Title:An Examination of the Impact of Subjective Cultural Issues on the Usability of a Localized Web Site—The Louvre Museum Web Site
Authors:Yvonne Cleary
Publication:MW2000: Museums and the Web 2000

This research examines the role of cultural issues on the usability of the Louvre Museum Official Web site. Much Web localization currently focuses on linguistic translation and technical issues (like time and date conventions and character sets). Often, more subjective features of a site, like color, audience needs and expectations, presentation techniques, and graphics, are disregarded. However, people from different cultures do have different expectations and needs, and meeting these needs improves the usability of localized versions of a multilingual Web site. Museums are of interest to, and visited by, people from all over the world. Likewise, a museum Web site must be accessible and usable across cultures. This research examines general features that make a site more usable. It discusses demographics of Web usage and the impact of culture and background on Web users. The primary research involves a usability study of different culture groups using the Louvre Museum Official Web Site, which is available in four languages. The participants, from France, Ireland, Spain, and Japan, were observed and video-recorded during co-operative evaluation sessions interacting with the site as they attempted to complete tasks. Each group was controlled with respect to age (20 -- 30 years), gender (two male and two female in each group), profession (all students), and familiarity with Web technology. Results show that the site's neutral graphics were popular across all culture groups. Participants from all backgrounds admired pictures of the museum's artifacts, demonstrating the graphic potential of the Web medium, and the ability of art to transcend cultural boundaries. However, not all graphic features were usable. Japanese participants had great difficulty locating a suitable diagram of the museum. In addition, labels and captions on diagrams were not localized. Results also illustrate that the usability of a multilingual Web space depends to a great extent on flexibility. Users need alternative ways to access information and navigate a site, depending on their individual and cultural needs. However, the Louvre site provides inadequate navigation support. For example, all participants relied heavily on the browser's Back button to navigate the site. Only French participants used the navigation bar at the top of each page to return to the main menu. The site is best suited to French audiences, 100% of whom expressed overall satisfaction. Japanese participants were least satisfied with the site; two of the four considered the experience frustrating. This frustration stems from the fact that the Japanese version is incomplete, and users must access many parts of the site using other language versions. Japanese users wanted to access all parts of the site in their own language. They would not have used other parts of the site in normal circumstances, even though 75% liked the Collections part of the site (not available through Japanese) best. Essentially, and despite some significant usability issues, it is clear that young people, and people with no background in art are interested in this kind of site. Only one (Japanese) participant said he would not use the site again.