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Crowdsourcing Your Way to Usability Testing

Crowdsourcing services can provide feedback on the cheap

Software developers and service providers need a period of usability testing before launch to find out how the product stands up in the hands of end users. An experienced QA team will ferret out bugs and identify major issues, but they won't use your software like a customer will. The value of focus testing is not up for debate, but the way you run it most definitely is.

How Does It Work?
Crowdsourcing-based usability testing services is an emerging niche and you'll find a choice of online services capable of delivering valuable information on your product's usability. Try My UI and User Testing are two good examples and they both offer the chance to see potential customers using your software in real-world conditions. The pricing varies, but you're looking at $35 to $39 per tester for a single test and there are discounts for bulk orders.

You provide the software and a set of instructions and the testers complete the task you set out in their own homes. Their computer screens are recorded so you can see exactly what they are doing and they provide a running audio commentary to explain their thought process. This is a fantastic way to get detailed feedback and immediately identify any usability issues that you may have overlooked. Each video has a maximum time limit of 20 minutes.

Benefits over Traditional Usability Testing
The key benefit is obviously the cost savings, because traditional usability testing is very expensive. Crowdsourcing is actually superior in other ways as well. The turnaround is incredibly fast; you can get same-day results, potentially even within an hour, which would be impossible if you were setting up a series of tests with a focus group in a lab setting. You can also get feedback 24/7 so if time is a factor, or you want to enact quick changes and test again, you can do so.

Consider also the benefit of having testers who are for the most part working from home and therefore relaxed and without expectations. The process of coming into an unfamiliar setting for a test can actually skew the results. With this kind of online testing you are really getting as close to an end-user experience as possible.

What's the Downside?
No solution is ever perfect and so it's important to mention a couple of limitations. This kind of testing in 20-minute chunks is best suited to examining how users interact with a menu or interface system, or how they perform a relatively simple task with your software. There isn't time to go into any great depth.

You also have to consider the demographic you need. You'll find the option to choose an age range, average household income, country, gender, level of expertise, and you can add more stringent guidelines. The system is not ideal if you have very specific needs. For in-depth screening to pinpoint a real niche bracket of testers, you will need to look elsewhere.

The Proof Is in the Testing
With such a low upfront cost and quick turnaround there really is no reason not to give it a try. Any feedback that enables you to streamline your product and improve usability is worth the investment. You can easily annotate or edit the videos you get in from testers and that can be a useful tool to present your findings to the rest of your company and spark the response you need to perfect that software before it goes to market.

More Stories By Vu Lam

Vu Lam is founder and CEO of QASymphony, developers of defect capture tools that track user interactions with applications. He was previously with First Consulting Group and was an early pioneer in Vietnam’s offshore IT services industry since 1995. He holds an MS degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University. You may reach him at [email protected]

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