Aktions Product Proposal

Abstract

Aktions will advance usability engineering by developing a set of tools to facilitate the users and developers of interactive software. It collects statistics to describe the actions and behaviors of users. A staggering number of applications store and model user behavior, but no toolkit exists to perform these operations in a universal and trustworthy manner. Aktions provides these facilities, while keeping information internally identifiable yet externally anonymous. Aktions includes sample applications that demonstrate uses of this functionality.

Background

Software delivers information, coordinates events, and manages resources. It monitors infrastructure, enforces safety protocols, and models complex environments. It even facilitates communication and provides entertainment. In essence, the primary motivation behind software development is to make life easier. Question: If this is the case, why is it so hard to use? Answer: because form is dictated functionally. Until recently, usability was a second-class citizen in the state of software design. Even today, usability experts conduct their tests with selective control groups, who may not represent their userbase.

With the advent of their monstrous office suite, Microsoft decided to change the model [1]. As noted by Julie Larson-Green in "Diving into the New Office 12" [2], the office team collected anonymous usage statistics in recent versions of MS Office. These statistics identified how users interacted with the software, and consequently led to development of the ribbon layout set to debut in Office 12. Aktions will apply this model to an entire body of software.

Overview

Aktions collects, stores, and analyzes anonymous usage statistics from applications. By providing these facilities, Aktions increases the volume of empirical data available to usability experts. Those experts can analyze this data and fine-tune the interfaces of programs it applies to.

Goals

Our primary goal is the creation of several components that, when combined, provide the functionality outlined above. Aktions has 5 main components:

We plan to integrate our toolkits and frameworks within the KDE Project [3]. Our motivations for this are threefold. First, KDE includes a wealth of feature-rich applications which could benefit from this tool. In effect, we can secure an audience by offering Aktions to the KDE developers. Second, the Qt toolkit [4] combined with several KDE technologies [5] provide an ideal foundation for the project. Finally, it justifies the inclusion of the "K" in our product name.

Methodology

Our design team uses the "spiral" design methodology during development. This methodology complements open source methodologies and allows us to incorporate feature-rich patches from the community in subsequent releases our product. We are aware that accepting foreign patches may violate the academic honesty policies of Drexel University. However, the open source community plays a vital role in our software. We request that the policy be waived in this instance, so long as we note where foreign code has entered our project. We leave the means of attribution up for discussion at a later date.

Our efforts will be dedicated to building a functional system quickly. This system includes the core functionality for our API, the routing service, and a simple data viewer. We will submit this system to our audience for feedback. When the core functionality is defined and debugged, we will release an initial version into the open source ecology and begin accepting patches from the community as appropriate. The second phase of development includes a rudimentary run-time collection mechanism and improved documentation. Our final spiral expands the API with analysis capabilities and builds a plug-in system into the data viewer. If any patches are received from the community, they will be considered for addition during this phase.

Economic Analysis

Both developers and users waste time identifying and circumventing user interface problems. This causes a loss of productivity, increasing overhead. Aktions provides a means to mitigate these losses by refining user models. Developers can analyze the information collected by Aktions to determine real usage characteristics, rather than depend on "voodoo usability".

The Team

Our team consists of 5 individuals, all seniors at Drexel University:

Deliverables

Our deliverables include:

More information

The current state of our project can be obtained by visiting the Aktions website at http://aktions.sf.net/.


[1] Microsoft was chosen for demonstrative purposes, due to the company's high visibility and the familiarity of their Office suite. This document does not imply that they were the first company to gather anonymous usability statistics.

[2] Julie Larson-Green - Diving into the new Office 12. http://channel9.msdn.com/showpost.aspx?postid=114720

[3] The KDE Project. http://www.kde.org/

[4] TrollTech. Qt. http://www.trolltech.com/products/qt/index.html

[5] Key technologies are outlined at http://kde.org/info/


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