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Request for best practices/lessons learned on launching "work in progress" to the public

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  • Susan Campbell
    Hello, I m looking for advice, best practices, and lessons learned for launching beta site with an agile hat on. Here s our situation... I m leading UX for the
    Message 1 of 10 , Jun 27, 2008
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      Hello,
      I'm looking for advice, best practices, and lessons learned for launching beta site with an agile hat on.
       
      Here's our situation...
       
      I'm leading UX for the redesign of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website. We have a handful of complete features. Our user research tells us that these features have value and the foundation is committed to sharing information in a timely manner, so we plan to launch a "Beta" site with the pages we have complete.  The beta site will link from the existing web site so that the original experience is in tact. The beta landing page will ifeature a letter from the foundation explaining what the beta is/"work in progress"/what to expect, and we will display the full global navigation/horizontal bar, link to working features, a site map, and user experience survey.
       
      The sticky point for me is that we will be launching our global navigation showing all categories, but the majority of content will not appear - only what we have complete.  So in some cases, the navigation to content works as expected, but for catetgories we are still working on - users will only see a "coming soon" message in the drop down navigation.
       
      Questions we're asking ourselves:
      1) Is it reasonable to expect that our site visitors will understand the notion of "work in progress"? Or will it just be confusing to them and leave a negative impression.
      2) How can we best convey that we're sharing "work in progress" and that there is more to come in the first major release (early fall).
      3) What else should we be asking ourselves/ accomodating for?
       
      Any experiences to share?
      Thank you for your time,
      Susan Campbell
       
       
       
    • Arlen Bankston
      Susan, A key question is what do you hope to learn from the public beta? My impression was that you d like some feedback on the overall look, feel and
      Message 2 of 10 , Jun 27, 2008
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        Susan,

        A key question is "what do you hope to learn from the public beta?"
        My impression was that you'd like some feedback on the overall look,
        feel and navigability based upon a few prototypical pages. If this is
        the case, it may even be that a series of non-interactive screenshots,
        a Flash demo or the like mated with a targeted survey might serve the
        purpose better than a partially interactive website, about which I
        would share the fears you've stated.

        Failing these options, I would be inclined to withholding or visibly
        disabling (e.g. ghosting) links to content not yet available from the
        global navigation, adding them as the features/content are added.
        While this will not showcase the full breadth of what the site will
        eventually become, it would almost certainly result in a less
        confusing experience for the users.

        In the meantime, you might add something like a "What's Coming?"
        sidebar or the like that summarizes the differences between the
        current beta and the eventual final product. This would probably mate
        well contextually with the User Experience survey.

        Another good option might be to keep the links active, putting the
        Coming Soon text on shell landing pages (possibly with a few lines
        explaining the eventual content, and perhaps a conceptual screenshot
        or two).

        Hope this helps,
        Arlen

        --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Susan Campbell" <urbanga@...>
        wrote:
        >
        > Hello,
        > I'm looking for advice, best practices, and lessons learned for
        launching
        > beta site with an agile hat on.
        >
        > Here's our situation...
        >
        > I'm leading UX for the redesign of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
        > website. We have a handful of complete features. Our user research
        tells us
        > that these features have value and the foundation is committed to
        sharing
        > information in a timely manner, so we plan to launch a "Beta" site
        with the
        > pages we have complete. The beta site will link from the existing
        web site
        > so that the original experience is in tact. The beta landing page will
        > ifeature a letter from the foundation explaining what the beta
        is/"work in
        > progress"/what to expect, and we will display the full global
        > navigation/horizontal bar, link to working features, a site map, and
        user
        > experience survey.
        >
        > The sticky point for me is that we will be launching our global
        navigation
        > showing all categories, but the majority of content will not appear
        - only
        > what we have complete. So in some cases, the navigation to content
        works as
        > expected, but for catetgories we are still working on - users will
        only see
        > a "coming soon" message in the drop down navigation.
        >
        > Questions we're asking ourselves:
        > 1) Is it reasonable to expect that our site visitors will understand the
        > notion of "work in progress"? Or will it just be confusing to them
        and leave
        > a negative impression.
        > 2) How can we best convey that we're sharing "work in progress" and that
        > there is more to come in the first major release (early fall).
        > 3) What else should we be asking ourselves/ accomodating for?
        >
        > Any experiences to share?
        > Thank you for your time,
        > Susan Campbell
        >
      • William Pietri
        ... I agree totally, Arlen. Susan, I d add that if the main goal of the beta launch is to get new features out there, then I would think about launching it as
        Message 3 of 10 , Jun 28, 2008
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          Arlen Bankston wrote:
          > A key question is "what do you hope to learn from the public beta?"
          > My impression was that you'd like some feedback on the overall look,
          > feel and navigability based upon a few prototypical pages. If this is
          > the case, it may even be that a series of non-interactive screenshots,
          > a Flash demo or the like mated with a targeted survey might serve the
          > purpose better than a partially interactive website, about which I
          > would share the fears you've stated.
          >

