Web Application Development by Nonprogrammers: User-Centered Design of an End-User Web Development Tool

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Virginia Tech

This work investigates entry barriers and approaches for facilitating end-user web application development with the particular focus on shaping web programming technology and tools according to end-users' expectations and natural mental models. My underlying assumption and motivation is that given the right tools and techniques even nonprogrammers may become successful web application developers. The main target audience for this research are "casual" webmasters without programming experience - a group likely to be interested in building web applications. As an important subset of web applications I focus on supporting the development of basic data collection, storage and retrieval applications such as online registrations forms, staff databases, or report tools. First I analyze the factors contributing to the complexity of web application development through surveys and interviews of experienced programmers; then I explore the "natural mental models" of potential end-user web developers, and finally discuss my particular design solutions for lowering entry barriers, as embodied by a proof-of-concept development tool, called Click. Furthermore, I introduce and evaluate the concept of "Design-at-Runtime" - a new technique for facilitating and accelerating the development-test cycle when building web-based applications.

end-user web application development, mental models, nonprogrammers