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Adapting Web 1.0 Evaluation Techniques for E-Government in Second Life

Alla Keselman, Victor Cid, Matthew Perry, Claude Steinberg, Fred B. Wood, and Elliot R. Siegel

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 6, Issue 4, August 2011, pp. 204 - 225

Article Contents


Motivation Behind This Project

The status of Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs), also known as virtual worlds (VWs), on the Internet is changing from a new frontier to a densely populated place of gaming, business transactions, social networking, research, and training (Freitas, 2008). While the trend started with gaming and socialization, it has now evolved to include government and educational organizations that use VWs as a new medium to inform and educate the public (Williams, Gütl, Chang, & Kopeinik, 2009). In doing so, these organizations hope to stay on the cutting edge of modern technology, reach millions of individuals with avatars1 who are not likely to be reached via more traditional channels, and interact with users in ways that are beyond the capabilities of the traditional Web (Cacas, 2010). Second Life, the largest VW that allows user-created content, has a rapidly growing number of “regions” (units of virtual real estate) with an educational and informational focus (Bakera, Wentza, & Woodsa, 2009). Today, over a hundred government agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations have virtual land in Second Life. Government presence in Second Life includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, the National Institutes of Health and its National Library of Medicine (NLM), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a number of military applications such as the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), and multiple other federal organizations (Betterverse, 2009; Pellerin, 2007).

Evaluation is an essential step of any technology application development process, but it is especially important when the applications are in novel environments. For example, some evaluation objectives of educational and informational regions in VWs overlap with those of gaming and commercial regions (e.g., assessing ease of navigation). However, other VW evaluation objectives are unique and include ensuring that these new services meet agency mission and public needs, providing accountability, and measuring of the public’s learning and trust in the information provider. These unique evaluation objectives reflect unique features and possibilities afforded by the VW environment (Boulos & Maramba, 2009). The importance of evaluation is well understood in the federal VW community. Participants in the Second Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds Conference expressed high interest in metrics and analysis techniques for applications on VW platforms. Paulette Robinson, the organizer of the federal Virtual Worlds conferences, noted that while federal agencies are now willing to explore VW technology beyond simple pilot testing, case studies and metrics are needed to justify the investment (Cacas, 2010).

Unfortunately, the development of VW evaluation methods lags behind the emergence of applications in VW environments. Very little published material exists on the topic, with existing studies focusing on evaluating virtual spaces or activities, rather than on evaluation methodologies themselves (e.g., Jaeger, 2009; Williams, Gütl, Chang, & Kopeinik, 2009; Wrzesien & Raya, 2010). This contrasts with the wealth of available information on all aspects of Web evaluation, related to Internet performance, quantitative Web usage, usability, and user feedback (Wood et al., 2003). This project was based on the assumption that many established Web evaluation methods might be applicable to VWs, but with modifications. The objectives of this project were to (a) analyze how existing Web 1.0 Internet performance, usage, usability, and user feedback evaluation methods could be adapted to VWs and (b) test the practicality and potential usefulness of the adapted methods on a current VW environment. The project was conducted in the context of the National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) pilot VW application, Tox Town in Second Life. The methods involved two expert review sessions, followed by a pilot test of the methods during a team usability exercise.


1An avatar is an electronic image that represents and is manipulated by a computer user (as in a computer game), Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

 

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