Technology

Ocqur Reflections on user testing and the future

If you’ve ever built a product from scratch, you’ll inevitably have come up against the dilemma of whether to build it until you think its perfect before releasing it to users, or making a minimum viable product that ticks a few boxes and lets the users dictate the next iteration.

The latter is the approach we took with Ocqur, which is live blogging software that Ive been working on with Jonathan Frost and Andrew Fairbairn.

I’ve been overseeing the first round of user testing since we started building the service at the beginning of the year. Its been really educational and also thrilling to see it being used outside of our small circle, so I  thought I’d post a few thoughts about lessons learnt and what were planning for the future.

Structuring feedback is really tough

Early testers of Ocqur have been giving us feedback over the testing period. Some emailed me their thoughts, others blogged or tweeted about it, but testers were also required to fill out a questionnaire Id written.

The difficulty in providing a useful arena for feedback lies in getting an equal balance of serendipity and structure that allows you to get specific metrics. For example you write a question that asks the tester Which feature is the most important for Ocqur? A, B, or C? What if theres a D that you havent thought of? The tester might have D in mind as the most important feature, but youre not giving them the option to suggest it.

I think I managed to get the balance fairly well so we’ve got a workable set of percentages and figures regarding questions that can be answered with a yes or no, as well as long form feedback thats the result of more free choice questions.

There is a gap in the market

When we set out to build Ocqur, we saw it as an opportunity to create a liveblogging system that was simple but powerful and married good design to nice functionality. A lot of the feedback we got from testers was that they were surprised and pleased with how simple the product was.

Ive had some people ask me about the comparisons to Storify, and how to differentiate it from their offering.

To ask that kind of question is to miss the point a little. Storify is a great tool I use it frequently. But its not what were after. Publishing a Storify as live requires the user to constantly republish the page (which doesn’t automatically refresh if you’re a viewer) and inevitably constantly notify viewers that updates have been made. It works so much better to collect thoughts after an event has happened.

We think that liveblogging shouldnt be as complicated as it has been in the past. We think the current offerings are either poor or unaffordable to the majority of  bloggers, freelance and student journalists. Luckily at this early stage it seems like our testers felt the same.

People interpret features in different ways

The reason we decided to release to testers so early in development is because we didnt want to spend another 10 weeks building something only to find out that no one wanted it. User input at this early stage was vital.

At the same time, its interesting when testers throw up something that you really didnt think would be a big issue. For us this was being able to upload content from your desktop onto a live blog.

I have never done this, having worked with pretty much all the consumer liveblogging services out there. I tend to scrape content from various web sources, and if I need to take any photos from my phone for a liveblog I either post to Twitter or share to Dropbox.

But clearly our testers want this feature, and they’ve voted overwhelmingly with their feet.

So now the question is, what do they use it for? Documents? Audio? Video?

Asking users to rank the importance of desktop upload may seem fairly specific, but in reality people may have all sorts of ideas of why its important to them and what they actually want. To that end Im going to chat to those people who ranked it as very important individually and dig a bit deeper into why its an important feature.

The future

We had an overwhelming response when we put out a call for testers over double the amount of registrations that we needed for the first stage. If you’ve signed up and haven’t been contacted this time round, don’t worry well be sending out another iteration of the software in the next couple of months and you’ll be the first ones to get your hands on it.

A big thank you to everyone who’s participated so far, were really looking forward to sharing our plans for Ocqur with you in the months ahead.…