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Browser logs to session replay

Navigation trails

Navigation trails

Researchers (and non-researchers) are increasingly interested in collecting log data. Browser addons, apps, and tools like google analytics make that easier. But sometimes you want more of a feel for things than raw log-files offer. In the case of understanding how users engage with websites, you might want to know what pages people were on when, what they were saying when they were there, etc. – you want the benefits of screencasting/videoing a browser session, without the costs (e.g. of dealing with video data rather than structured log files, of storing large video files, of the need to install extra often resource hogging software, etc.).

On individual websites, we can get very rich data using session replay tools e.g. http://www.mousestats.com/ will show you how users navigate your website, including where the mouse hovers (a reasonable indication of attention and proxy for eye-tracking), clicks, logging form entries, etc.

What I’m interested in, is whether such tools exist for other log-data – what if I want to recreate a navigation trail across multiple websites and queries? In my research, I have timestamped pageviews and queries, along with other data (e.g. copying, chat-logs); I’d love to be able to reconstruct this so I could ‘replay’ the session, visually seeing the navigation (and ideally the other elements too).  I can imagine many other contexts where this would also be useful, even just using the browser’s own history files. But the only tools I can find relevant to this are Dejaclick and imacros – both intended to replay user activity in the browser, both require installation to ‘track’ the browser session and both are intended to make shortcuts for repetitive browser behaviour (e.g. filling in particular forms multiple times), i.e., not so relevant to me. I’m also aware of a couple of tools creating visualisations of navigation paths including:

  1. TrailBlazer which creates a navigation map where each page view becomes a new node, and the path between them is an edge, not quite what I’m interested in here but very cool
  2. MyWebSteps (from the University of Leeds), which creates a thumbnail of pages viewed in a navigation, creating the same kind of navigation map as in ‘1’ (less attractive in some ways, but possibly more useful in others)

And I know Rob Capra has another tool (I think called ‘RSearch’ but it’s just a research tool at the moment, to be presented SIGIR 2015: Capra, R., Arguello, J., Crescenzi, A., and Vardell, E.. Differences in the Use of Search Assistance for Tasks of Varying Complexity.), but again, this is about making trails as we search, and visualising that rather than replaying a set of pages navigated over a set period of time. Of course, ideally you’d also be able to import something like this into Nvivo or atlas.ti for qualitative analysis…

So, anyone any ideas?  Tools for reconstructing a (visual, and timestamped) browser navigation path?


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