Monday, October 27, 2008

ASIS&T 2008 - understanding and supporting multi-session web tasks

Bonnie MacKay of Dalhousie University is presenting on a study she completed as part of her PhD program.

Multi - session tasks are goal based, require more than one session to complete, may be expected or unexpected. An example of a multi-session task was the scheduling of the trip to ASIS&T.

The objectives of the research task was to identify the characteristics of multi-session tasks. To understand how users perform multi-session tasks, to determine tools or processes that might be a better way of completing these tasks and then developed three prototype tools to improve. The study was a diary study and a field study.

In 2006 Melanie Keller gave a similar talk on this same topic. I am hoping that this will expand upon her thoughts and findings.

The study resulted in three main suggestions for browsers tools for multi-session tasks.
1) Tool should keep a list of current multi-session tasks.
2) A reminder to support multi-tasking during web sessions.
3) Support multi-session tasks between sessions.

They created three protoype tools within Firefox.
First tool keeps track of your task, putting a reminder of the task you are working on in the tool bar.
Second tool automatically manages pages between sessions, highlighting the ones that are related to the task at hand in bright yellow.
The third tool added a to-do list with a reminder function to the browser. This third version included an archive function ( stores the data and the forms for future use), a tool to manage pages between sessions, a landmark feature to take the user to where they left off in the form.

The next step was to run a study with the prototypes, having participants use these prototypes. The study showed that the prototypes helped users stay on task during multi-session tasks. Interestingly, users were willing to trade off ease of use for features. The first prototype was the easiest to use, but prototype three was highest rated, due to the additional features of the third prototype.

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