July 12, 2005, 12:00 AM

What`s a blog? even experienced users are asking

Of the Internet-experienced users tested, few understood how to navigate blogs or subscribe to feeds, Catalog Design Group found. The study concludes that usability must improve before blogs achieve mainstream market penetration.

Despite the buzz around blogs, the Pew Internet and American Life Project estimates that 62% of Americans don’t know what the term means, and a new study from Catalyst Group Design suggests that without changes to improve usability, the penetration of blogs into the mainstream may not advance much further. After testing users’ attitude toward and interaction with a selected blog-Business Week’s “Well Spent”-Catalyst says better design is essential.

Among its findings, the Catalyst study determined that no study participant understood the mechanisms associated with RSS or subscribing to a blog, even the few participants who were familiar with the term “RSS.” The study also found that few participants recognized that they were on a web log. Only a few participants understood how to navigate within the blog, and most were confused by the organization of recent posts, categories, and comments and archives functions on the blog.

“We decided to look at the question from a usability perspective: how well do people who know a lot about the Internet really understand what they are supposed to do when reading a blog,” says Nick Gould, Catalyst CEO. The study’s findings suggested that despite interest among users in what for many was a new experience, broad comprehension of blogs is still far way. “Few felt the presentation of functionality and navigation was intuitive, and many wondered why more effort had not been put into education,” the study report stated.

Tested users represented a diverse group of experienced Internet users who had limited experience or no experience with blogs, spanning varied education and income levels, ethnicity and gender.

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