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Introducing "Grokdoc" - A Large-Scale Linux Usability Study

"You don't need to be a Groklaw member to participate," says PJ, "Anyone in the world can jump in."

The latest idea of "PJ" - Groklaw's Pamela Jones - is for the 6,000 members of her Groklaw community  "to apply the open method to doing a GNU/Linux newbie usability study." The result will be a new wiki-style Web site, Grokdoc.

"No one, to the best of my knowledge," explains PJ, "has done this on such a scale. Grokdoc will be written from the results we observe. We are not trying to duplicate effort. We are trying something brand new. Instead of experts telling newbies how to do things, we will let newbies show and tell us what they need."

She explains the idea so far at the main Groklaw site:

"As you know, in addition to using GNU/Linux, I also have an iMac. I know Apple did usability studies, and their stuff just works so easily. Hiring experts to do such studies for the free/open world is probably beyond the means of most of the programmers we have. So this is my solution, an open research project, which will lay the foundation for newbie documentation. We have the eyeballs, so it needn't be stressful on any one person, not even me, if we set up as a Wiki. You don't need to be a Groklaw member to participate. Anyone in the world can jump in. That's the beauty of the open approach. Anyone who doesn't feel like doing this doesn't need to. But if you see the power of this idea, the way I do, please do participate. I see the power of the idea because I lived it. I know what newbies need, because I was one, so I can empathize. I also see this is the next hurdle for GNU/Linux adoption, so why not fix it? Microsoft uses ease of use as a selling point. We can fix that too."

The first step, Jones reckons, will be for would-be participants to sit down with their mom or dad, or any Windows-oriented friend or relative.

"Let them try to use GNU/Linux, any distro you have on hand, including Knoppix and its cousins. Don't show them anything. Just watch and record. What do they have problems with? How did they try to resolve the problem? What happened? Did it fix it? If not, suggest they try LDP or Google or the manuals that come with the distro. Watch them try and record the results. What works? What doesn't? If they hit an unmovable wall, then step in and help, but don't leap in until they are about to give up. I do want this to be useful research, but I don't want your mom to hate GNU/Linux either. But let them really try to solve it themselves without input from you until they fail utterly."

The idea will be to have them try to do a minimum of four things: e-mail, a simple letter, a firewall, and surf the net. (That includes setting up for e-mail and surfing the net.) That way, PJ believes, participants can most easily record what they spontaneously say they like and what they say upsets them. ("Is the menu clear? Where do they get lost?") 

"Anyone who wishes to get started with mom or dad or Windows friends," enthuses PJ, "by all means, feel free to start." Participants will be able to send in their results to Grokdoc's wiki page for that input, once it is set up.

"You will be able to do that anonymously or not, as you choose," she adds. "There will be a credits page for those who wish to be listed."


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SYS-CON's Linux News Desk gathers stories, analysis, and information from around the Linux world and synthesizes them into an easy to digest format for IT/IS managers and other business decision-makers.

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Most Recent Comments
Sabra Asante 06/07/04 08:46:00 AM EDT

Sounds like a fantastic idea. How is it going?

Sabra Asante 06/07/04 08:45:58 AM EDT

Sounds like a fantastic idea. How is it going?