Overview of Usability Issues in SharePoint 2010 My Sites

SharePoint My Sites are personal sites for users to store their own content, links, feeds, connect and collaborate with teammates and express themselves creatively. Each SharePoint installation offers one My Site per user if the feature is activated.

I have heard many complaints about the usability of SharePoint 2010 My Sites particularly the navigation. This post will walk through SharePoint 2010 My Sites exploring and identifying key usability issues. It is the first in a three part series:

  • Part 1: Overview of Usability Issues in SharePoint 2010 My Sites
  • Part 2: Impact of SharePoint 2010 My Sites Usability Issues
  • Part 3: Proposed Redesign of SharePoint 2010 My Sites

 

Walkthrough

I performed a basic walkthrough of an Out-of-the-Box SharePoint 2010 My Site outlining User Interface elements and any usability issues. Note: this was not a heuristic or cognitive walkthrough.

Accessing My Sites

From a team site named Demo3, the My Site link is not immediately visible. One has to know it exists in the Welcome Menu to access the link.

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NewsFeed

The first page you navigate to is the newsfeed page http/mysiteurl/default.aspx. This page has many differences in the user interface that are confusing. Top Navigation from previous site has disappeared.

Once you land on this page, you cannot navigate back to the teamsite, Demo3 without using the browser’s Back button. This is a usability issue. The user does not have freedom to move.

The news feed page is a Personal Public Web Part Page and contains the following components: My Site Navigation, People Search, Help, Welcome Menu, Site Actions Menu, and Web Part Zones with the “What’s New” Web Part. Note there is no ribbon.

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When the newsfeed page is in edit mode, a large blank blue bar appears. The page content is pushed down as though the ribbon is there but it is not.

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Click “Add a Web Part” and the Web Part Adder portion of the Ribbon appears.

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Highlighting web parts while in edit mode encourages ribbon behavior as seen below….

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…on a ribbon that did not exist on the page.

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In fact, you cannot exit out of edit mode or close the ribbon without leaving the page.

My Content

When you navigate to the “my content” page, you are within your own personal site within the My Site host site collection. Except for the prominent My Site Navigation at the top, this page is consistent with other collaboration sites templates. . This page contains the following components: My Site Navigation, People Search, Help, Welcome Menu, Site Actions Menu, Ribbon, Site Icon, Site Title, Page Title, Tags and Notes, Search Bar, and Help Icon. The page also contains Web Part Zones with the following web parts: Shared Documents, Personal Documents, and Recent Blog Posts.

Because the top of the My Site template contains search and help, the traditional header with the ribbon introduces a second, search control and help icon. The duplicate help icons lead to the same help window but the search controls behave differently and will be explored later in this article series. The site icon displays the user profile picture.

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My Profile

The My Profile page contains personal information about you. You can access the My Profile page through the Welcome Menu and through the My Site Navigation at the top of the page. This page contains the following components: My Site Navigation, People Search, Help, Welcome Menu, Site Actions Menu, View My Profile Selector, Profile Page Header, and a My Site Sub Navigation Menu displayed as tabs.

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Findings

Through my initial assessment and brief user interviews, the following areas are the major usability issues of My Sites.

  1. Inconsistent Interaction with UI Elements.
  2. Inconsistent Placement of Landmarks/UI Elements.
  3. Useless Top Navigation.
  4. Navigation does not consider where the user is in the site.
  5. Navigation does not provide a way for users to get back to where they came from.
  6. Navigation does not give user a clear picture of where they are in the SharePoint Installation.

Consistency

Even among the three major areas of My Sites, you can see inconsistencies. the user interface layout and functionality is not consistent from page to page or compared to other site templates using the same controls. The benchmark of improved User Experience in SharePoint 2010 is the consistent use of the ribbon. For some reason it does not appear on pages that use the ribbon functionality such as the newsfeed page.

Navigation

Navigation is not effective in My Sites. The definition of navigation is finding a target location based on one’s current location using at least one reference point. This reference point can be a visual landmark or a point in previous location.