          I agree totally, Arlen.

          Susan, I'd add that if the main goal of the beta launch is to get new
          features out there, then I would think about launching it as a
          stripped-down site with only the features you want to launch then.

          If the new stuff is sufficiently different, you could treat it for now
          as an external application. That would work if the new stuff has some
          shared purpose. (Or if it's a few different purposes, you could treat it
          as a few different apps.)

          If the new stuff is just more of what's on the existing site, you could
          do some shallow integration. You give the new site the look of the old
          for now, and do what you can to give a shared navigation experience.
          It's not ideal, but people are probably pretty used to dealing with
          mildly wonky navigation, so that could be a less disruptive user
          experience than making them consciously attend to internal Gates
          Foundation product management actions.

          Hoping that helps,

          William
        • Christopher McComas
          I would have to agree with the What s Coming feature. Place a link on a major traffic page that announces Preview New Features here! You could then have a
          Message 4 of 10 , Jun 30, 2008
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            I would have to agree with the "What's Coming" feature.

            Place a link on a major traffic page that announces "Preview New
            Features here!"
            You could then have a page that lists and describes the new features
            in detail and as needed a links to a functional example of the
            feature. Then provide a feedback mechanism at the end of each feature
            description with a quantitative survey type response (very very
            short) and a qualitative free text feedback area. This will show off
            the new features with no expectation of this being polished work and
            provides a way to gather data from the users on what they think of
            the new features. If the features are meaningful the users will
            comment, if you get no comments at all, you may be off the mark in
            what you are offering.

            Chris McComas



            --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Arlen Bankston"
            <arlen.bankston@...> wrote:
            >
            > Susan,
            >
            > A key question is "what do you hope to learn from the public beta?"
            > My impression was that you'd like some feedback on the overall look,
            > feel and navigability based upon a few prototypical pages. If this
            is
            > the case, it may even be that a series of non-interactive
            screenshots,
            > a Flash demo or the like mated with a targeted survey might serve
            the
            > purpose better than a partially interactive website, about which I
            > would share the fears you've stated.
            >
            > Failing these options, I would be inclined to withholding or visibly
            > disabling (e.g. ghosting) links to content not yet available from
            the
            > global navigation, adding them as the features/content are added.
            > While this will not showcase the full breadth of what the site will
            > eventually become, it would almost certainly result in a less
            > confusing experience for the users.
            >
            > In the meantime, you might add something like a "What's Coming?"
            > sidebar or the like that summarizes the differences between the
            > current beta and the eventual final product. This would probably
            mate
            > well contextually with the User Experience survey.
            >
            > Another good option might be to keep the links active, putting the
            > Coming Soon text on shell landing pages (possibly with a few lines
            > explaining the eventual content, and perhaps a conceptual screenshot
            > or two).
            >
            > Hope this helps,
            > Arlen
            >
            > --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Susan Campbell" <urbanga@>
            > wrote:
            > >
            > > Hello,
            > > I'm looking for advice, best practices, and lessons learned for
            > launching
            > > beta site with an agile hat on.
            > >
            > > Here's our situation...
            > >
            > > I'm leading UX for the redesign of the Bill & Melinda Gates
            Foundation
            > > website. We have a handful of complete features. Our user research
            > tells us
            > > that these features have value and the foundation is committed to
            > sharing
            > > information in a timely manner, so we plan to launch a "Beta" site
            > with the
            > > pages we have complete. The beta site will link from the existing
            > web site
            > > so that the original experience is in tact. The beta landing page
            will
            > > ifeature a letter from the foundation explaining what the beta
            > is/"work in
            > > progress"/what to expect, and we will display the full global
            > > navigation/horizontal bar, link to working features, a site map,
            and
            > user
            > > experience survey.
            > >
            > > The sticky point for me is that we will be launching our global
            > navigation
            > > showing all categories, but the majority of content will not
            appear
            > - only
            > > what we have complete. So in some cases, the navigation to
            content
            > works as
            > > expected, but for catetgories we are still working on - users will
            > only see
            > > a "coming soon" message in the drop down navigation.
            > >
            > > Questions we're asking ourselves:
            > > 1) Is it reasonable to expect that our site visitors will
            understand the
            > > notion of "work in progress"? Or will it just be confusing to them
            > and leave
            > > a negative impression.
            > > 2) How can we best convey that we're sharing "work in progress"
            and that
            > > there is more to come in the first major release (early fall).
            > > 3) What else should we be asking ourselves/ accomodating for?
            > >
            > > Any experiences to share?
            > > Thank you for your time,
            > > Susan Campbell
            > >
            >
          • Christopher McComas
            I would have to agree with the What s Coming feature. Place a link on a major traffic page that announces Preview New Features here! You could then have a
            Message 5 of 10 , Jun 30, 2008
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              I would have to agree with the "What's Coming" feature.

