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Handbook on cultural web user interaction
First edition (September 2008)
edited by MINERVA EC Working Group "Quality, Accessibility and Usability"

2.3       Web applications life cycle      When is it more relevant to take into account the users point of view?

Another important question is the relation between the life phases of a cultural web project and the problems connected with interaction with its users (see also 3.1).

Some phases are particularly critical both because they can be used to gather information about user expectations or because they can focus on meeting these expectations.

This schedule of the life phases of a website, with some small variations, is based on that of the MINERVA Quality principles for cultural websites: a handbook, in its turn a partially modified version of the life phases of a digitisation project proposed in the Good practice handbook and in the Technical guidelines for digital cultural content creation programmes), again of the Minerva project.

The creation of a site involves the phases listed below. These differ from the documents mentioned because they only refer to websites and not to digitisation projects. Each phase is marked by one (*) or two (**) asterisks, to indicate how critical it is with respect to interaction with users’ needs.

2.3.1 Website planning **

This phase deals with defining the nature of the site, the user base which it aims to serve and the services and content that it is intended to provide. It is also essential for defining policies regarding the treatment of personal data, the long-term preservation of the content, accessibility, etc. It seems important in this phase to outline the responsibilities and technical roles typical of a project for a high quality website, drawing up a management manual.

From the viewpoint of user interaction it is advisable, if possible, to carry out procedures to establish the expectations of a representative sample of the future users. As comprehensive a study as possible of  solutions used by comparable web applications should also be executed. Consideration must also be given to aspects such as multilingualism and interoperability, two quality principles that are particularly important from the user perspective. This implies the necessity take them into account from the time of the site’s inception, rather that taking them into consideration at a later stage.

2.3.2      Website design **

This more operational phase defines the way in which the site will provide the services and present the content, choosing moreover the most suitable technological platform. This phase, which is directly dependent on the activities carried out in the planning phase, is the right one for defining the special interactive procedures and the degree of usability of the digital environment. It is advised that at this stage careful consideration is given to deciding whether or not to offer user interaction facilities.

2.3.3      Content selection **

In this phase the selection criteria are chosen and the contents of the web application that we are creating are prepared for digitisation on the basis of the resources available and the user base which we intend addressing. This latter information is drawn from the evaluations carried out in the planning phase. In this very delicate phase casual choices must be avoided, as must those based on prejudices about “popular” interests among users (e.g. the most famous pieces, the oldest pieces, the rarest pieces). If possible, carry out here an additional analysis of the sample of users consulted in the planning phase, adding some specific questions on the contents in the questionnaire.

2.3.4      Digitisation process and collection of digital contents *

The chosen contents are digitised, creating the master images and all the other necessary digital resources. This very technical phase only partially affects the users, but any digitisation process must take into account the final application of the content.

2.3.5      Storage of the digital masters *

The master digital documents are collected and stored on secure media that guarantee their safety. The versions destined for publication on the website are then prepared from these. This operation affects the users because it is a good idea to use standard or very common formats, so as not to force users to have to acquire special technologies to have access to them.

2.3.6      Metadata creation and capture **

The metadata that refer to the chosen and digitised contents are created, captured and stored in this life phase of the web application. From the point of view of interaction with the users the creation of the metadata is a particularly critical activity, because it impacts on the effective availability of the contents, both using search procedures that are internal to the environment and using search engines external to it.

2.3.7      Website implementation and test of the prototype **

From an operational viewpoint the website is created on the basis of established policies, available content and a defined presentation; in this phase it would be a good idea to submit the prototype of the website, made available on a local network or a protected version in Internet, to test procedures by people who are not its designers. If possible this could be done through a focus group, and could include techniques like the use of feedback questionnaires or comments and proposals of changes for individual pages.

2.3.8      Online publication *

In this phase the website is made publicly available on the network: an initial check on how the application has been received by users is possible by collecting opinions on the occasion of public presentations. These should be carefully evaluated, bearing in mind the importance of “first impressions” in web usage.

2.3.9      Ongoing maintenance **

This very important phase takes place as the site is kept up to date and expanded in terms of its content . The comments and suggestions of the users, collected through questionnaires, comments, requests of assistance, forums, etc., together with an analysis of accesses to the server, must be given due consideration when adjustments or improvements are carried out.

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Quality, accessibility, usability

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