Data Services Newsletter

Volume 12 : No 2 : Fall 2010

IRIS DMC Tools Survey Results

In January 2010 a survey was created using the free online tool ‘Survey Monkey’ to gather information from the community about the effectiveness of the DMC data request tools. The goal of the survey was to gather information about what data request tools people use most often and what they like and/or dislike about the tools. The survey was advertised through an e-mail sent to the IRIS Bulkmail list and on the IRIS DMC website. Forty-four responses from IRIS community members were received and the results of the survey are summarized below by question.

The questions on the survey were:

Question 1: Which IRIS DMC tool(s) do you use most (e.g. BreqFast, SOD, SeismiQuery, etc.)? Why?

The responses received to this question were varied and showed how extensively the community uses the data request tools. The more popular tools include BreqFast and SeismiQuery, closely followed by Wilber II and SOD. Most people responded that they used multiple tools depending on the task or data that they needed.

Question 2: What do you like most about the tool(s) that you use?

Most people liked that most of the tools are reliable, powerful, and easy to use; especially once you are familiar with the interfaces. A common theme was the tools allowed users to automate large data requests and the current tools interface with the user’s existing ‘home-grown’ software. Members who use the data mostly for teaching appreciate being able to download individual traces in ASCII or other non-technical format. A representative comment: ‘Clearly the IRIS personnel have devoted much time and thought into their design.’

Question 3: What do you like least about the tool(s) that you use?

The response to what users liked least about the tools varied and were mostly related to very specific issues with a particular tool, e.g. ‘some error messages are not very clear’, ‘sometimes it is difficult to get an idea on the final size of the request’. One common theme in the responses was that knowing which tool to use and how it worked was not intuitive, e.g. ‘I find the interface very confusing and usually need to send an email to get help. Many of the names are not intuitive –e.g., BreqFast, SOD,’. Many responses noted that to use a new tool you must devote some time going through a tutorial to figure out what the tool does and how the tool works instead of just being able to open an interface and quickly figure out how to request data.

Question 4: Is the online help information about the tools sufficient? If not, what could be improved?

Most responses were fairly happy with the online tools, but several people noted that sometimes the help pages were difficult to find on the webpage (e.g. ‘Unless you know what you are looking for, the information is scattered and the links are not where you would expect’. In addition, several responses suggested having different levels of detail and cookbook examples so that it is not necessary to read the entire manual of a particular tool.

Question 5: Are there any data search or retrieval tools that should be added to IRIS?

The response to this question varied, but several people suggested having a map interface that could be used directly to retrieve data, e.g. ‘Map-based retrieval, Graphically lasso a group of stations, give a time window and event filters and get your data’. Several of the suggestions made by survey respondents were for tools that already exist (e.g. ‘network and station location for a given geographical region’, tool with the ‘specific ability to get long datasets, commonly used in data mining, noise, tremor analysis’), so perhaps this again suggests that online information about tools could be improved.

Question 6: For new or existing tools what features are most important to you (GUI interface, ability to automate, simple to use)?

The overwhelming response to this question was ‘simple to use and ability to automate’. A few people requested GUI interfaces, but this was a much smaller subset of the responses.

Question 7: Please enter any additional comments or suggestions.

Respondents mostly used this space to express their appreciation for IRIS, e.g. ‘ You guys are awesome’, ‘I’m always amazed at how much I can do with existing tools’, ‘Thanks for making the tools available to the community’. A few people requested some short courses on IRIS tools and to make the tools easier to use, e.g. ‘The DMC has never been for occasional users it seems. I feel I need to relearn everything each time I come in say each 6 months. This shouldn’t be.’

Overall, the responses to the survey were very positive about the tools provided by the DMC. The community seems to use most or all of the tools provided by IRIS suggesting that having a variety of ways to request data is very important. Based on the responses, improvements are most needed in how the tools and help pages are presented online. Specifically, users seem to have some difficulty choosing an appropriate tool and figuring out how to use the tool. This could be remedied by improved organization of help pages and multiple data request tutorials/cookbooks for each tool.

by Elizabeth Cochran (US Geological Survey)

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