The effectiveness of navigation can be assessed through wayfinding. We don’t evaluate whether the user will find what they are expecting which would be done through a usability test with a real user. This evaluation determines whether navigation can is possible Wayfinding is a metaphor for using information available to navigate through complex places.  According to WebStyleGuide (my bible), the four elements of wayfinding are:

  • Orientation: Where am I am right now?
  • Routing: Can I find the way to where I want to go?
  • Consistency/Mental Model: Are my experiences consistent and understandable enough to know where I’ve been and to predict where I should go next?
  • Closure: Can I recognize that I have arrived in the right place?

We will use these elements to measure the effectiveness of the navigation in My Sites.

Effectiveness

If we were measuring the navigation within My Sites alone, the navigation effectiveness would rate mediocre. This rating is measuring the navigation relative to the entire installation of SharePoint 2010. My Site Navigation fails across the board.

clip_image018 Fail Orientation: Where am I am right now?MySites do not show where the user is in relation to the rest of SharePoint. No matter where one is within SharePoint, they have one MySite. This is true with Search Centers as well. A unique hierarchy is not clearly addressed through default navigation within site templates. One page within SharePoint My Sites provides a way to orient through the layout of the site. Although the SharePoint 2010 breadcrumb is not the most usable and intuitive control, it does provide clues as to where the user is and provides the sitename and pagename.
clip_image018[1] Fail Routing: Can I find the way to where I want to go?Although the My Site Navigation at the top allows users to navigate within the My Site, a user cannot go back to any other sites without the browser back button. This is a huge error when measuring against most usability heuristics. The user should be able to move freely within a site.
clip_image018[1] Fail Consistency/Mental Model: Are my experiences consistent and understandable enough to know where I’ve been and to predict where I should go next?Generally, the elements used for navigation are different from nearly all other site templates within SharePoint. The navigation in my sites is neither consistent with the rest of SharePoint nor consistent within the My Site pages.
clip_image018[1] Fail Closure: Can I recognize that I have arrived in the right place? When a user clicks on any link, they expect to see confirmation of where they are generally this is gleaned from a prominent page title or breadcrumb. Although the words “My Site” appears at the top of the page, it does not look like a page title. The words My Site are an unlinked title that is attempting to communicate that the links to the right are subareas of the parent “My Site” concept. Easy to figure that out after thinking a little bit. (The point is that the user has to think and even navigate around a bit to recognize the pattern in interaction. That’s no good. ) This control is the strangest navigation/breadcrumb hybrid that I’ve seen. Additionally, the words newsfeed are highlighted.My Sites Top NavigationThe “My Content” page does come close to providing Closure through the standard breadcrumb. You can see you landed on My Content after clicking the My Content link.Usability Issues in My SitesHowever, by introducing this component, more inconsistency and confusion is introduced because the parent node is not identical in both navigation controls.Navigation Inconsistency in My Sites

Next in the Series:

This article was originally intended to contain qualitative feedback from My Site users to support the issues I identified.  My first interview was with Chris Poteet, a 5-year veteran of SharePoint consulting and a UX lead.  Further discussions with Chris changed my approach to this article and extended it into a series. I discovered a very knowledgeable and well-versed peer.  We will be collaborating on the remaining articles.

Next, we will dive deeper into these usability issues and the impact they have on users.

Part 2: Impact of SharePoint 2010 My Sites Usability Issues

Once we have defined the impact  these issues have on users, Chris and I will recommend and possibly design solutions that directly address the issues outlined in Part 1.

Part 3: Proposed Redesign of SharePoint 2010 My Sites

References

Navigation and Wayfinding – WebStyleGuide3

Other Resources

Navigation Concepts and Principles

SharePoint 2010 Related Resources

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About Marcy Kellar

Marcy Kellar is a SharePoint Solution Architect at Perficient and well known for her expertise in SharePoint branding. Her specialties include user experience design, branding and UI customization, information architecture, web content management, and usability testing. Marcy’s experience spans over 20 years and includes work in design, life sciences, psychology and R&D. Marcy is co-author of Beginning SharePoint Designer 2010 (Wrox, October 2010) and is a former professor at the Art Institute teaching user centered design courses, “Intro to User Centered Design” and “Usability Testing.” She is a popular speaker, author and award-winning artist and photographer.

