Director at Userfocus Ltd
23 April 2007 09:18am
If you ever carry out web or software usability tests then you'll have come across Techsmith's Morae software. This Windows-based software package streamlines two tasks familiar to every usability tester. First, the software captures what's happening on screen and overlays a picture-in-picture webcam shot of the participant. Second, the software allows observers to log data, for example to tag usability problems or to mark interesting participant comments so you can go back and review them later.
Techsmith has just released a major upgrade to the software, now at version 2.0. As we were just about to run a usability test for a client, we thought we'd do something we'd never normally advise, and install the new version of Morae on top of the old one the night before the test. I'm not sure if this is because we like living on the edge at Userfocus or because we're just gadget freaks. Either way, it provided an interesting learning experience and allowed us to review the new software in anger.
Installation was a breeze and there were no hiccups during our test. This allowed us to focus on what's new in Morae. So is it worth taking the plunge if you haven't yet invested in this software?
Morae has three separate software components.
The most noticeable change to "Recorder" is that it now allows you to present an end-of-test survey to the participant. Built in to the software is John Brooke's 'SUS' questionnaire, John's original paper described this as "a quick and dirty usability scale" and unfortunately Techsmith appear to have followed this description in their implementation. The survey looks like one of those HTML emails you receive that doesn't quite render properly in your mail reader. The radio buttons for participants to select from are small and close together and are begging to be wrongly selected. If you don't like 'SUS', Morae allows you to create your own survey but we would have liked to be able to customise the look and feel of the survey as well. At the moment, our plan is to leave this feature until the next release. Much more useful is the extra data logging features built into "Recorder". For example, now you can assign a success score for each task and a severity rating for each issue that you log.
As well as its name change, "Observer" also has a couple of new features. By far the most useful is that now you have an editable log of all the markers you have made in the current recording. (Previously, once you had sent your marker it was irretrievable, like sending an instant message). If, like us, you sometimes made logging errors when 3-4 usability issues appeared simultaneously, then you'll love this feature. However, Morae won't allow you to edit the task number associated with the "Start task" marker retrospectively. Morae uses this to create a task segment in the recording and it's a critical marker for the "Manager" component. So if you get it wrong while data logging you'll just have to wait until you open the file in "Manager" before you can fix it. We hope the development team at Techsmith can get this fixed as soon as possible.
But the star of the show is "Manager". The interface to "Manager" used to have two tabs, one to do the analysis and a second to create a highlights video. Now there's a third tab titled "Graph". As well as doing the obvious (that is, creating graphs) this new tab contains features that help you carry out analyses compliant with ISO 9241's definition of usability. So there are canned graphing functions for you to calculate efficiency (time on task), effectiveness (completion rate), and satisfaction (scores from the 'SUS' survey). But there are many other metrics you can calculate too, including one that had never occurred to me in the past: mouse movement. Selecting this analysis option will calculate how far the participant's mouse travelled during the task (measured in pixels). We're not sure how useful this is just yet but it could be a great consultancy opportunity: if you divide this measure by the time on task you'll get a "pixels per minute" efficiency metric, akin to a "miles per gallon" metric for automobiles. So we can now measure the mpg of a web site!
Prior to this release, Morae was the best product available for carrying out software and web site usability tests. But these new features make it a five-star product. At $1,495, it's expensive for software but it's still cheaper than renting a usability lab for a few days. Unfortunately, there is no evaluation version but Techsmith's web site contains a number of videos and screenshots that should give you a feel for the user interface.
Now we're off to create that mpg table for the FTSE 100 home pages.
David Travis, Userfocus.
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