By Steve Outing
The Poynter Institute (my employer until last February) is beginning work on a fourth eyetracking study, this one looking at print newspapers again but with an online component, too. The first Eyetrack study done by Poynter, way back in 1991, examined reading behavior with printed newspapers. Studies No. 2 and 3, done in 1999 and 2004, respectively, looked at 1st- and 2nd-generation news websites. (Laura Ruel and I were project managers for Eyetrack III.)
Eyetracking has come a long way, and the technology is much improved. (For Eyetrack III, we were able to have test subjects view news websites with no headgear — just a camera set below the screen that accurately tracked eye movement on screen.) To eyetrack print readership again, they’ll have to use some sort of headgear, but it won’t be the heavy contraption from 1991.
Having gone through an eyetracking study, I don’t envy the folks running this latest study. Analyzing and getting useful conclusions from all the data that will come from tracking readers’ behavior on both print and online news will be a major challenge. But if my former colleagues at Poynter pull this off, it should be truly useful for publishers bridging the gap between old and new media.