Rishi Raj Jain
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Case study: A UX-centered analysis of information sharing and privacy over WhatsApp

Case study: A UX-centered analysis of information sharing and privacy over WhatsApp

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Rishi Raj Jain
·Oct 20, 2020·

8 min read

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In my mid-semester examination, I had this problem statement which needed me to critically review two purposes for which WhatsApp is used but is not the best solution/ wasn’t intended for. (Well, I went beyond two :P)

WhatsApp has more than 2 billion active users in 180 countries. WhatsApp started as an alternative to SMS and now they support sending and receiving a variety of media: text, photos, videos, documents, and location, as well as voice calls. Certainly, they’ve delivered a great User Experience to make their application stand out!

Disclaimer

All of the observations, critiques, and suggestions are solely based on my comprehension and experience of using WhatsApp. While writing the critique, I did not consider any kind of business, technological, or other resource-based constraints.

The evaluation is part of my learning as a student of Design and is in no way an attempt to mar WhatsApp’s online image. No copyright infringement intended.

Information Sharing on WhatsApp is done via

  1. Text Messages: Communicating over text,
  2. Images: Capture/Attach images to communicate,
  3. Audios: Record/Attach audios to communicate,
  4. Videos: Record/Attach videos to communicate,
  5. Documents: Share various kinds of document,
  6. Forwarding: Forward messages from an individual or group chat to another individual or group chat,
  7. Status: Share text, photos, videos, and animated GIFs that disappear after 24 hours,
  8. Contacts: Share contact(s) with a click.

Severity Index

I’ve used the severity index to rate and prioritize the problems based on my observations. This helped us identify and segregate the ‘major’ and ‘minor’ issues on a more comprehensive quantifiable scale of 0–4. Higher the severity index, severe the issue.

Nielsen’s Heuristics

To review, I used Nielsen’s Heuristics. These heuristics are general principles for interaction design. Heuristic evaluation (Nielsen and Molich, 1990; Nielsen 1994) is a usability engineering method for finding the usability problems in a user interface design so that they can be attended to as part of an iterative design process.

(Image by Interaction Design Foundation)

Reviewing the Experience

Based on the heuristics, I found 15 usability issues in WhatsApp. I pointed out the major violated heuristic and graded their severity according to the severity index.

Issue#1

Unable to edit sent messages

Severity: 4

Heuristics Violated: Flexibility and efficiency of use

Description: A user can not edit a sent message. To send the edited text, one has to delete the message and then send it again after making the desired changes. The usage frequency of this feature would definitely high and with more and more people switching to WhatsApp, this would help decrease the load of messages accompanying correction of the other.

Issue#2

Can not pin more than 3 chats

(Image by Gadgets360)

Severity: 4

Heuristics Violated: Flexibility and efficiency of use

Description: A user can not pin more than 3 chats. This limits the amount
of chats on the top, and now one has to go through the pain of
either searching for the chat on the Search bar or scrolling through
numerous chats until stumbles across the particular window. With such a huge user base, professionals would certainly be looking out for this.

Issue#3

Can not pin a message on a group

Severity: 3

Heuristics Violated: Flexibility and efficiency of use

Description: Any member (including admin) can not pin a message on the group. The purpose that the message is read at least once by every member, especially for those joining in thereafter is defeated. With such a huge user base, professionals would certainly be looking out for this too!

Issue#4

Groups/Broadcasts can not contain more than 256 members

(Image by BGR.in)

Severity: 3

Heuristics Violated: Flexibility and efficiency of use

Description: A group or a broadcast can not have more than 256 members. This gets really frustrating when the message needs to be sent to people more than the limit. This prompts users to consider other social networking platforms.

Issue#5

Can not edit sent Status

Severity: 2

Heuristics Violated: Flexibility and efficiency of use

Description: A user can not edit a sent status. In case a video is uploaded and needs to be edited, the user would need to re-upload the entire video to edit the status. Though a quick survey would indicate the severity, editing status definitely puts the user through the pain of deleting, re-uploading, and press a button to put the status again.

Issue#6

Different ways to pin a chat on different platforms

(Image by HOWTOGEEK)

Severity: 3

Heuristics Violated: Consistency and standards

Description: An Android user can pin a chat by long press and then selecting the pin option in the app, while an iOS user would need to right swipe to pin a chat. The user has to go through the pain of searching how to do the same in case of switches to the other platform.

