Review of EthicShare Site

Note, six digit numbers in brackets refer to node number in EthicShare. So {283905} refers to I was asked to consider the OCLC heuristic for evaluating a website, a model I’d not seen before. I’ve tried to attach a heuristic {number} to relevant points. If you know the password, you can . (Last modified by efc on Saturday, 10 September 2011 at 06:33 AM.)

Chad’s notes


There is a lot going on in the system, I will focus on the home page of a logged on user to discuss status. Certain things work well, the upcoming events and news boxes are clear and easily understood {1}.

“My Recent Activity” is less clear {1}. Maybe this is because the items get so abbreviated (they fall to ellipses pretty quickly, unlike the events, for example). In some cases hovering provides more info (recent searches) and in others it does not (recent citations) {3}.

I could add something like “Recently Viewed Citation” to the full record views.

As a home page for a user to land on, this page is cold and technical, with little sense of the community’s interplay. Information the user will rarely use (privacy, management, member-count) is given weight equal to key information (group and folder names) {8}. In fact, some information (column headings and section names) is given greater weight than key content. I generally sense this as a problem the site has balancing what I call the “frame” (labels and navigation) with the “content” (the user-generated, living information that make the site’s heart beat). On this page, for example, there is no indication of what content has been added by others since the user’s last visit {1}. The user would have to mark and remember “topic” or “member” counts between visits to have a sense of what has changed. None of the content of the groups, in particular, is surfaced for the user to evaluate and get excited about (what was the last message or comment?) {6}.

“there is no indication of what content has been added by others since the user’s last visit” - there is now. I took that out following Amy’s redesign. Return visits will now show you X-number of new posts per group with a “new” behind the count.

The overall impression is that this site is about management rather than communication. It feels like a list of tasks I have to do rather than a flow of collegial information I can skim or dip into.

This persists as you dip into the site. Click on a group name {392115} and you get another heavy list, with more space devoted to frame (number of comments and date/user of last comment) than on content (what was the last comment, anyway?). Even the order of topics makes little sense {7}. This list would be better with the most active (or at least most recently commented upon) topics listed first.

Topics are/were ordered by comment recency.

More about this frame/content issue can be found in my comments below.

The calendar is much more effective in a frame/content sense. Here the events really feel primary. Somewhere in the week I was using the system, though, the monthly calendar disappeared. Unfortunately, that removed some familiar context for users and the resulting display is rather awkward {2}.

This was before we had the new calendar widget in place

The site has the right content, in my view. The articles, events, and discussions are a good combination. The problem with the site is that it does not surface enough of this for a strong sense of community to form. Helping the cream, the content, rise to the top will be the key.

What follows are specific observations from my use of the site. The “suggestions” are not necessarily solutions. There are many ways to deal with the issues I raise, I just provide one option as a guidepost, not in any prescriptive way.

New user perspective

My first impression of the EthicShare page is that it is about process more than product. The “Search, share, collaborate” graphic being so big and so front and center made me uncertain, for a moment, that I was at the right place. “Is this about ethics?” I thought? Or is this a generic platform kind of space? Reading the text (“working in the field of ethics” and “Ethics. Research. Community.”) convinced me I was in the right place, but did not altogether ease the sense that this place was made more demonstrate something than to help me with my work in the field. {2}

The image is pretty cold and clinical. A computer and some glasses without even their owner. White, clinical, devoid of humanity, much less community. I love the production values of the image, but I don’t like the message. {8}

Suggestion: Replace that opening graphic. Make it more inviting, include faces, maybe even specific faces from the field (Jeff?) smiling and interacting. At least bring “ethics” into the image, maybe echoing the “Ethics. Research. Community.” line. Ask people, explicitly, to join. Tell them why it would be great to do so.

