Doing user testing in a lab where you have full control over the equipment is ideal, but not always possible. Participants can't always come to you, especially if the system you're testing is an internal, network-only application (like performance reviews, employee directories, proprietary engineering or purchasing systems). In these situations, you're lucky if the client will allow you to bring recording equipment (e.g., camcorder, webcam, voice recorder, laptop with Camtasia or Snagit installed) on site. Many companies have legitimate fears about internal corporate info leaking out. When you do get permission to bring in equipment and record sessions, you also have to gain network access for your laptop. Between gaining permission, securing network access, and lugging around all that equipment, doing user testing at a client site can present any number of logistical problems. One possible workaround is to try to use web conferencing software (e.g., Morae, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect) and have a helper try to record the session remotely, but that can be a problem from behind a firewall. For one thing, the user would have to install the web conferencing software client and he may not have permission to do that. Or he may have a client already installed, but it's not the one that you use. Again, more logistical issues. Given the difficulties associated with on-site user testing, I'd like to see TechSmith come out with a portable version of Camtasia Recorder. I got the idea from blind users who carry their screenreader software around on a flash drive. They don't have to worry if the computer they want to use at say, a library, has assistive technology installed on it (which it most likely won't), because they carry a portable version of their software on a tiny USB drive, which they just need to plug in to use. No need to install anything on the host computer; the software runs from the thumb drive. Have software, can travel. Imagine this: You arrive at the client site carrying only a USB flash drive, a USB webcam, a digital voice recorder (for backup), and your notebook (to take notes). You connect the flash drive and webcam to the user's computer. The flash drive contains drivers and software for the webcam, and a portable version of Camtasia Recorder, which can run from the flash drive, instead of from the user's computer, so there is no need to install any software. When you're ready to record the session, just run Camtasia Recorder from the flash drive. When you're finished, the session recording gets saved to a folder on the flash drive and automatically named whatever you choose (e.g., 2009-02-04 12:22pm Participant 03.avi). It's easy to move on to the next participant, just unplug the webcam and flash drive, and plug them in at the next location. This ultra-portable method for user testing would work really well for guerrilla-style user testing, for example at a public library, coffee shop, airport, etc. I do see some possible issues with this approach. 1) Some companies disable employees USB ports for security reasons. 2) Not all computers have accessible USB ports, especially on a thin client network, like at a public library. 3) The size of the flash drive might be a limitation. Granted, you can buy them all the way up to 64 GB these days, so maybe not. 4) Some clients and users may object to you plugging your equipment into their computers. It may be another security concern. Despite these concerns, I think it would be a great idea. What do you think? Who's with me?
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