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Visual Attention in Newspaper versus TV-Oriented News Websites

William J. Gibbs and Ronan S. Bernas

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 4, Issue 4, May 2009, pp. 147-165

Article Contents


We loaded the homepages of the six news sites prior to the start of a study session so that when a participant viewed a site he or she began at the homepage. Participants used Internet Explorer with the toolbar displayed across the top and the browser window expanded to full screen. The sequencing of the site presentations was counterbalanced to reduce order effects. A moderator gave an overview of the study and the equipment, after which time he calibrated the eye tracker.

The moderator instructed participants to browse each of the news sites freely and to find a story of interest. Participants clicked links to go to the full story. Upon accessing the full story page, participants could stop browsing and moved on to the next site. They repeated this process for each of the six sites. The entire study session lasted approximately 20 minutes.

Defining Scan Path Sequences

From the eye-tracking data, we extracted X and Y coordinates or direction-of-gaze coordinates. The gaze was normalized relative to the X- and Y-axes such that coordinates of 0.0, 0.0 indicated a position of gaze at the top-left corner while 1.0, 1.0 indicated a position of gaze at the bottom-right corner of the display window (Arrington Research, 2005). After carefully reviewing each Website for layout and content, we defined six regions common to all sites, assigned each region a letter, and constructed a grid (see Figure 1) that defined target areas over which fixation patterns were superimposed. In other words, using X and Y display coordinates for each fixation, we identified the grid region where the fixation occurred. If the fixation coordinates happened to be X- 0.10 and Y- 0.05, the fixation occurred in region A and it got labeled as A. In this way, we constructed the scan path sequences. For instance, if on the CNN homepage a person fixated in region B first followed by a fixation in region A, followed by three consecutive fixations in region E, the scan path sequence would be B, A, E, E, E for that person on CNN. We defined scan path sequences for each participant’s viewing of every site. The regions depicted in Figure 1 represented (a) A—browser bar, Internet Explorer’s toolbar; (b) B—site branding, header, and site navigation; (c) C—left-hand navigation rail; (d) D—headline news content; (e) E—miscellaneous content and advertisements; and (f) F—browser window area with no content.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Site grid for defining fixation regions

We then compared the coded sequences using OMA, which generates a numerical index (Levenshtein distance [LD]) of the variation between sequence pairs. We compared each scan path to every other (CNN, FOX, MSN, POST, NYT, and USA) for each participant. For each comparison, we obtained the LD. The LD is the “…smallest number of insertions, deletions, and substitutions required to change one string into another” (National Institute of Standards and Technology, 2007). If a person had a scan path for FOX news as CADEBA, and a scan path for CNN as CADEEA, the LD between his or her FOX and CNN scan paths would be 1 because these two strings differ by one character, as follows:

Scan path 1 (FOX): CADEBA

Scan path 2 (CNN): CADEEA

The length of scan paths varied. To adjust for length, the resulting cost of transformations was normalized by dividing it by the length of the longer of the two sequence pairs (Josephson & Holmes, 2008). Each participant had six scan paths, one for each news Website. To obtain the within-user average variance, the LD was calculated so that each participant’s scan path for each of the six Websites was compared to every other. Scan paths were then compared across participants to obtain an across-user variance.

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