The Rave In Context project has created W3C widgets and widget templates that provide a user interface to common functions of the MyExperiment, Simal and OpenDOAR web sites. We concentrated on usability and reusability, both in two distinct senses: the interfaces themselves needed to be simple and effective for users to make use of across a range of client devices, and the code which presented the interfaces needed to be simple to use and reuse for downstream developers.
By providing useful templates for common interfaces across devices, we hoped to contribute to reducing the learning overhead required to access complex functionality on research-focused sites. As well as reducing the overhead of learning many different interfaces, providing templates can also facilitate the building of unified means of access to multiple research-focused sites. Finally, by providing templates that encompass best practice in usability it will be much easier for template users to provide this best practice in their own widgets.
We adopted an open development methodology to achieve this, starting a project on Google Code and placing the code and our reports there as the project proceeded. By doing this we hoped to make what we were doing as transparent to observers as possible. We also believed that the process of interacting via open development methodologies would ease another important aspect of completing the project: the transitioning of both the code and its development status and history into a live third party open source project at completion.
As with any project, there were some unanticipated departures from our original plan. Staff changes within OUCS meant that management of the project moved from Sander van der Waal to Rowan Wilson, with a concomitant overhead in transferring knowledge and planning. In addition some staff timetabling issues meant that work on the usability strand of the project began later than was originally envisaged. As we proceeded, we also experienced what would probably be best characterised as cultural difference between the practices of the usability community and the software development community. This again highlighted the distinction drawn above between the use that users make of code and the use that developers make of code.
Finally we encountered problems with the uniformity and functionality of the APIs which we sought to connect across the projects. It would have been difficult to have predicted these at bid stage without an impractical time investment to fully test the implementations of the APIs’ feature sets. As a result we had to simulate some aspects of the operation of the widgets during usability testing.
Despite this, all the templates were developed, tested and completed on time, and all the reports were produced, including two user experience reports for the Usability UK website. Engagement with the communities around the various academic projects in the JISC Usability and Learnability programme was less active than we had hoped, although we acknowledge valuable input into accessibility considerations provided by EA Draffan of the ALUIAR project. This low level of engagement with the programme was to some extent mitigated by the much greater than expected uptake and use of the templates in the software project (Apache Wookie) to which we contributed. This in turn means, we hope, that the templates will continue to improve and that they will remain up to date and available for use both within the academic community and without. Indeed, ten template-related issues have been worked on within the Apache Wookie project since Jan 1st 2012 – by developers other than team members from this project: