A framework for evaluating the usability of political web sites : towards improving cyberdemocracy
The use of the World Wide Web (WWW) for political purposes, sometimes known as Cyberdemocracy, is growing rapidly. Web sites in particular have potential in improving people's participation in politics; which is one of the basic principles of democracy. However, currently very few studies have focussed on the usefulness and effectiveness of such web sites. This research, therefore, investigates the issue of web usability and proposes a framework for evaluating the usability of web sites particularly political web sites. It also highlights the potentials of the Internet technology as an effective political communication medium and emphasises the need for proper design, maintenance, and evaluation of web sites in order to improve their effectiveness. The research began with a literature search on web usability where seven major factors were identified namely Screen Appearance, Consistency, Accessibility, Navigation, Media Use, Interactivity, and Content - leading to the formation of a model called SCANMIC. Further exploration was conducted to elicit criteria relevant to each factor. The criteria and the model were then commented on and verified by experts in related fields. An online survey was carried out to identify the importance of these criteria from the perspectives of Internet users. Additional criteria which affect the usability of political web sites were also identified through interviews with frequent visitors of political web sites and web developers, and through content analysis of twenty political web sites in four different countries: Malaysia, United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. The findings from the usability criteria elicitation, expert reviews, survey and web content analysis resulted in a comprehensive list of web usability criteria, which formed the basis of the evaluation framework. The framework was based on a benchmarking approach; an approach that has proven its success in the business area but not widely used in web evaluation. It proposes eight cyclical steps for benchmarking web usability, including - decide what to benchmark, determine what to measure, identify who to benchmark against, identify who will benchmark, perform the benchmark, analyse data and determine gap, redesign, and monitor progress. The framework can be used to benchmark the overall usability of any types of web sites but is particularly suitable for political web sites. Furthermore, it can guide people with technical or non-technical background, who intend to benchmark the usability of their web sites against others. It is a very useful tool for an organisation to identify any gap which might exist between the usability of its web site and those of its competitors. The framework was tested for its applicability and practicality on several major political web sites in Malaysia, a developing country with a fast growth in terms of Internet access. The outcome of the testing was used to refine and finalise the framework. Research limitations are discussed in the last chapter and for each limitation, a suggestion for future studies is proposed. For example, there is an urgent need for a computerised tool to assist the benchmarking process. Testing the applicability of the benchmarking framework on other types of web sites also calls for future investigations. In addition, extending the applicability of the framework to include small displays technologies such as mobile phones and hand-held devices requires urgent attention.