I read through the report issued by Catalyst Design Group last week entitled, "Net Rage: A Study of Blog Usability." (PDF Download). First of all, I was rather unimpressed with its whopping size (9 people). Secondly, because the study looked at the blog of a mainstream media site - BusinessWeek's Well Spent - the readers reacted in a way that reflects expectations of journalist conventions (more on that in a moment). Therefore, I don't think you can extrapolate from this study to the blogosphere as a whole with any degree of accuracy.
But, there were a few points I found rather interesting.
One of the user issues identified -- in fact, first on the list -- was whether or not users recognized that they were on a blog. The study states,
Despite having fuzzy ideas of what blogs were, those tested clearly wanted to understand 'where' they were, especially if it was a medium that was not familiar to them." (7)
I am curious as to WHY this is important. Why do users want to know they are on a blog? That this is given so much importance, speaks to the political baggage blogs have already gained over the past couple of years. There is nothing neutral or innocent about the word (and the fact) of "blog" now.
The study cites user reactions:
I would be annoyed if I was reading this and then later realized, oh, this is a freakin’ blog. Wow. Ok.
The amount of help provided is very limited. There are cues, but I want to know I am in the blog section. Just like [in a newspaper] I want to know I am in the editorial section vs. the opinion section.
I think some of this annoyance is directly related to the fact that the users are looking at a mainstream media site and have certain built-in expectations, e.g., objective articles vs. "clearly labeled" opinion pieces. They feel they are being tricked in some way by viewing a blog not clearly labeled as such. I find that very interesting indeed.
In fact, when it comes to the general consumer audience, often their only exposure to the concept of blogs is through mainstream media, which, as we all know, has been less than laudatory of blogging. The image of pajama-wearing bloggers who pay little homage to things like objectivity or truth has hurt the perception of blogging for general consumers.
The word blog comes with baggage, which is at the outset, negative (or at least problematic). If I can generalize here a bit: People think there is something stinky about blogs, even though they have never (to their knowledge) visited one.
I was encouraged by the responses that came after they understood the blog a bit more:
* I think I would visit blogs [in the future]. It’s interesting. It’s huge already and it’s only just started. I think there is a lot of possibility.
* I would use blogs in the future.
* I will use blogs more in the future. One, I will explore RSS to bring feeds into My Yahoo!. Also, I am just realizing there is much more mainstream information in blogs [than I had thought]. Or I would use them to get the ‘off the record’ ramblings of favourite writers.
When it comes to usability of the blog, it should be no surprise that the taxonomy of blogging is a big problem. Most of people in the study couldn't figure out categories, much less trackbacks. We all need to do a better job of explaining how to use these things. The report is worth reading just for that feedback.