read down the left-hand side of the page, before stumbling over the search at the bottom of the page.
Questions arise over the natural way in which users scan a webpage,and preconceptions about where they would expect a search functionality to appear. According to Nielsen, user reading behaviour of websites exhibits a dominant reading pattern which looks somewhat like an F, with two horizontal movements across the top and middle of a given page, before moving on to a vertical movement scanning the left content section. This pattern has been recognized and adopted by many prominent websites, creating in turn preconceptions in users as to where to expect prominent content/functionalities. Google for example consistently locates their search box on the top-left to middle of a given website.
This video is only an example of the consistent behaviour we have observed of participants exposing the F pattern when looking for Search. As the OSM website now stands, the Search functionality (which works well and is helpful once found!) is not in a clear and quickly visible area of the website, but “hidden” in a “drill-down” area last seen by the user.
As I said, lots more stuff to come out of this study, watch this space if you can’t make it to SOTM-EU!
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