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Re: Site Usage Statistics

From: Ian Jacobs <ij@w3.org>
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2000 13:08:26 -0400
Message-ID: <39AE910A.C6EC2E76@w3.org>
To: kynn@idyllmtn.com
CC: site-comments@w3.org
kynn@idyllmtn.com wrote:
> 
> Ian,
> 
> Do you have any idea what kind of traffic the various parts of the
> W3C site get?  What are people specifically looking for when they
> come to the site?  Are there patterns of use?  What's the most
> popular destination?

We did indeed analyze these patterns during our redesign of
the home page and our creation of the site index. We are doing
more and more log analysis, though I don't know yet whether the
results will be made public. I doubt it, but I'll ask anyway.

The Team also receives regularly a generated list of invalid 
pages that we then fix to the best of our ability. We don't
go back and fix published technical reports. That's why we have
pretty strict publication rules that includes a requirement that
documents be valid (html, xml, css).

> That could help you identify the parts of the site to highlight
> and feature prominently; for example, Jakob Nielsen puts his most
> popular "back issue" columns in bold.  Something of this sort
> could be useful to consider on the W3C site -- make the most
> common destinations the easiest to find.

> I'm enjoying the "openness" of this discussion you're having, by the
> way, and I think this message archive would be a valuable reading
> exercise for students in my Web Management class the next time I
> teach it (http://www.hwg.org/services/classes/catalog/w201.html) --
> you don't mind if I use this as an example that gives insight into
> the "site tweaking" process, do you?

Please do. 

At some point I wanted to document the goals, constraints, and
experience we had doing this project. I guess I could start here.
(Note: I don't recall that the Team agreed to all of the following
points.)

1) Goal: Make people want to use the home page. To that end:
    i) Make it change more frequently with useful news.
       To reach this goal, we required a commitment from the
       W3C Comm Team to edit the home page several times per
       week. Thus, making the home page work goes far beyond
       design and involves policy as well.

   ii) Make it easier to use for all users. 

  iii) Make it look good visually.

2) Constraints:
  a) The page has to conform to W3C specs, including HTML and 
     WCAG 1.0
  b) The page should not use frames or scripts. We probably
     could use frames to do some layout without dynamically
     changing content, but there's a general avoidance of frames
     around W3C.
  c) We chose not to hire a design firm so we would have to
     sweat it out ourselves. This meant lots of input from
     the Team, but also the design may lack the high gloss that
     graphics designers might offer.
  d) We did not have a constraint that all the good bits had
     to fit into the first 640x480 screenful. 

3) Some experience;

a) We wanted to avoid tables for layout, but CSS floats were not
   supported well-enough yet. We did not say "We are designing for
   browsers X, Y, and Z only." However, there were enough problems
   with floats among the browsers used by the Team that we decided it
   was too soon for floats. It's probably also too soon for CSS
   positioning, which is also too bad. So we resorted to tables, but
   ensured that the table linearized well. We used Lynx [0] 
   to test this and in general used Lynx to test how the page
serialized.

   We wasted a lot of time on the horizontal layout issue. It's too
   bad user agents don't already support CSS1. It would have saved
   us enormous amounts of time.

b) A lot of useful time was spent trying to figure out how the home
   page should work. We created the site index to offload some links
   (we had been meaning to create a site map or index anyway).
   We also augmented "About W3C" [1] and the Activities pages [2] 
   significantly, so that we would not have to overload the home page
   with descriptive information. We had planned a brief "About W3C" 
   statement on the home page but deleted it. However, readers of this
   list re-recommended it, so we put it back.

   A long list of links suggests that you need a mechanism so that
   users with serial access can jump over that list. Since Lynx
   renders the LINK element as an active link, we opted to "hide" the
   jump links with a series of LINK elements. However, that solution
   may not work for all user agents, and so we may need to consider
   other mechanisms for jumping the A-to-Z list (and in general, links
   to get to the key areas of the page: the A-to-Z list, the news,
   and the second list of links inside the site).

c) Contributors to this forum clamored for the list of links to the
Activities.
   Our intention in augementing the Activities page [2] was to get
   delete this list from the home page and simplify it significantly.
   However, since most people wanted this list up front, we had to
   find a design that would include it while minimizing the fear that
   a long list of links might inspire. 

d) We added more links for the public to get involved (and added more
   information about how to do so to the "About W3C" page [1]). We
   added a direct link to translations, for example. 

e) Bert Bos helped us find some CSS that would allow us to create
   a navbar that had a solid color background, instead of using
   text in images and image maps. So the navbar is real text characters.
   We have talked about using the same navbar on different pages to
   improve consistency and start giving a common look and feel to
   top W3C pages. But trying to get the whole Team to adopt the
   same design will take years off my life.

f) In addition to more news, we wanted to make more readily available
   information about upcoming W3C appearances and past W3C appearances
   (e.g., Team talks [3]). We had thought about listing all of the
   future appearances on the home page only. Instead we decided that
   links to upcoming events (1) should be on the relevant W3C
   Activity home pages (where you would naturally go if you wanted,
   say to find out about the next XML-related event) and (2)
   should be listed in one place, our upcoming appearances page [4].

g) We also had long discussions about colors, always a mistake <grin>.
   The Team liked setting off the boxes of links with different
background
   colors. Finding the right background color also meant finding the
   right foreground color. In fact, we're still working on trying to 
   harmonize our icons and style sheets to one "w3c blue".

We are continuing to think about how to improve the home page
(and the rest of the site). I hope people will continue to send their
constructive suggestions and criticisms. In addition to getting
public feedback, I had hoped this forum would be used so that others
would contribute their design experience and this would become
a forum for discussing design obstacles and solutions. For example,
I'd like to hear how others address the horizontal layout issue
and if there's a better solution than tables that works 
with 99% of user agents today. I foresee a FAQ in our future...

Thanks,

 - Ian

P.S. In discussions of site growth analysis, Dan Connolly has pointed
us in the past to "Tracking the Growth of a Site" by Jakob
Nielsen [5].

[0] http://lynx.browser.org/
[1] http://www.w3.org/Consortium/
[2] http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Activities
[3] http://www.w3.org/Talks/
[4] http://www.w3.org/Promotion/Appearances/
[5] http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980222.html
-- 
Ian Jacobs (jacobs@w3.org)   http://www.w3.org/People/Jacobs
Tel:                         +1 831 457-2842
Cell:                        +1 917 450-8783
Received on Thursday, 31 August 2000 13:08:29 GMT

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