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Examining Users on News Provider Web Sites: A Review of Methodology

William Gibbs

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 3, Issue 3, May 2008, pp. 129-148

Article Contents


Web page recurrence

The content of news sites is usually wide and shallow, which possibly engenders browsing a wide scope of pages. However, Tauscher and Greenberg (1997) found that few pages (Uniform Resource Locator [URL]) are visited frequently and the majority of visited pages are revisits that often include search engines and home pages. They noted that a good predictor of a revisit is how recently a page was last visited. In this project, user data were analyzed to ascertain the number of unique and revisited pages. These data were then compiled for all users. The recurrence of page visits was calculated using the formula presented by Tauscher and Greenberg (1997):

R= Total URLs visited - Different URLs visited
Total URLS visited

URL frequency as a function of distance

A second measure related to Web page visits is URL frequency as a function of distance. The distances of recurring URLs for all users were tallied. For example, if a user began a task by visiting CNN.com, browsed to three other pages, and then returned to CNN.com, a distance of 3 was recorded. CNN.com would be the first item in the list of visited pages (distance 0) and beginning with the first URL after CNN.com, the second occurrence of it would be at distance 3. This measure could show if a URL had an equal probability of recurring or if the distribution of visited pages is skewed by those recently visited.

Behavior identification

News site developers have vested interests in creating sites that support effective navigation and successful information foraging. Understanding how users interact with Web pages is vital to these endeavors and of much interest to developers (Miller, 2005). The author made a detailed analysis of the browsing behaviors of eight (4 males and 4 females) of the 31 participants in two of the information seeking tasks: CNN and the New York Times.

Miller (2005) indicates that a cognitive model of Web navigation should account for the visual scan of links, link assessment, selecting links, returning to previous paths, and attempting alternative navigation paths. While Miller's work relates to a computation model of Web navigation, it served as a basis from which the author analyzed tasks. He reviewed the recordings of participants and noted frequently occurring behaviors (based on Miller's work) such as when users visually scanned the screen or made link selections. From these observations, he formulated a physically-based coding scheme (Bakeman & Gottman, 1997) to represent the observed behavioral events.

Using Morae, the author studied participants performing each task and at the onset of a behavior event, placed a marker in the recording. For example, if a user began scrolling down, stopped and began using the cursor to scan a list of links, and then scrolled up, the author coded the video frame on which each one of the three events began. In this example, the events would be coded as the following: 1) scroll down - SRD, 2) cursor scan - CS, and 3) scroll up - SRU. The duration of an event ended with the onset of a subsequent event. All events, except the last behavior of the task, were followed by other events, permitting the author to use the onset time to discern event durations.

Sequential analysis

Using the aforementioned coding scheme to represent behavior events, the author calculated transitional probabilities of browsing behaviors for the eight participants. A transitional probability "…is the probability with which a particular target event occurred, relative to another given event" (Bakeman & Gottman, 1997, p. 95).

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