Towards a more usable and accessible web, one template at a time

There are very many mobile devices and more are coming out each month. Similarly, the diversity of form factors is growing; there are many different screen sizes for example and a larger variety in device capabilities. People want to access and use their favourite research tools on these devices, but this is currently very hard. You could create an app for your research tool, but then again you’d have to create a different app for each platform and still have to take device capabilities into account, especially on a platform like Android.

A better approach could be to build a web application. Harnessing the possibilities that HTML5 offers, it is possible to create web-based applications that look and feel very similar to native applications. In the Rave in Context project we will focus on creating web-accessible W3C widgets for the popular e-Science tool myExperiment, but we will also create widgets for OpenDOAR and Simal. This will allow researchers to have a usable interface to these research tools and use them on a variety of devices. By using the W3C widget standard it will be possible to embed the widgets in popular widget-enabled tools such as Drupal, WordPress, Elgg and Moodle.

To make sure the widgets are usable on the different devices with their specific form factors we will use a technique called progressive enhancement to dynamically match the features of the device that is used to access the tools. This technique adapts the user interface based on the features of the device.

We will make prototypes and perform a walkthrough with users of the myExperiment community to determine what the most usable design is on each type of device. By working with an accessibility expert on the team we will make sure the design is not only usable and learnable, but accessible as well.

We will make sure that the results of our research and development are reusable by building widget templates where we will base the myExperiment, OpenDOAR and Simal widgets on. Using these templates will enable other research tools to create usable, learnable and accessible widgets for their own tools easily. We will work with the wider research community to aim for a wider uptake of these templates. We are already working with two projects, Apache Wookie and Apache Rave (both incubating), that build servers to host widgets and gadgets. We will work with those communities to make it easier to integrate widgets in existing widget portals.

We hope you’ll find our work in creating widget templates useful. Please follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our mailing list. We look forward to hearing from you!