              Place a link on a major traffic page that announces "Preview New
              Features here!"
              You could then have a page that lists and describes the new features
              in detail and as needed a links to a functional example of the
              feature. Then provide a feedback mechanism at the end of each feature
              description with a quantitative survey type response (very very
              short) and a qualitative free text feedback area. This will show off
              the new features with no expectation of this being polished work and
              provides a way to gather data from the users on what they think of
              the new features. If the features are meaningful the users will
              comment, if you get no comments at all, you may be off the mark in
              what you are offering.

              Chris McComas


              --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Arlen Bankston"
              <arlen.bankston@...> wrote:
              >
              > Susan,
              >
              > A key question is "what do you hope to learn from the public beta?"
              > My impression was that you'd like some feedback on the overall look,
              > feel and navigability based upon a few prototypical pages. If this
              is
              > the case, it may even be that a series of non-interactive
              screenshots,
              > a Flash demo or the like mated with a targeted survey might serve
              the
              > purpose better than a partially interactive website, about which I
              > would share the fears you've stated.
              >
              > Failing these options, I would be inclined to withholding or visibly
              > disabling (e.g. ghosting) links to content not yet available from
              the
              > global navigation, adding them as the features/content are added.
              > While this will not showcase the full breadth of what the site will
              > eventually become, it would almost certainly result in a less
              > confusing experience for the users.
              >
              > In the meantime, you might add something like a "What's Coming?"
              > sidebar or the like that summarizes the differences between the
              > current beta and the eventual final product. This would probably
              mate
              > well contextually with the User Experience survey.
              >
              > Another good option might be to keep the links active, putting the
              > Coming Soon text on shell landing pages (possibly with a few lines
              > explaining the eventual content, and perhaps a conceptual screenshot
              > or two).
              >
              > Hope this helps,
              > Arlen
              >
              > --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Susan Campbell" <urbanga@>
              > wrote:
              > >
              > > Hello,
              > > I'm looking for advice, best practices, and lessons learned for
              > launching
              > > beta site with an agile hat on.
              > >
              > > Here's our situation...
              > >
              > > I'm leading UX for the redesign of the Bill & Melinda Gates
              Foundation
              > > website. We have a handful of complete features. Our user research
              > tells us
              > > that these features have value and the foundation is committed to
              > sharing
              > > information in a timely manner, so we plan to launch a "Beta" site
              > with the
              > > pages we have complete. The beta site will link from the existing
              > web site
              > > so that the original experience is in tact. The beta landing page
              will
              > > ifeature a letter from the foundation explaining what the beta
              > is/"work in
              > > progress"/what to expect, and we will display the full global
              > > navigation/horizontal bar, link to working features, a site map,
              and
              > user
              > > experience survey.
              > >
              > > The sticky point for me is that we will be launching our global
              > navigation
              > > showing all categories, but the majority of content will not
              appear
              > - only
              > > what we have complete. So in some cases, the navigation to
              content
              > works as
              > > expected, but for catetgories we are still working on - users will
              > only see
              > > a "coming soon" message in the drop down navigation.
              > >
              > > Questions we're asking ourselves:
              > > 1) Is it reasonable to expect that our site visitors will
              understand the
              > > notion of "work in progress"? Or will it just be confusing to them
              > and leave
              > > a negative impression.
              > > 2) How can we best convey that we're sharing "work in progress"
              and that
              > > there is more to come in the first major release (early fall).
              > > 3) What else should we be asking ourselves/ accomodating for?
              > >
              > > Any experiences to share?
              > > Thank you for your time,
              > > Susan Campbell
              > >
              >
            • Susan Campbell
              Some really helpful directions here. Non-interactive screenshots, additional coming soon messaging, and integration of side-features might be a good
              Message 6 of 10 , Jun 30, 2008
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                Some really helpful directions here.  Non-interactive screenshots, additional coming soon messaging, and integration of side-features might be a good combination for us. I'll run it by our team.
                Thanks for your time,
                Susan

