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By Joe Burns

Now, some of you may suggest that the people who beta- test should be representative of the audience the site is attempting to hit. I just don't buy that. Beta testing should produce barrels of information. Some of the greatest information I received when beta testing the StreetArtist.com Web site came from my aunt who had maybe surfed five times before I asked her to go in. She would never buy on the Web. However, once I knew she was comfortable, I knew others would be comfortable.

Now, the part of beta testing that gets me every time. What information should I keep and what should I throw away? The answer is that you should keep what makes your site better. I know that sounds like a firm grasp of the obvious, but it isn't. It is too easy to simply accept statements that support your site and your design and discard those that go against you. If you beta test, you must be strong enough to understand that just because you think an element is cool, doesn't mean it should stay on the pages. The beta testers didn't like it. You do. Look at the element with an unbiased eye. Maybe that element you think is really cool is...well...not.

Remember that it is your user who is most important...not you.

I had an element on the Web site my students beta tested for me that I loved. I took the time to post the word "Welcome" written in 27 different languages down the right hand side of the page. Each was a link to the same page, welcome.html.

I thought it was the most clever thing I had ever done.

They didn't.

They said it was confusing because they didn't understand what I was doing. Not all of the words really meant, "Welcome". Some meant "hello". Some also meant "goodbye"

Furthermore, some of the words were phonetic representations of Chinese words so they really weren't correct at all. I have a very intelligent class as you might imagine.

The final blow was that almost every student was upset that when they clicked on the Italian greeting, they didn't get an Italian page. Almost every student suggested that if the greeting was in a certain language, the page should be too.

I stood there as the slings and arrows came forth. I loved that stupid list of greetings. Besides, I'm Joe Burns! How dare you tell me what is good and what is bad. I wrote HTML Goodies!

Big deal.

I was wrong. They were right.

Had I not beta tested, I would have never dropped that list of words and all across the world people would have clicked on "Bonjour" expecting a page written in French. Some would have written a note, but the vast majority would have just seen it as a glaring error. Meanwhile, I would have been happily sitting in my chair smiling at my multiple-greeting brilliance. That's the same brilliance that was killing the site and confusing users.

Have you beta tested your site? If not, do it.

It will be difficult to do. The responses will be difficult to listen to. Your last week's work will be dismantled right in front of you. What took you days to create will be shot down in a matter of minutes. Just remember. The site isn't for you. It's for them, those people who come into your site, your beta testers.

It's disheartening but it's the best thing you could possibly do for a Web site.

I probably shouldn't say this, but I break my own rule when beta testing. I always ask my mother to look at my sites. No matter how terrible it is she always tells me it's great.

I know it's not good for beta testing, but it certainly makes me feel better.

I urge you to take the time to find some people who'll be honest with you. It will only better the site you created.

Really. It will.

Oh...my site?

http://www.joeburnsphd.com It's not actually to be live until the end of May, but I thought you might like to take a look.


That's that.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

Always Remember: When it comes to designing your Web site, the most important person is not you, but your user.

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