The first set of enhancements designed to improve usability on British History Online specifically produced as part of the JISC 01/11B funding went live this morning. I’ll round them up below but first I want to say a little about how these changes came about.

Our analysis was led by qualitative interactions with a set of academics from different locations around the country and different specialised subject areas using interviews and a focus group. Each interaction came up with a qualified wish list, the aggregation of which enabled us to look across the field and identify common bugbears and frustrations.

This led us to create an issue list – a plain English account of the problem including screen shot, a suggested recommendation and, crucially, a test question which embodied the issue. All nine test questions were then spliced into an online click test and put out through our public communications channels (site news, Facebook, Twitter etc) to the BHO audience.

This first consultation has enabled us to benchmark the current state of the site, and as you can see from the sample below, for some test questions, there has been a worryingly large distribution of clicks from users (the red circles indicate user clicks, and the arrow points to the correct click location).

I hope that the power of this approach is now becoming clear. After redevelopment, we are able to ask exactly the same questions of our users – a before and after situation – which will enable us to report the success or otherwise of each amendment. The key to enabling this is creating these easy to understand test questions.

So here are the enhancements which have just gone live, together with the issues to which they relate:

Issue: Support documents can clog up the search results filtering process/>
Enhancement: New checkboxes added to the advanced search form allowing users to exclude indices and abbreviation lists (see how to lose the noise from indices and abbreviations lists in search results)

Issue: Search result filtering can be time-consuming when working chronologically/>
Enhancement: Documents with clear event dates have been re-indexed, and a toggle option added to search results page enables users to switch between the two sequences (see how documents without specific event dates appear after those that do)

Issue: Issue: It is not clear which search filters are being employed/>
Enhancement: ‘Breadbox’ added to search results page enables users to examine their query and instantly remove certain parts (see how the construction of the query is clearly exposed)

Issue: Data structured geographically is not represented visually/>
Enhancement: Device to include a map at the head of the sources to which they refer, with simple zoom function (see how we brought an overview to the Survey of London)

Issue: Users have no way of re-ordering a list/>
Enhancement: Added ‘A-Z’ and ‘Z-A’ sort options to sources, most useful where the volumes are ordered chronologically, e.g. parliamentary/state papers (see the sequencing options in action for the Calendar of Close Rolls)