                 
                On 6/28/08, William Pietri <william@...> wrote:

                Arlen Bankston wrote:
                > A key question is "what do you hope to learn from the public beta?"
                > My impression was that you'd like some feedback on the overall look,
                > feel and navigability based upon a few prototypical pages. If this is
                > the case, it may even be that a series of non-interactive screenshots,
                > a Flash demo or the like mated with a targeted survey might serve the
                > purpose better than a partially interactive website, about which I
                > would share the fears you've stated.
                >

                I agree totally, Arlen.

                Susan, I'd add that if the main goal of the beta launch is to get new
                features out there, then I would think about launching it as a
                stripped-down site with only the features you want to launch then.

                If the new stuff is sufficiently different, you could treat it for now
                as an external application. That would work if the new stuff has some
                shared purpose. (Or if it's a few different purposes, you could treat it
                as a few different apps.)

                If the new stuff is just more of what's on the existing site, you could
                do some shallow integration. You give the new site the look of the old
                for now, and do what you can to give a shared navigation experience.
                It's not ideal, but people are probably pretty used to dealing with
                mildly wonky navigation, so that could be a less disruptive user
                experience than making them consciously attend to internal Gates
                Foundation product management actions.

                Hoping that helps,

                William


              • William Pietri
                ... I have one minor follow-up, an interesting real-world example. A NY Times blog mentions that Time is creating Netflix for magazines:
                Message 7 of 10 , Jul 2, 2008
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                  Susan Campbell wrote:
                  Some really helpful directions here.  Non-interactive screenshots, additional coming soon messaging, and integration of side-features might be a good combination for us. I'll run it by our team.

                  I have one minor follow-up, an interesting real-world example.

                  A NY Times blog mentions that Time is creating Netflix for magazines:

                  http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/02/a-netflix-of-magazines/

                  It's called Maghound, and he linked their name to this page:

                  http://subs.timeinc.net/timeinc/construction.jhtml

                  I clicked through and immediately tried to search for a couple of magazines and to look at their plans. I kept getting the same page. My initial impression was that their site was badly broken. Not a good first impression.

                  Turns out that they just put up a non-functional prototype with live interface elements. And some text at the bottom saying somewhat obliquely that the site doesn't work yet.

                  I'm an atypical consumer in so many ways that I hesitate to generalize from my experience, but I suspect I'm not the only person who will end up with a first impression that's more negative than it needs to be.

                  William

                • Jared Spool
                  ... Hi Susan, I would think the real question you want to be asking is: Why would your users care about features that are not here yet? Is there value to them
                  Message 8 of 10 , Jul 2, 2008
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                    On Jun 27, 2008, at 12:51 PM, Susan Campbell wrote:

                    > Questions we're asking ourselves:
                    > 1) Is it reasonable to expect that our site visitors will understand
                    > the notion of "work in progress"? Or will it just be confusing to
                    > them and leave a negative impression.
                    > 2) How can we best convey that we're sharing "work in progress" and
                    > that there is more to come in the first major release (early fall).
                    > 3) What else should we be asking ourselves/ accomodating for?