Too much frame, too little content

Exploring without a login, the way most users will first encounter the site, reveals more focus on frame than content. As an example, the many groups that have no public content are off-putting {394043, 392107, 283905} {5, 14}. They seem to be there as placeholders. Do I really have to log in even to eavesdrop on this community? And when I find one with content it feels oddly heavy on navigation and light on colleges.

Posts in all public groups now default to public, private to private. This was the source of this problem - users had to choose public/private for each post. Now they don’t have the option EXCEPT when they are Posting a citation to a group, where we must give them the public/private option

For example {393656}, why is referenced citation so big and bold, even though there are no citations on the page {14}. Why are Marc and Fbenya’s names so small. Why is that login/register message repeated four times on the page? The things most important to me, the conversation, is hard to read. It includes these lines:

What to believe?

What do you do when the FDA keeps changing its mind about the risks of plastic bottles to humans?

You trust someone else.

That’s fairly powerful stuff, but I have to work hard to get a sense of the real conversation because too many things are interrupting the flow. Too much needless text {8}.

Suggestion: Either open up the community a bit more (why “no public posts”? what’s the big secret?), add some content (prime at least all the pumps you’ve put up on the site, with something real and stimulating), or hide groups without any public content form anonymous users so they don’t get rejected over and over.

See comment above

Suggestion: Redesign the “conversational” nodes to get business out of the way of core content. See this Apple example, Note how usernames and metadata are out of the stream of the conversation? Taglike machine details are in a subdued font color to fade away from the conversation slightly. There is only one login hint on the page and it is very small and not at all insistent. Actually, the EthicShare site is not far from this ideal: get rid of the per-post login notices, move off or de-emphasize tags and citations (maybe to the sidebar?), treat original poster’s name/metadata more like you do the commenters, consider making the headline of the node the conversation topic instead of the group name (note, you’ve done that for the window title already), that would pretty much do it.

Suggestion: Fix the missing citations issue. This seems to be a bug as I tried adding citations to a group conversation and never actually saw the citation in the conversation.

Fixed - changes were being made while he was working on this

Note: see “Folders/Lists” below for a similar issue.

If I do a search on EthicShare and retrieve a collection record {343746}, I run into some of the same issues. I am very much feeling like an outsider given the repeated “login” messages {8}. Worse, there is a “Discuss” link that just funnels me on to an “access denied” message {14}. The design of the page again emphasized frame (“Full Record”) over content (the title of the article).

Suggestion: Get rid of “Full Record”. Does anyone care? Besides, this makes me almost expect “full text”. The page and the user will be better off without it.

Got rid of “Full Record” (I will need to do a little cleanup of old records)

Suggestion: Just get rid of whatever the user can’t do without logging in. Let the login request in the sidebar (or the header) do your begging for registration or login. No need to be so pushy. Consider hiding the “find it” button at this stage too, since it only works with a login anyway.

I’ll leave this up to the group to decide

Fix the calendar

The calendar is great in look and feel, but a bit odd in operation. {11}

Done - I was working on a replacement when he was looking at the old mini calendar

Navigating the calendar forward by months results in some odd “No events found for these criteria. Reset Calendar” messages. Reset calendar? Really? Sounds dangerous {5}. Besides, I don’t care that there are no events in July. Leaving all the dates grey is signal enough of that fact. Don’t give me messages I can’t do anything about {9}.

Hehe, true. We might even just kill forward/backward month now that we have the new calendar widget. Anyway, removed the scary reset text.

I finally get to the month I want, but the events are still from the month that was up when I entered the calendar section of the site. {11} Hm. What to do? I try clicking the month name, and sure enough that makes the correct events visible. But at the same time the calendar resets to its initial month. So now the events are from the month I nav’d to, but the calendar is not that same month. Can’t these two things be kept in synch? As I move through the calendar, the events visible should update. In other words, “prev/next” on the big event list and “</>” on the small calendar should do the same thing and always be in synch. {3}

Yup, old mini calendar functionality

Finally, I would often come to the calendar looking for the date of an event, and there is no way to hunt for the event efficiently. I can’t search for, say, “IABS” to find out that it meets on 6/18. I have to nav forward hunting each screen myself for IABS. {7}

Attempting to Add search to this prior to launch

Suggestion: Fix calendar navigation. (This seems to have been modified while I was evaluating. New cal seems to function better, but is less familiar a model for calendaring.)

Suggestion: Consider a calendar search, or much better, a site search that includes calendar events as a secondary result set.

Attempting to Add search to this prior to launch

Invite me!

The about page does a great job of explaining EthicShare as a project. But it, again, does not welcome the browsing researcher personally. {2}

Suggestion: Add a few sentences up top about “This site is for you and we welcome you to join it and make it your own” kind of thing. Flickr has a great page of mumbo jumbo as their about page ( which is redeemed by the last line: “The fact that you’ve read to the end of this entire document and are hanging out at the bottom of this page with nothing but this silly text to keep you company is proof of a deep and abiding interest on your part. What are you waiting for? Sign up now!” Orkut writes the mumbo jumbo, but addressed to you, the person who will join ( Something like that, a real invitation, should be in the about.

Registered user

Username / Password on front page

The site labels the username/password fields with “create a free account”. {7} So I tried. I entered my username and desired password in those fields. Of course, as it turned out, this did not “create” an account at all. It only led me to a “Sorry, unrecognized username or password. Have you forgotten your password?” {5} Nope. Just trying to do what you asked me to do: “create a free account.”

Interesting, he saw this link as a label (one reason why I hate removing underlines from links - bad usability). It makes sense given it’s proximity. I suppose we could remove it based on this specific problem and stick it elsewhere.

On my second attempt I realized that “create a free account” was itself a link. Fair enough. But that link is positioned poorly and looks too much like a label. {11}


Suggestion: Move the “create a free account” to the right of the “log in” button. There it can either go above or replace the “forgot password” link. This move it far enough from the username/password fields to avoid being read as a label for them.

The use of the asterisks in the username and password fields is a bit odd. I assume they are there to indicate “required”, but since usernames and passwords are always required they just end up adding complexity and potential confusion. Even the “:” does this, making me almost expect that I could click after the colon and see a flashing cursor to add my text. {8}

Artifact of Drupal’s labeling system. We can probably find a way to remove them - post launch.

When I try to type in my own text, these labels disappear (as they should). But when I later return to the site, my “memorized” username & password overlay the labels, making the whole combination unreadable.

Put this on our fix list.

Suggestion: Remove the “: *” from these labels. Do some testing with Safari and fix the Javascript used for the hiding functionality. One script I’ve used with some success is though your milage may vary.


The home content disappears when I log in, and I can’t see it ever again. I’d be more comfortable if I didn’t lose content when I logged in. {3}

Suggestion: Add a “My EthicShare” tab when I log in, and take me there when I log in. Leave home as it is, so I can navigate back there if I desire.

Recent activity

Why is my recent activity “No history” even if I have turned on the “configuration”? Why not stop pestering me to turn it on? This seems to be a problem when a user hits the site fresh on a given day or after restarting their browser, and really has no recent history the system knows about. In this case, maybe just hiding the box would be a better idea than pestering the user to do something they may have already done? {14}

Suggestion: When this is really no recent history, just hide the recent history block.

Why is adding “keywords” not a recent activity? Does this not count as service to the ES community? {1}

I’ll see about adding keywords prior to launch.

Suggestion: Might be worth being clearer about what “history” really means. Maybe this really means “Recent posts”?

I can’t get “My Recent Activity” to remember that it collapsed. I want it to stay small since I don’t really need it for nav and I want other boxes (like facets) to get up higher in the sidebar. Other boxes (like Library Link Preference, Refine By Type, and Refine By Author) seem to remember their state. Why not “My Recent Activity”? {4}

Suggestion: Be consistent about the behavior of the “-/+”. Are they memorized or not?


