BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
Buckley Airmen first to take part in SEC/AF mandated Web research
By Staff Sgt. Scott McNabb
460th Space Wing Public Affairs
Eleven Buckley Airmen recently took part in state-of-the-art Web research designed to provide the Air Force with information about what users look at on the Air Force Portal and the service's public site, www.af.mil
Dr. Steve Everett, The Everett Group founder and principal, and Rob Daves, The Everett Group Director of National Studies, combined in-depth personal interviews, card sorting/factor analysis and new eye-tracking technology to collect data that will determine the best structure of the Air Force Portal and Air Force Link.
Dr. Everett said the research is designed to help the Air Force better understand how Airmen use the Air Force Link and the Air Force Portal in their current form, how the site content might be reconfigured to create a more efficient, user-friendly experience for Airmen, and whether there's content not currently provided that Airmen want and need.
"One of the most interesting aspects of this project is the eye-tracking methodology we're employing," he said. "Research subjects look at a 17-inch flat-panel computer screen and sophisticated sensors built into the display actually measure where the viewer's eyes are focused on the screen. We are able to generate 'gun camera footage' of a Web user's encounter with site content, showing where they look first, what their search strategy is, how long they look at each section of the page -- all without having to ask the viewer any questions. It's very cool technology."
The technology used to track eye movement is called Tobii. Tobii, a Stockholm, Sweden-based Internet technology company, strives to bring eye tracking into broader use in applications such as eye control interfaces to computers, design testing and medical diagnostics. It was the portion of the Air Force's research that captured the imagination of the Airmen who volunteered.
"I liked how he recorded my eye movement on that exercise with the web pages," said Airman 1st Class Adam Kincer, 460th Operations Group commander's support staff. "It's amazing that he can see what I'm looking at and see what catches my attention."
Attention to how users navigate the sites and how they would improve them should provide rich information returns to the Air Force, said Mr. Daves.
Capt. Susan Wheatley, Air Reserve Personnel Center selection board division chief, enjoyed being involved in the future design of how the Air Force communicates internally and with the public.
"I think it is very important to involve the actual customers who use these things for input, ideas, suggestions, etc ...," she explained.
Involving customers and all potential users was a priority for The Everett Group. The team took their research to a civilian audience the day prior to the Buckley visit.
"We're trying to study how users of the Air Force Link use and think of the site, and that site's one of the most prominent public Web sites the Air Force has out there, it's important to include the civilian audience in our Web site usability testing," said Dr. Everett. "One of the questions we hope to answer through this work is whether it's possible to build a "one size fits all" Web site that delivers desired information equally well to both Airmen and downtown audiences. By talking with people in both these audiences, we're getting a better understanding of what they want, how they're different from each other and, in the end, how well one-stop shopping works for these two very different groups of Air Force stakeholders."
Dr. Everett said the research underway is important to the Air Force and to the users of the sites for a variety of reasons.
"The Web is growing rapidly into one of the most important internal communication channels available to the Air Force," he explained. "We've all heard about lofty plans to create a 'paperless Air Force,' and more and more services that used to be provided in-person and in real time are being converted to Web delivery (Personnel Services comes to mind among others).
"Because Airmen are incredibly busy, we need to help them accomplish their Web-based tasks as easily and as efficiently as possible," said Dr. Everett. "That means some Web sites may need to be restructured, content reorganized, access streamlined, so site users don't 'spin their wheels' hunting for information they need. If we can reduce the number of mouse clicks required for Airmen to do their jobs, we'll be making meaningful progress."
Dr. Everett and Mr. Daves also visited MacDill and Langley Air Force Bases to broaden their studies. Mr Daves said they visited other bases because they wanted the study to include Airmen, "with as diverse backgrounds, assignments and missions as possible."