Usability Reflections: Remote Research

This week’s assignment was to evaluate two online remote research providers, determine the pros and cons and state which of the two we might be inclined to use and why.

Disclaimer: Although I did include my personal choice as to which service I’d use in my assignment submission, I’ve omitted that here since I don’t know that an arm-chair assessment of either of the companies’ services is fair. I’ve just listed the apparent pros and cons based on my brief observations.

The Contenders


Ethnio has a well-defined and well-communicated product offering, shows you exactly what you get and what the user will see, and all around does a fantastic job of marketing their services.


  • Site design has personality and quickly communicates the purpose of the company
  • Explicitly mentions “recruiting usability test participants” as one of the company’s offerings
  • Landing page shows what both you and the users get, i.e., owner’s dashboard and “would you like to participate” request screenshots
  • Selection pool consists of your actual customers


  • Fixed monthly cost means that you’re paying a set amount each month (there are usage tiers depending on page views)
  • Interrupting workflows might annoy some visitors

Bonus Points

Digging around on their website, I found a super-clever use of CSS to make a scalable curly brace representation:

Amazon Mechanical Turk

From what I could glean from the site, Mechanical Turk1 effectively operates as a human work load-balancer—feed work in one end and it distributes it across an N-node human worker network.


  • Name recognition via Amazon branding
  • Similar cost model to AWS means it’s likely a more cost-effective solution
  • Since it’s designed as a human PaaS2, you can BYOT—Bring Your Own Test
  • Active selection by participants means potentially quicker filling of slots


  • Relatively spartan design is unfocused and does not quickly communicate its purpose
  • Their members may not be representative of your target users


  1. Thanks to one of my classmates for identifying the etymology of the name Mechanical Turk.
  2. PaaS: Platform As A Service.
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