The use of asterisks on the forms, without any explanation of what an asterisk means, has me regularly scanning pages for a hint. I know that the asterisk probably means “required,” but even so I can’t help scanning. In some cases the asterisk really seems odd, for example on a single pop-up element form like the “search preferences” under the user profile. {9}

Suggestion: Either abandon the asterisk (won’t the form complain if the user misses a required element anyway?) or explain it (put a “* Required” somewhere on the page).

Added module for general bucket stuff like this - now altering discussion, folder and group forms to include explanatory hint.

While we are here, “Link Library Preference” library names are a bit duplicative and messy. “OHIO UNIV” and “Ohio University” but no “Ohio State University”? {4}

Suggestion: Clean up this list.

Folders / Lists

Folders or lists? I create a new folder, but get asked for a “list name”. I can work through this sort of thing, but it feels sloppy, does not inspire confidence. (I bet I know where it is coming from too, now that I’ve dabbled in drupal… the modules tend to be pretty insistent about certain terminology that may not match the way the module is being used. If you don’t want to dabble deeper in the code you can either put up with the slight mismatch or adopt the module’s terms. In this case, maybe consider calling these “Lists” rather than “Folders”?) These are “My Folders” with “List Names” on my home page. {4}

Suggestion: Pick one term.

Yes, yes. Relabeling everything has indeed been a pain the rear, but I took care of the ones he listed here.

Half the remove “X” on “folders” is cut off on Safari. Makes the X kind of an arrow caret. {11}

Suggestion: Fix CSS to make enough room for this “X” icon.

This has already been fixed

Folder views, like /list/480-308120, feel way complicated. This seems like another frame/content prioritization problem. All that orange stuff at the top looks very important, but turns out to be the frame (field names, owner, description, etc.). Why are you drawing my eye to the frame? All that folder management stuff occupies prime space, but what I really care about is what’s inside the folder/list, the content, which turns out to be halfway down the page. {8}

Yep, this is a stub design, waiting for something from Amy

Suggestion: Consider putting the titles of the articles in the bright orange, so at least they stand out. That’s the key info.


What is “community keyword” in “Ethics in the News”? Is this just keywords by anyone else not me? I would expect that when I add a keyword, it would also go into the “community keyword list, not just on my list. If I nav back to the same citation, that this does, in fact, happen. It would make more sense if that were clear right away. {1}

Suggestion: Add my keywords to the “community keywords” right away, so that I know I am part of the community.

I guess there is some sense to the fact that I can only find article hits with the big search box in the header… but I don’t instinctively get that. I want to find other things, like conversations in the community, using that search as well. I kind of expected that the sidebars might list hits on the site outside of the articles. A sidebar box for “Groups,” for example, if there were any groups with the search term in their name. I eventually found that searching for some of this other content had to be done from the Group Directory (/og), but still wished the search on top were more universal. I also noted I can’t search for calendar events. {7, 13}

The fact that there is no search of the content of the groups, is a real downer. I hope the community becomes a lively interchange of ideas, but that will be hard to sustain without ways for new entrants to review past discussions, and searching is vital to that orientation task. {13}

On our Spring List, or should be

Suggestion: I can’t really offer one. This is complex and deeply rooted in how you’ve architected the system. Maybe a custom google search could help? But that would lose the “advanced search” options.

I did a search for “ethics” then used the “Refine by Subject” to narrow to “Bioethics”. Even though the number next to Bioethics was 2177, when I click there I get a “No Records Found ethics” message. Huh? Same for “Informed Consent” and “Ethics, Medical” but not so for “Medical ethics” which returns results! Is this a feature I don’t understand or a bug? {5}

Probably happened when I was shifting the term boost stuff around..

Suggestion: Either explain the search being conducted differently or debug the search engine.