My Sites, sharepoint 2010, usability

13 Responses to Overview of Usability Issues in SharePoint 2010 My Sites

  1. Chris Poteet
    Twitter: chrispoteetpro
    August 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Thanks for the kind words Marcy and the great article. I look forward to working with you on parts 2 and 3.

  2. Jay
    Twitter: jayaritchie
    August 22, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Hi Marcy-

    Insightful post. I agree with many of your usability critiques. I would like to provide an alternate opinion when it comes to your point about orientation under effectivenss above. I’m not sure I find this problematic. First, the back button is your friend. Second, I think this only is raised as a issue because everything is SharePoint. If the My Site link in a team site was “Facebook” and when you went to Facebook, would you have an issue with Facebook not having a link back to your team site? Same with search, if it went to Google, would there be an issue? I do think more care has to be exercised sometimes such as placing a link to Search in the global navigation which may set the expectation that the global nav remains consistent once you’re in the search results. Otherwise, I think MS was taking the approach that some of these things are abstract services which doesn’t necessarily imply a tight connection to other parts of SharePoint such as the Intranet site or team sites.

    I wonder if approaches used in some consumer sites such as thrillist is the solution where target sites are always presented in a frame that allows you to “go back” to the originating site. Thoughts?

    Great post and insight. Looking forward to your recommendations on how to fix some of these problems.

    • "The SharePoint Muse" August 22, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

      Jay, excellent comment. I think MS didn’t commit completely to the approach that My Sites are an abstract service. I think the result is disjointed UX. It feels like when you go to your my site that you are on the same plane and travelled a linear path from the site you were just in. MS chose to make some pieces different but not different enough to communicate a completely different concept. I think you are implying a direction that is similar to the path I’m headed. Thanks for the thrillist site link.

  3. Patrick Drews
    Twitter: Patrick_STSADM
    August 23, 2011 at 6:39 am #

    Marcy – great read. I agree with your analysis – I wish My Sites was more integrated with the whole SharePoint UI, and feel that the My Site landing page is so useless. I also feel similar issues with the Enterprise Search Center where they assume that after you search, you will find what your looking for, and click on a link, and you don’t have a way to get back to where you were. There’s no ability to easily modify the ribbon that gives you native bread-crumb capabilities, At least My Sites you can use the ‘Configure Personalization Sites’ to add a link back to the portal site, or whatever you decide to put there.

  4. Valerie
    Twitter: valsimcakes
    August 23, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Marcy — Very relevant post. Part of the reason my boss is so excited about Office365 is that we would upgrade to a 2010 SP with MySites. In practice, however, it’s becoming more and more evident that the UX is flawed. If you need more MySite user interviews, I’d be happy to participate.

  5. Bill November 9, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Great articles – thank you for a great analysis of usability. Was wondering why I wasn’t getting it! 😉

    When do you think Part 3 may be available?

    We’re getting ready to roll these features out. It would be nice if we make some customizations to make it easier for the user.

    • Marcy Kellar December 9, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

      Bill, Over Christmas break I’ll repost. I hope this next installment will be helpful. I appreciate all of the feedback and support.

  6. John Liu
    Twitter: johnnliu
    January 10, 2012 at 12:44 am #

    I love the usability tests and the score card for 2010 My Sites! (And thanks for the link!)

    Being mostly a developer, I’m convinced that a _cheap_ way to go about fixing a lot of the UX problems with out of the box My Sites is to put the whole thing into a modalDialog.

  7. Gil Spencer
    Twitter: gildaspencer
    June 28, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    I loved your posts and your witty comments. Great to see other Women in Tech contributing and helping the rest of us out. By the way, did you ever post Part 3 of this series? I didn’t see it thumbing through your blog. I myself working on branding a MySite and hitting some walls. The learning curve is killer.

  8. Daniel
    Twitter: westerdaled
    August 21, 2012 at 4:05 am #

    Hi

    Again very relevant as I am trying to sell the benefits of MySites to a government agency. Hence, I want to mindful of the pitfalls and things I must do in order to deliver the benefits of MySites – one location re the ‘truth’ about people in the organisation without needing to contact HR etc. Is this post available: Proposed Redesign of SharePoint 2010 My Sites?

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