By Steve Outing
Good grief! I see I haven’t posted to my blog since mid February. … Yes, I’ve been busy. But back to it, and maybe I can make the time between posts much less from here on. It sucks to be too busy to blog!
Anyway, as the project manager of Poynter’s Eyetrack III study, I’m of course interested in the latest Eyetrack, which was introduced recently. (I left Poynter a year ago and had nothing to do with the latest reseach.) Lots of folks have blogged about it, so I’m late to the party.
But one thing I was disappointed in was the use of headgear cameras for the online portion of the testing. Eyetrack IV covered and compared print reading habits AND online habits, which is pretty cool. When we did Eyetrack III, we focused exclusively on online reader behavior, and only referenced Eyetrack I, which was about print reading patterns and was more than a decade old.
In Eyetrack III, we used nifty new equipment that allowed eyetracking with no headgear. A camera at the bottom of the monitor watched and calibrated eye movements, so the testing was close to natural online reading. In Eyetrack IV, the researchers opted to have test subjects wear eyeglass cameras for both print and online reading. There’s no other option (that I’m aware of) for print eyetracking.
The Eyetrack IV team could have gone headgear-less for the online portion of testing, but project manager Sara Quinn of Poynter told me: “We used the same equipment so that we had an apples to apples comparison. The research group felt like that would make it easier to explain.”
No doubt that was a tough decision. Had I been involved in Eyetrack IV, I would have argued to use the no-headgear technology. I just think that wearing a funny contraption is so foreign to the normal online reading experience that it had to affect the results. Indeed, I wonder if it affects the print results. Probably. But, of course, there’s no other way.