Friday 16 September 2011

The *Child of 10* standard

While Pelagios has been largely about building an alliance of leading ancient world research groups with the aim of linking their data in an open and transparent way, the 'front end' of our product has never been far from our minds. After all, many of the partners are also users of the data that they gather, or, if not the actual users, they have their own user groups to think about and appeal to. As a classicist myself - that is, as someone who spends most of the time reading and analysing ancient Greek texts - I want to be able to access sources easily and trust the data that I get: in other words, I want to be able to turn on the tap and find that the water runs (either hot or cold, depending on what I'm doing); I'm not interested in the plumbing that brings the water to me.

So it is with timely fashion that JISC brought to our attention a fellow jiscGEO project, called G3. In an earlier post, they had talked about a useful benchmark in user interface design being the Child of 10 standard, meaning that a child of 10 should be able to learn to do something useful with the system within 10 minutes. This indicates whether a system is “easy to use” or not.

Will our tool, the Pelagios Graph Explorer, fit the bill, I wonder? While our natural target audience are university researchers (lecturers and undergrads), given the seemingly never-ending appeal of Classics in popular culture, we would be mad not to take seriously the point that a 10 year old should be able to use our tool to find out interesting stuff about the ancient world. Indeed, the technical skills of the average Classicist researcher - not least this one - makes it imperative that we address this question. At the time of writing, then, we are currently engaging in user testing of the Graph Explorer with a sample representative audience, the results from which we will help inform our delivery of the product at the end of October (though it's already clear that this will be a work-in-progress...). All next week Mia Ridge, who has been conducting the user testing, will blog about it, setting out the methods (why we chose them, what prep is done), what actually happens in a session, and then some initial results.

But I can give a sneak preview here of the answer to that question, does the
Pelagios Graph Explorer pass the *child of 10* test. On current performance, that would be a 'no'. Which is not to say that things haven't gone well! On the contrary, the very fact that issues are being raised with what you can do now that stuff is linked shows how successful we've been in linking our data: when we started out, it simply wasn't possible to imagine an ancient world of linked data, let alone think seriously about traversing it. But now that we have linked stuff together, the bar has been raised and people - rightly - want to do more with it. This presents a challenge to all the Pelagios partners to provide as much detail as possible in their metadata, in order to allow the kind of free play that a 10 year old - or a classicist - might want.

Perhaps we could start with the name: the Pelagios Graph Explorer isn't very sexy. Suggestions on the back of a postcard, or, ideally, on this blog, welcome.

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