My company's vice president of engineering, John Maddalozzo, attended the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) festival here in Austin a few weeks ago to learn all the cool things happening right now in technology.  One of the panels he attended was called 'Stop Listening to Your Customers'.  John noted that the three companies Silverback, Usabilla, and Ethnio were mentioned during the panel.  So I decided to dig deeper into these companies' services.  All three companies help developers test the usability of their web site. Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy a user interface is to use.  Different qualities to test for usability include 'learnability' (how fast can someone learn your site), efficiency, 'memorability', errors and satisfaction. 


Silverback describes itself as a guerrilla usability testing product.  The downside to Silverback is that it's only available for Mac users, which seems like it would really limit the number of users signing up for the product.  But because it's only available on Macs, it can use screen capture with live video and audio.  When someone tests a site remotely from their computer, you see what they are doing along with their facial and speech reactions because of built-in cameras and microphones inside Macs. As the test is occurring, you can highlight when a user has an interesting reaction to the site.  The usability test is then converted into a QuickTime file.  A recent feature addition to Silverback is that test videos can be previewed on the Silverback site itself instead of requiring an export for viewing.  Silverback seems like a great option if you have a Mac.


Usabilla is a usability testing service that presents test results in really interesting ways.  First, you create questions for the testers to answer remotely from their computer.  Users can then add notes on each part of the web site, giving specific feedback such as good word usage, good image, etc.  You can view this feedback through written notes or with heat visualization. With heat visualization, instead of seeing dots where the user clicked, hot spots are revealed.  You can see the warm and cold spots on your web site, literally!  Usabilla excels in how they present the data that you collect from your usability test.


If you want a way to recruit people to test your web site without intimidating them, Ethnio seems to be the way to go.  Ethnio recruits people who actually go to your web site.  With Ethnio, you create a screener that asks viewers of your web site to participate in a study.  Once they agree, an email is sent with instructions for either performing a usability test or participating in a focus group.  With Ethnio, the goal is to get the tester on the phone while they test the site in their own home.  Ethnio used to have screen capture like Silverback, but apparently the service wasn't consistent and was removed from its features.  That's a little disappointing.  Ethnio seems to be the most unobtrusive way to gather test participants. 

I wish I could combine all three services into one!  Do you use any of these usability testing services?  Or do you use something completely different to test usability?

Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx, a company based in Austin, Texas.