Critically Analyzing Digital Spaces

Steps for Analyzing and Evaluating Digital Spaces

  1. Identify the basic type of site
  2. Identify the site’s owner, rhetorical purpose, and target audience
  3. Examine the site’s content
  4. Study the site’s interface (navigation, layout, color scheme, typography)
  5. Examine the interplay of all the various modalities included in the site

from Becoming Rhetorical (112-118)

Questions to Help Your Analysis

The following are meant to prompt your critical analysis of digital spaces. These are, by no means, the only questions that you should ask as you analyze your chosen digital space and not all questions will apply to each digital space. While you can answer many of these questions based on your own experience in the digital space and statements from the owners and developers, you will also need to refer to commentary and critique from others in order to develop a more thorough and nuanced analysis.

Questions about Content

  • What is the stated as well as implied purpose of the website?
  • What types of content are on the digital space (text, video, audio, image, etc.)?
  • How is the content sorted, organized, and displayed in the digital space? This might be some sort of feed or a recommendation system.
  • Who creates most of the content in the digital space? Is it created by the publisher, named authors, user/contributors, or a combination thereof?
  • Is user-generated content moderated and/or censored by individuals or computer algorithms?
  • What types of content do users have access to?
  • Does the digital space include advertising, include targeted advertising, sponsored content, etc?

Questions about Interface Design

  • What is the main navigation of the digital space? What does this tell you about the priorities of the digital space?
  • How is the interface designed to appeal to a particular audience? Alternatively, who would have difficulty navigating the interface?
  • Does the interface design accommodate different abilities and/or uses?
  • What are the visual components (text fonts, image, graphics, color, etc.) of the digital space? How do they develop an argument about who the space is for and how should be used?
  • What are the default choices, particularly in terms of content organization and privacy, of the digital space?

Questions about Intended Users

  • How do users interact with the digital space?
  • What is the relationship between users and content? Are users creating content? If so, in what ways can they create content?
  • Are users required to create accounts to interact with the digital space?
  • Does the digital space provide any information about the demographics of their users?
  • Can the uses of the digital space be expanded by unintended users? Has the digital space been used for means outside of or beyond the original purpose? What was the response from the digital space’s governing entity?

Questions about Usability/Accessibility

  • Is the digital space easy to navigate? As a user, can you find information, including terms of service and privacy policy, easily?
  • Can the digital space be accessed using a variety of technologies? Try using different computers, browsers, phones, levels of internet connectivity, etc.
  • Does the digital space comply with Section 508 guidelines and the World Wide Web Consortium’s accessibility guidelines?

Questions about Terms of Service and Privacy

  • What are the terms of service or terms of use for the digital space?
  • Who owns content created by users in the digital space?
  • Does the digital space provide information about user privacy?
  • Does the digital space allow users to make decisions about what personal information is collected and how it is used?
  • How many third-party trackers are employed by the digital space? Can users block trackers and still view the digital space?

Browser Extensions for Analyzing Websites

  • Ben Grosser’s Demetricators for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter: Grosser is a digital humanist who creates software as art; his demetricators remove the metrics of social media platforms to reframe the user experience
  • DuckDuckGo’s Privacy at a Glance: provides a letter-grade privacy rating for all websites based on privacy policies (supported by ToS;DR), number of trackers, and encryption
  • Ghostery: provides real-time analysis of third-party trackers (number and type) and allows you to block targeted advertising and third-party trackers
  • Terms of Service; Didn’t Read (ToS;DR): assesses terms of service policies for most major websites; available for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera
  • WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool: evaluates website accessibility directly in the browser; available for Chrome and Firefox
    • extension can slow your browser; assess individual URLs/webpages using the WAVE website