You might have heard it through the grapevine; we decided to face the challenge to redevelop our community hub at silverstripe.org.
The current site was created in late 2008 after separating the SilverStripe web services content from the actual open source product. As you may or may not know, SilverStripe makes their money building websites and applications based on the SilverStripe CMS and Framework. Communication wise, these services needed to be separated from the actual open source product and the community. Silverstripe.org as you see it today was born, well not quite as you see it today but almost.
The site got a refresh two years later in 2010 and now another two years in it is time for a major review. And major this will be. The site has grown over the years, we’ve added more sub-sites like doc.silverstripe.org and we now use third party tools such as github, trac and google groups. SilverStripe information and code is scattered all over the place and new users have trouble finding what they are looking for. We are aware of issues people have with the current site and are determined to take on the challenge to make silverstripe.org a better place. So with 2012 being the year in which we released 3.0 we figured let’s also upgrade silverstripe.org.
But where to start? Sitting together with a team of core developers, a designer, a project manager and myself we all had more ideas about what to do with it than there was space on the whiteboard. We quickly realised that there just wasn’t enough time to do all the things we wanted to do. When prioritising we quickly realised the obvious; YOU have to tell us what you want, because the site is built for you and not just for ourselves. We decided to take our own medicine. We keep preaching to our clients to start with a usability test, to better understand what their users need. And that’s what we did.
We invited nine users representing a cross-section of the site’s audience to come into the office for one-on-one interviews with us; comprising of developers, front-end developers/designer and content editors/marketing people.
But we also have a big international community. Most of you can’t just come along and visit our office and we were keen to hear from you what you would like to see improved. So we set up an online test with Loop11, which supports remote user testing. Setting up the test was easy; you can ask questions or give people tasks they have to fulfill via the website. Users can click a button when they are done or can skip a task if they find it impossible to complete.
We set up three different tests, one for each of our different target groups and let them run for two weeks. The reporting is clear and well structured and on a quick glance you can see which tasks were the most challenging.
The tool also offers a clickstream and heatmap analysis to understand where people were looking for information.
Good on ya mate! 1,243 SilverStripers started the test! That is awesome and was way more than we had expected. Thank you, guys! Well only 23% of you actually completed the test, but apparently that is within a normal range. ;)
The allocation among the user groups looked like this - developer 50%, front-end developer/designer 35% and content editors/marketing people 15%. I assume this reflects the SilverStripe community quite well and also demonstrates the potential we have in terms of attracting more front-end devs/designers to SilverStripe.
The location, complexity and tone of content can make the content hard to understand for some of our audience types. For example:
Some of the site’s navigation and area labels were not intuitive, confused users, and did not accurately reflect their content. For example:
Some structural and functional aspects of the site are not meeting users’ needs. For example:
Interestingly enough, many of the experienced SilverStripe users don’t even use silverstripe.org anymore. They go straight to Github, the dev list on Google groups or the IRC channel. And as far as the newbies go, they have trouble finding their way around altogether. Well, I guess that is a bit of a simplification, but pictures the situation nicely.
We want silverstripe.org to be a fit for everyone, no matter what their level of experience with SilverStripe. With this in mind we then completed a Card Sort Exercise. In this exercise, you create a separate card for each area of content within your site and then give the cards to different groups to sort.
We did this exercise with five groups (each comprising of 3 to 4 people) and each group came up with slightly different results, but we did manage to identify overlaps and patterns and came up with a new site structure that took the best of all the results and looks really good. I am personally really happy with the result and think it makes a lot more sense.
It is too early to share this result with you, but it will be the basis for our redevelopment and I can’t wait to share this new baby with you. This project is a lot about restructuring what we have and making it suitable for all of our audiences, rather than developing all new features.
It will still be new and shiny, but most of all it will better fulfill your needs and we will continue to expand over time.
Needless to say, it will run on SilverStripe 3. Thanks for all your support, you guys rock!
P.S. In addition to the local and remote user testing, we checked the Google Analytics data we have for silverstripe.org. And guess what? The key findings were pretty much all the same across all three methods. Of course you get more detailed information the more personal it gets. From the data analysis, to the local, to the remote testing. Now we are certain that the results are reliable. If you face your next project and you don’t have any budget for user testing, start on checking your data. That already gives away a lot of information.