See above comment

I did a search for “ethics buddhism” and end up with many non-english titles. I’d like to narrow to english. Can’t I? {2}

When I “Select All” on a result set, it does not really select all, it just selects those on this page. This is not evident till I take an action like saving to a list. It might be good if this said “Select All 10” or “Select All 25” to make this clear up front. Or, like gmail, upon selection offered you the option to extend selection to all items on all pages. {4, 11}

I implemented this in the lists area, could do so for search too - post launch

Suggestion: Make “select all” behaving more like it does when selecting items in my own folder/list. See my “/list/919” for an example of better behavior, or just build a list with more then 10 items on it for yourself and explore.


When I create a new group, I am allowed HTML in the description and the “About Your Group”. Even though the preview parses the HTML for the description, thank goodness the actual listing does not. In fact, HTML should be ignored in both these situations. I can see some justification for allowing HTML in the “About” section (what if you want to include an image, for example), but the current allowance is probably way too broad. In my “Eric’s Playground” group {393990} I was able to include an iframe (basically a whole other web page) in the “About”. Not good. This allowance also requires that the strange “Input format” tab (is that a tab? what is that?) be a part of the form. If you click it you get way too many choices at a level of detail most users will not care about. {5, 8, 14}

Hiding the import format has been on our to-do list for a while, and I just got to this in the past couple of days. The input format has also been set at a much more restrictive level.

Suggestion: Simplify by just allowing “Filtered HTML” and nothing else here.

Yep, done.

I expect “My Groups” to show up under the Groups tab. I always click there, and then Home. “Home” just does not feel like it is mine on a community site. I always get flummoxed by this in Facebook too. {2}

Me too - but we killed that link. Maybe I’ll resurrect it?

Suggestion: Include my groups under the “Groups” tab. It might be that if there were a tab for “My EthicShare” I’d be more likely to click that first, eliminating the need for my groups under the “Groups” tab.

Adding members is a bit obscure. The “1 member” item on the list to does not mean much. Too bad it does not say something like “manage members”. I see you are trying to discourage “add user” in favor of “invite colleague”. But then why isn’t that “invite colleague” under group membership? It got lost to me in that box of its own. Six of one. Maybe does not require a change, but others may trip here too. {2}

Yes, this is part of OG - I might be able to integrate this more sensibly though. Post launch todo.

Odds and ends

Full text

“Full Text Available on Publisher Website” sounds almost like the text is NOT available. Odd, isn’t it. It is such a wordy way of creating a link, it is somewhat discouraging. It took me a while to realize I could click on that text and get the article. Maybe use a link that says “Read full article” there instead? {2} Maybe just turning the title of the article into that link? Also, why is this in a different spot than the “FindIt” button? Those both mean, essentially, get the full article. Why not have them share the same real estate on the screen to reinforce this point and move the full text link into the “frame” where it belongs? {8}


Clicked on “more” news and waited over 20 seconds for “Ethics in the News” page. That’s a bit long for most users. {1}

Yep, will need to write a custom query and output for news - Views is hosing this search


Almost missed the RSS feed for my group because it does not have the little orange button. That little button is pretty standard now.

Ooh, I really want to subscribe to an RSS feed of my search results, like I can do on craigslist. Gimme gimme.

Post launch to-do - haven’t had time to RSSify everything yet

Job opportunities

Are these on the site? I saw a scenario about them, but I could not find these anywhere. Lack of search for group and calendar content may have prevented me from finding existing content.

Possible search bug

A search for “human subjects” resulted in a “create new group” box in the sidebar of the search results? Huh? No way to collapse this box, either, so it forced facets way down the sidebar. Could not get this to repeat, but it really did happen.

Heh, I was working on groups this week


Feel free to ask questions or leave comments about this review. Thanks! …Eric

Kate / 10 March 2009 / 15:02

Eric, This looks very helpful! I am knee deep in help writing at the moment. I will look through this tonight and respond late (or very early tomorrow). Thanks!

Chad / 12 March 2009 / 15:01

Just killed the “Full Record” label on full records (dev site only). Ah, that feels better.