After a casual idea suggestion from a friend I recently spent an afternoon building a URL Lengthener. The opposite of a URL Shortener, it makes URLs longer (or shorter) by adding any amount of free form text to a URL. It was a fun, quick project and I wanted some feedback on it, which is when I found out about Peek.
Peek is a free service provided by UserTesting that almost instantly puts your website in front of a real person willing to give you real usability feedback. I ran 2 tests on my site-- the first came back about 30 minutes later, and the second a few hours. I was stunned by the results. When the tests were complete I received emails with a link to a video of a stranger using, and commenting on, my site. In the first video the tester really had a hard time understanding what the site did, and offered some suggestions. I made some minor text changes, and moved a couple things around (no more than 15 minutes of work) and submitted the site again. The next tester really caught on a lot quicker and actually gave some comments about thinking the service was a good idea. Wow!
UserTesting states that they want the Peek service to be free so that people can experience the magic of user testing themselves, and allow you up to 3 free tests a month. I must admit I was a little blown away when I saw how simple it was to get real feedback from someone, and then how easy it was to make some small changes to fix the problems that they had using my application. Peek does have their own enterprise services, which are paid, but connect you with targeted user demographics, offer much longer videos, and allow you to define specific tasks for your testers. I suppose that the "free" testers are testers in training for their enterprise program, which made them really with it and interested in their testing task.
Software developers are frequently focused on building a set of feature specifications, and forget about their users. I've been trying more and more to focus on user-centered design with my clients. Taking a lean approach to development is really what I love doing, and I try very hard to convince clients to launch a minimal set of features, get their products in front of users, and see what people are saying and how they are interacting with an application. I see Peek as another great tool for this.
I would encourage any developer or product designer to give this a shot, with either a beta version of their site, or the full version. I could even see this being useful for testing a competitor's site-- you may get some ideas of what to do or what not to do to impove the lives of your users. The process could not be easier; just provide your site URL and your email and you'll get a video back a short time later. Click here to give it a try.
UPDATE: I received an express pass from Peek to post in this blog post. Use this code when you are setting up your test to get to the front of the line: YOTTARAMUT