We are a collective in the process of developing a web site to publish open data (please see our introduction in the lounge for more information). One of the participants of the collective is a UX designer who inspired us to do the right thing and begin with interviewing the intended audience, i.e. developers.
Distributing a data set is not very challenging: it consists of
- the files containing the data,
- the documentation explaining what they contain,
- the license,
- release notes explaining how to go about the data structure change, unless some efforts is made to ensure backward compatibility
I was surprised to discover that none of the existing open data provider implement all these basic features. It would have been so easy to mimic the UX of a well behaved provider
The first interview of a developer (in french) working with open data is a good start to grasp the mental model of someone coping with the shortcomings of the current data providers. We plan on doing more of those (another one should be published this week), but this is difficult for me (and a few others in the collective) because we are not used to doing user research. Here are some challenges we are facing:
- Are we overthinking this, given how simple the service is? There is a prototype with all the bits and pieces (data, documentation, release notes) but no effort whatsoever to make it usable.
- Once we have a few interviews (maybe 5 from various backgrounds), should we try to get together and do an affinity mapping session?
- Is it worth trying to shadow a user? I tend to think the interviews are enough because the service is simple.
- The data sets we are working on are all in French, published by the French government, reason why the communications are also mostly in French. But these data sets are of interest to an international audience. There should be some version of the service that is available in English as well. Not all the documentation because that would be a huge undertaking. Where is the limit?
- How to get in touch with a non-french speaking developer using data sets?
I hope that, by carefully creating a user centric web site for this deceptively simple data distribution service, we will acquire the necessary tools to improve the user experience of other Free Software & open data related initiatives that need a lot of love
Any advice you may have would be greatly appreciated !