A colleague pointed out this open source project that allows users to visualize the mouse movements of users as a heatmap – the hotter the area, the more the mouse has been used there. Its a neat idea, a well executed visualization and a great that the code is shared, but I wonder about the utility of the resulting data.
Heatmaps are usually used in this context with eye-tracking data – that is it shows where the users look on the page, the movement patterns between sections, and how long they spend there. This data is useful for understanding if the layout makes sense, to understand where to place things so the user will see them.
I don’t think that cursor position is a good proxy for attention while using any application on a computer. I don’t constantly mouse over things on a page, paticularly when reading some amount of content. Maybe its the case that I do it unconsciously enough that there is some real meaning to the data, or maybe there are groups of users who do this all the time?
My colleague pointed out one good use for this – to identify elements of the page that are misleadingly affording interaction – are people clicking on stuff that isn’t clickable? Otherwise I fear people will read too much into the heat maps, and would be better off with just a click stream around the page. I wonder if even a clickstream provides solid enough data upon which
to draw conclusions with any degree of certainty.
Theres a commercial offering of a similar capability called Clicktale. They provide video simulations of the user’s mouse interactions with the page – from the limited information they have, it doesn’t look like they have visualization tools, and who has time to watch all that video?