Issue#7

The caption(message) is not forwarded with the image

Severity: 3

Heuristics Violated: Consistency and standards, Match between system and the real world

Description: The meaning of `forward` refers to send on to a further destination. Forwarding a message consisting of an image with a caption loses the caption automatically. A caption for an image becomes an integral part of it, hence this is inconsistent with the purpose of forwarding.

Issue#8

Audios(Voice Message) attached(that are recorded in place) are sent without confirmation, unlike the case in videos

Severity: 3

Heuristics Violated: User control and freedom, Consistency, and Standards

Description: Whenever a user records audio, as soon as the tap is released the file is sent without any consent, while in the case when videos, due consent is asked for. This issue thus limits the user's freedom and is inconsistent with the behavior while uploading other forms of attachments.

Issue#9

The video seen(Read Receipt) not indicated in the sender’s view unlike as done with audios

(Read receipts when audios are played)

Severity: 2

Heuristics Violated: Visibility of system status, Consistency, and Standards

Description: If the receiver plays the video, unlike the case of audios, no seen confirmation is sent. This is inconsistent and limits the visibility of system status at the sender’s end.

Issue#10

Unable to delete messages for others after an hour

Severity: 3

Heuristics Violated: User control and freedom

Description: A user can not delete a message for others after a certain period of time (an hour). This limits the user control over as sent messages that are no longer intended to appear in the chat can’t be deleted.

Issue#11

Unable to apply different privacy settings to different contacts

(Image by iPhone Tricks)

Severity: 3

Heuristics Violated: Flexibility and efficiency of use

Description: Whenever WhatsApp’s privacy is being changed, a user can not add different privacy settings for a different contact. An interaction that solves this mapping for each user will make users feel safer and create a personalized experience while using the application.

Issue#12

The appearance of “This message was deleted” in case a user deleted a message for everyone

Severity: 4

Heuristics Violated: Match between system and the real world

Description: If a user is deleting a message before the other person has read the message, the user intends that the message shall disappear, while it gets replaced with “This message was deleted”. Though it is debatable I feel that the intention of the user is to see the message disappear once they delete it. A relevant User Quote:

“- Oh god! Why tell the other person that ‘This message was deleted’ — if one is deleting it before the other person has read the message, it should simply disappear. It is utter foolishness, triggering another conversation asking ‘What did you delete?’ >Why designers why?<” ~ Yuvraj

Issue#13

No `personalized` notification in case a user is tagged in a message

(Image by WikiHow)

Severity: 2

Heuristics Violated: Match between system and the real world, Visibility of system status

Description: As a student I see that in a group of 5 or more, assigning tasks, putting out reminders is often done via WhatsApp. Whenever a user tags others in a message, there is not personalized notification other than the group message notification that focuses the attention of the desired user to the message.

Issue#14

Unable to block a group

Severity: 2

Heuristics Violated: Flexibility and efficiency of use

Description: While blocking users separately is possible, blocking groups, thereby decreasing from any other interactions in the group is not possible in WhatsApp. It gets really frustrating when somebody keeps adding the other even if once disinterest has been shown.

Issue#15

Unable to prioritize messages and status by close friends

Severity: 3

Heuristics Violated: Flexibility and efficiency of use

Description: With Instagram and Facebook offering stories from close friends, introducing close friends in WhatsApp where chat and status priority would be given to them is very much awaited by its’ many users.

Did I miss something?

WhatsApp is an organization with highly skilled individuals. I believe they have a lot of thought put in them by some of the greatest heads of the design industry. So I think every decision they took had a quite broad and deep perspective and me critiquing those decisions as a part of the five-day design task is prone to misjudgments and errors.

Nevertheless, I tried my best to avoid deviations and keep my findings close to the domain of the problem statement.

What do you think of this review? Let me know!

References

[Do Online Reviews Reveal Mobile Application Usability and User Experience? The Case of WhatsApp …
IEEE Xplore, delivering full text access to the world's highest quality technical literature in engineering and…ieeexplore.ieee.org](https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=8860063 "ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&..")

[How to Conduct a Heuristic Evaluation for Usability in HCI and Information Visualization
A heuristic is a simple principle or "rule of thumb". A heuristic evaluation is one where an evaluator or group of…interaction-design.org](https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/how-to-conduct-a-heuristic-evaluation-for-usability-in-hci-and-information-visualization "interaction-design.org/literature/article/h..")

[10 Heuristics for User Interface Design: Article by Jakob Nielsen
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable…nngroup.com](https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ten-usability-heuristics/ "nngroup.com/articles/ten-usability-heuristics")

 
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