                    Hi Susan,

                    I would think the real question you want to be asking is: Why would
                    your users care about features that are not here yet?

                    Is there value to them knowing that at some unknown point in the
                    future, new functionality will appear?

                    Usually, the answer is no. They want to know what they can do right now.

                    One exception is if (as might be the case for your foundation) they
                    are investors and want to know if their money is being well spent.
                    Another exception is if the functionality is critical and you need to
                    communicate that it *isn't* available *today*. (Though, in that case,
                    the fact that it will be available is not really that helpful.)

                    If it were me, I'd be looking to watch users interact with the site.
                    If they aren't showing interest in the not-yet-implemented features,
                    I'd not clutter the design with them until they are ready.

                    That's my advice (which is worth exactly what you paid for it).

                    :)

                    Jared

                    Jared M. Spool
                    User Interface Engineering
                    510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
                    e: jspool@... p: +1 978 327 5561
                    http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks
                  • Susan Campbell
                    Thank you all again for the thoughtful feedback and examples. The maghound example was really interesting to experience, because I too, just started clicking
                    Message 9 of 10 , Jul 7, 2008
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                      Thank you all again for the thoughtful feedback and examples.  The maghound example was really interesting to experience, because I too, just started clicking away to see how it worked. Completely missed the small wrapped text describing it as a prototype. I'm going to share this example with the team - as learning by doing is sometimes the best way to communicate the issue :)
                       
                      Tailoring our survey to focus on the available features is a great idea and will help us get usable feedback on complete items.
                       
                      Re: Do our users care about features which aren't available yet? Good questions to ask ourselves. We've heard from users that the content is highly desired, so we'd like to foreshadow that we're working on it.  But at what cost? Our team will meet on this to discuss.
                       
                      Thanks again to the group for sharing insights,
                      Susan Campbell
                       
                      On 7/2/08, Jared Spool <jspool@...> wrote:

                      On Jun 27, 2008, at 12:51 PM, Susan Campbell wrote:

                      Questions we're asking ourselves:
                      1) Is it reasonable to expect that our site visitors will understand the notion of "work in progress"? Or will it just be confusing to them and leave a negative impression.
                      2) How can we best convey that we're sharing "work in progress" and that there is more to come in the first major release (early fall).
                      3) What else should we be asking ourselves/ accomodating for?

                      Hi Susan,

                      I would think the real question you want to be asking is: Why would your users care about features that are not here yet?

                      Is there value to them knowing that at some unknown point in the future, new functionality will appear?

                      Usually, the answer is no. They want to know what they can do right now.

                      One exception is if (as might be the case for your foundation) they are investors and want to know if their money is being well spent. Another exception is if the functionality is critical and you need to communicate that it *isn't* available *today*. (Though, in that case, the fact that it will be available is not really that helpful.)

                      If it were me, I'd be looking to watch users interact with the site. If they aren't showing interest in the not-yet-implemented features, I'd not clutter the design with them until they are ready.

                      That's my advice (which is worth exactly what you paid for it).

                      :)

                      Jared

                      Jared M. Spool
                      User Interface Engineering
                      510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
                      e: jspool@... p: +1 978 327 5561
                      http://uie.com  Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks


                    • Jared Spool
                      ... There are other treatments that allow foreshadowing. Don t diminish the value of good copy. A well written, well placed paragraph can really set
                      Message 10 of 10 , Jul 7, 2008
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                        On Jul 7, 2008, at 11:36 AM, Susan Campbell wrote:

                        > Re: Do our users care about features which aren't available yet?
                        > Good questions to ask ourselves. We've heard from users that the
                        > content is highly desired, so we'd like to foreshadow that we're
                        > working on it. But at what cost? Our team will meet on this to
                        > discuss.

                        There are other treatments that allow foreshadowing. Don't diminish
                        the value of good copy. A well written, well placed paragraph can
                        really set expectations properly, including what's coming down the pike.

                        Hope that helps,

                        Jared

                        Jared M. Spool
                        User Interface Engineering
                        510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
                        e: jspool@... p: +1 978 327 5561
                        http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks
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