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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Usability Study Of Frostburg's E-Mail System

This study was intended to assist in the improvement of the Frostburg State University email system development from Microsoft’s outlook.  Microsoft outlook is one of the many products developed from the corporation that has become trusted among countless users.  However, I recently experience some difficulty.  After subscribing to the discussion board links, my inbox was immediately flooded with messages.  Messages for every possible transaction that occurred.  I was notified of every thread created and reply to any post.  I needed to filter these to a new folder.  I have created a new folder but I have not filtered messages from my inbox to one.  I looked for how to do filtering and could not figure it out.  Then I did a search on how to complete the task and discovered it was called sweeping in the outlook system.  This was new to me.  Once I was revealed to the terminology, the steps to make the adjust were easy to follow.  It was just getting to the first step that was challenging.  Then I wanted to consider other aspects of mailing.  For instance, I have never intentionally flagged a message and do not know what someone might.  It is similar for automatic replies but I have a much firmer understating for why that may be activated.  So this is the basis of what this study will focus upon.  My goal is not really self-serving.  I would like to find that I am the only one who has found trouble with some of these tasks.  I have asked for some assistance in gather information from some classmates to get a sense of other user experiences. 
                I did not conduct face to face interviews for this assignment.  In contrast, I sent a questionnaire to each person who said they were willing to participate.  Each contained fourteen questions, for the user to complete and return when done.  All users had at least one email account.  Not all have used all the features though.  This indirectly states that these may not be of necessity.  None of them have used the filtering.  One participant said they did not because their inbox did not require it.  More users have flagged messages though.  Flagging a message activates an alert to the message.  Users have said they have used this to as a reminder for future use or for indicating a certain sender.  Those can be instances for filtering but that was not the option chosen.  To filter a user will have to create a rule and decide a string that will capture those messages.  For the examples provided, you could move those message to a new folder or select something specific that would be the sender.  Flagging uses less steps as you only have to click the indicator next to the message in many mail servers.  Some of my reported users have tried the automatic reply feature.  Automatic reply can give a pre-entered response for any incoming messages you receive.  This is an appropriate replacement for whenever someone will be temporarily unavailable for an extended period of time. 
                Oddly enough, the participants answered that all the features were necessary to their daily experience with the checking and reading of e-mails.  Even if they do not personally put all of them to use, they feel no need to remove it as an option to the application.  Except for one that I will discuss more later.  This a fair reaction to my study in my opinion.  When requesting information from others, all opinions are valid and assist to your cause.  Though they might not personal attest to its usability, they think all are usable.  The features are important to the application itself as suggested by the software’s provider.  I cannot express with certainty that a similar study was done on their behalf but I am sure there was some talking about it before the final release.  I did not ask the users to perform these task for my report because I preferred a natural response to if they already find value in the function prior to being asked about it.  I find there is more information in having experience beforehand than reacting only for my request.  These results are surprisingly positive, for the most part, about how we view this technology. 
                There are two standard definitions for the word usability.  The first is capable of being used.  The second is convenient and practical for use.  From my own thoughts in addition to those of my contributors, I find that these features are obviously capable of being used.  That is not the issue of discrepancy here.  However, the reports show that it is not really practical to do so.  Though it was not an overwhelming number, the skewed results suggest flagging is preferable over filtering or sweeping.  I, personally, am on the other side of that argument.  A larger number of responses may say something different but that is not conclusive.  To indicate a message needs attention is not like sending it to its own section.  As a good designer, either can be used which is not true for all servers.  Kudos to Microsoft and Frostburg for that.  Automatic reply was not heavily used either but I know firsthand that is more of something derived from corporate culture and not necessarily a student’s problem.  Whether on vacation or just away for a certain period of time, employees usually use the response to route urgent questions to someone who can help when unavailable. 
                In conclusion, I found this to be a healthy practice.  The testing of the features and user input provided some valuable information.  The lack of contributors I could gather however does not allow me to implore if an alteration is mandatory or not.  This report can be presented but a larger swath of data is needed to discuss if an application of this size needs improve.  There are suggestions too for the sweeping feature.  One is to have the option of user sender and date which I think is available.  Another is to undo but would it be fair sacrifice many to address the request of one.  Part of the usability study conducted was to enhance not detract.  For this sort of application, I do not feel it is required to remove any feature that is part of the design.  Removing would be the same as not using it if you do not like it.  It is not a core mandatory component that you must interact with for the main functionality.  Safe to say as with all technology there will always be periodic updates for the advancement of software.  And I will paraphrase one response as simply “I am happy with what I see”.  Thank you.

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