Seeing the mind’s eye


From the time I first became aware of eyetracking technology, I have always thought of the Borg, that cybernetic alien race in the Star Trek universe that tries to assimilate other species into its collective – by whatever violent means necessary (“Resistance is futile!”). Of course it was a visual association with the contraptions that eyetracking research has required in its most common form in recent years (research subjects don eyeglasses that have cameras mounted on them). But after reading these four articles (and doing some other research for my presentation on Wednesday), I wonder if the association isn’t a little deeper.

772px-Martin_KnollerCiceroKnollerLargeBecause what is eyetracking trying to discover? How we see and what we see with the idea that if that can be ascertained, researchers have a better idea of how to communicate with us. Or, in some cases, even understand us, apparently, as the introduction to eyetracking article made a fascinating mention of how scientists are using the technology to gain a window into the brain. Was it Cicero who said the eye is the window into the soul?

I was already pretty familiar with content in the two Poynter articles due to my job in the news business: The 2007 Poynter study comparing print and online presentations of newspaper content and the 2012 study on news content viewed on a tablet.  In the context of this class, I find them a great case study of applied research for a particular industry. The 2007 study feels very much like a product of its era, as newspapers were trying to understand web readers as extensions of print readers rather than wholly separate products – and they had not yet seen the dramatic drop in display advertising revenue for their print products. Six years later, that has changed dramatically. The tablet study in 2012 reflects very much the latest evolution of trying to understand the platform for delivering a product.

The Google map white paper felt a bit more generic in its applicability, and informative for all industries trying to leverage SEO efforts. The upshot: If you aren’t ranking at the top of Google+ map searches, get yourself some social media links or reviews because they make a difference in eye traffic.


1. Does the Google map research jive with your own personal use of such search functions? Were those heat maps your heat maps?

2. The 2007 Poynter study found people, once they commit to a news story, actually read further online than in print. I remember when those findings came out and I assumed that was at least in part due to a click of the mouse is easier than refolding a newspaper to find the jump. But do you think the findings are still even true six years later? Or are we all just serial scanners? When do you spend a lot of time on text?

3. Before this week’s readings, were you familiar with eyetracking? If so, in what context?


4 thoughts on “Seeing the mind’s eye

  1. I would say the Google map research was pretty on point with how I view search results.
    I’m typically drawn to the top page results first and then scan my way down. Listings that include star ratings and or review quotes also grab my attention. However, I’m not that great with maps (I prefer written directions), so I usually ignore the map results located on the right of the page.

    Yes, I was familiar with eye-tracking studies prior to this week’s readings. The media company I work for has used eye-tracking services for their print and online products. I was privy to viewing their heat map results and found the process interesting.

  2. I think that when there’s a good story — I’m talking a gripping story — people will stop to read it no matter what. I think that’s part of the reason we’ve seen a resurgence of long form reads these days, because people still like to be entertained by reading a good yarn. I think it’s still true that online readers will commit more to a story, it’s just easier to get to the end. Not only that, but they have a lot more headlines to choose from on a paper’s home page than they would on the front page of a newspaper, so they only read the story they really want to. Paper readers have maybe 4-5 to pick from on a page and, after a bit, might get hungry to start scanning — something the online readers already did.

    • I think the viral nature of the Internet has also given a buoyancy to good stories in a way that was impossible just a decade+ ago. I also think its going to be interesting to learn over time how traditional reading (whether online or in print) vs. other kinds of personal entertainment/information gathering (video, etc.) play out.

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