A guest article from Arlene Anderson, DOE Geothermal Technologies Office Data Steward & Technology Manager, details feedback from DOE’s National Geothermal Data System user interface testing at this year’s GEA Geothermal Energy Expo.
Guest writer ~ Arlene Anderson, DOE Geothermal Technologies Office Data Steward & Technology Manager
Taking the opportunity to interact with visitors to the GEA Geothermal Energy Expo hall, co-located with this year’s GRC Annual Meeting in early October, the U.S. Department of Energy tested its National Geothermal Data System (NGDS) for user interface usability. Fourteen visitors from industry, research, and government participated at the NGDS exhibit booth to test two views: one for end users and data consumers, the other for data contributors. Each session took half an hour. From this feedback on the system, which syncs a national network of geothermal data providers, the NGDS design team received a solid day’s worth of input to help improve the NGDS functionality prior to its scheduled deployment next spring. User testing expert Dr. Sam Zheng–-a Senior Research Scientist with Siemens Corporate Research of Princeton, New Jersey–-also conducted similar user testing at the Stanford Reservoir Engineering Workshop and at GEA’s Expo in 2012. This latest round of input is much improved.
According to Dr. Zheng, the new data system, scheduled for launch in April 2014, “received considerable positive feedback and suggestions” which have already been discussed with the development team. “We have started working on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ fixes,” Dr. Zheng said. He also reported that in general, all participants indicated they would use the NGDS system frequently once it is up and running. Participants thought the system was easy to use, with comments such as: “I used the system only for five minutes, but I get the feeling I can use the system successfully and sufficiently”; and, “The searching options are much easier than typical library searches.”
Dr. Zheng led participants through the central portal demo as well as a local test of Node in a Box (NIAB) on the USGIN Web site. Test scenarios covered map, library, and faceted searches; user ratings; resources; and tools, such as pages on how to contribute or submit data and on dataset details. Dr. Zheng encouraged folks to “think aloud” and express anything they liked or disliked about the system. The testing also permitted users to rate their experiences in key areas.
Recommendations from the GEA/GRC Annual Meeting & Expo included: replacing the Data-Watch section with more relevant data; linking the main image to Geothermal News; enhancing images; and changing the Resources tab to a Tools tab. It was suggested that Tools will be a dynamic page where users will be able to upload their own application that will be helpful for analyzing data. One savvy tester liked the application between the NGDS data and ArcGIS or any OGC-compliant tools.
Other testers wanted to see Links to GRC, GEA, BLM, and DOE, and some industry users were interested in a potential opportunity to sell their private data.
Information about geothermal Job Posting, Faculty Positions, and Student Intern opportunities were also of interest. Paid classified advertisements were also recommended to help sustain the system. The Activity stream and Related tabs were viewed as not very useful. Additional critical feedback noted the lack of headings for tags and the lack of clarity about the meaning of Explore. Also, some users found the metadata very complex. Users also questioned the use of the word License and were uncertain about the distinction between data and dataset.
These comments are currently being assessed and integrated into the ongoing NGDS development. Overall, this third tier of user testing met with very positive feedback and recommendations that will further streamline the NGDS user experience for both data contributors and end users. Changes will be incorporated in anticipation of the NGDS launch in April 2014.
During a post-Expo workshop, current state geothermal project participants were guided through a demonstration NIAB at the Data In station, as this will likely be their entry point for continued submissions to the project after April 2014. Participants had attended several previous NGDS workshops to learn how to prepare interoperable data and to produce Tier 3 Web services. This past experience coupled with the NIAB Contribute page walk-through led one participant to remark: “I can finally see how this is going to be sustainable for entering resources into the system.” The same individual indicated satisfaction with the ease of uploading and creating Tier 3 data services and also had some very helpful feedback with respect to making schema requirements easier to implement.
A little about the NGDS back end: Boise State University hired SCR a little over a year ago to complete the system design. One of SCR’s lead software engineers, Christoph Kuhmuench, works closely with the Arizona Geological Survey team, led by chief architect Stephen Richard, to design the back end of the NGDS and continues to work hard to ensure that data provided by geothermal nodes around the country will be interoperable and useful when the system is deployed in April.
View the NGDS at Geothermaldata.org. For further information or to inquire about adding a model or tool, contact: Arlene F. Anderson, Technology Manager; Lead Data Stewardship & Water Life Cycle Analysis; Geothermal Technologies Office, EE-4G Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy U.S. DOE; 202-586-3818; Arlene.Anderson@ee.doe.gov.