The Ceremonial First Post

How it all Started:

So here we are, a couple of years after a sushi dinner between friends when we decided to pursue our own web app dreams. We had always been passionate about agile web development, MVC frameworks, and the Rails craze. We knew the “Getting Real” playbook by heart and we’d built many-a-client’s dream web application. We had always been big believers in usability testing, but had never quite found how we could make it work within our short timelines and agile process. Years ago one of our founding members had even talked about doing a Master’s degree project on remote usability testing. From years of experience working with clients and ad agencies, we were also very familiar with what Steve Krug describes as the “religious debate.” Those times where the discussion changes and everyone believes they are an expert in UI, and you catch yourself saying things like “I know the user, and a drop-down box just doesn’t work for this view.”  Over our sushi dinner, we had found our dream app idea – the one that would scratch our own itch, improve our development processes, and help other developers like us.

Early on in our experiences, we stumbled upon some research done by Jakob Nielson that said, “95% of usability issues could be discovered by testing 5 users.” We also discovered the concept of “hallway usability testing.”  Joel Spolsky explains hallway testing in one of his posts, “A hallway usability test is where you grab the next person that passes by in the hallway and force them to try to use the code you just wrote. If you do this to five people, you will learn 95% of what there is to learn about usability problems in your code.” As a small team that often works virtually, there aren’t many people in our hallway to grab for a usability test.  We realized that we wanted the advantages that hallway usability testing provides without the need for a physical hallway.  We didn’t want to go the traditional usability route by spending lots of money on expensive usability software or spending a lot of time  bringing testers into an office to experience our awkward home-grown usability lab with a video camera we purchased from Best Buy. We wanted that ability to test discrete parts of our application quickly with people by just Skyping or emailing a link that would allow the users screen and voice to be recorded, and have the video uploaded right to our screen.  The other big thing we knew we wanted – the ability for it to be cross-platform, that is to work in any testers browser on both the Mac and the PC.

Our Concept in a Nutshell:

OpenHallway allows you to conduct remote web usability testing. No need for installation of any software, it all takes place right in the browser. You start by creating a project (we have multiple clients, you probably do too, so you can create many projects). Projects can have many testing scenarios. (For example, you may want to test the registration process, a purchasing form, or maybe you just want to watch the user try to find the login button) Next, you create the scenario you want to test by writing a few instructions and providing the link to the site you want to test. OpenHallway then gives you a URL to send to anyone you want. (Send via IM/email or maybe even post on your Twitter or Facebook feed) When a tester gets the URL, they simply click on it, read the instructions, and begin the test right from the browser.  The tester’s screen and voice are recorded as he/she attempts to accomplish the user goal that you’ve created (It’s good to encourage your testers to “think aloud” as they test). After the test is complete, the video is uploaded to your OpenHallway account.  You are sent an email notification that the tester has completed the process, and you can then log in to your account anytime to watch the recorded screen and voice capture of your usability testers!

As big fans of Steve Krug’s book, “Don’t Make Me Think,” we like the methodology he proposes: “Ideally, I think every web development team should spend one morning a month doing usability testing. In a morning you can test three or four users, then debrief over lunch. When you leave lunch, the team will have decided what you’re going to fix, and you’ll be done with testing for the month. No reports, no endless meetings.” We recommend chapters 8-10 to learn more about web usability testing in general and what approaches you can take. There are many methodologies out there for usability testing such as the Hallway Test or the RITE method.

Launch Time

If all goes well, we will be launching OpenHallway by May 2009. If you would like to be notified of our launch, give us some feedback, or just get in touch with us via email: support at openhallway dot com.

Where We’re Going:

We don’t claim to perfect at usability ourselves – we just wanted a tool that could improve our development and help other developers/web marketers improve the web. We know our app will have usability issues, but we promise to eat our own dog food and test it and improve it!

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