Mouse Tracking vs. Eye Tracking

Note: I tried to make this article as unbiased as possible but being the father of a newborn mouse tracking service I highly doubt I achieved this. So please read this with an open mind and feel free to research both solutions.

Since the limited release of our Mouse Eye Tracking service we have had great feedback and we are now more excited than ever in future of this product. However some criticism has been raised over the statistics quoted on our product page, this critisism however came from employees of Eye Tracking companies so I take their comments with a grain of salt. These comments however led met to investigate the differences and benefits of each technology, that is, eye tracking and mouse (virtual eye) tracking. This blog is the result of that research.

Note: I will not describe the ultimate goals of both these approaches which is improved usability and increased marketing value of your online presence.

Firstly let me try to illustrate what I believe to be the pros/cons of each technology (Please comment if you believe I have missed anything):

Eye-Tracking Mouse [Virtual Eye] Tracking (MET)
Cost Prohibitive to SME Free
Sample Group Small sample group of people who may not be the regular users of your site. If you want targeted sample group the costs are significantly higher (and sample group smaller). Real users to your site
Environment Sample group in a research room, conscious of their actions being monitored. Some eye tracking companies still use tracking glasses which make the sample group even more conscious of their environment. Even when not using glasses current technology means that the head has to remain relatively still and within a reasonable location (Don’t lean back!!). Real users using the site normally with no knowledge their usage is being studied
Interpretation These companies usually provide analysis of results which is another addition to cost but it does provide you with insight that you may miss. Usually left to up to you. However PicNet does offer these services to customers that require it but since this is a technology comparison I will leave this red.
Used in mockups Huge costs Yes, for free and set up instantly.
Easy to set up Needs to be done by third party, requires expertise Can be up and running almost instantly
Accuracy Close to 100% Accurate representation of what the sample group is viewing. 84%-88% According to the only independent – scientific research I have found (http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=634067.634234).

Now, I think this table is redundant as it illustrates the obvious. But what I really want to do is dig into is the sample group issue. I think research done on a small unrelated group of uni students or unemployed people (huge costs otherwise) is a huge drawback to traditional eye tracking methodologies. For example. Let’s say you sell integrated controllers for onboard computers. Do you think that an untrained sample group will ever show you how your real customers (engineers) navigate through your web site? Offcourse not, all they will do is show you the standard usability glitches such as banner blindness, Inattentional blindness, etc. You do not need to use any system to show you this, just read a usability book or a free Google search.

In a week of usage we have had web sites that have upwards of 2000 recorded user interactions on some pages. This is 2000 real customers showing you how they use your website in a real day-to-day environment. Now whether this is 88% accurate or 60% accurate or whatever figure you can find in the statistical abyss that is Google it does not matter. This is highly valuable information. Information that will allow you to make marketing and usability decisions with a very high level of confidence.

Now, don’t get me wrong I still think that eye tracking is a very valuable technique for some companies out there but to say that mouse tracking is a ‘lesser’ offering I think is wrong. I initially did not think they competed (I actually thought it was the lesser/poorer option) but after researching this article I am now sure they do compete and my biased view is that the free alternative is better due to the ‘real users’ issue discussed here.

References:

http://glinden.blogspot.com/2008/01/cheap-eyetracking-using-mouse-tracking.html
http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/ryenw/proceedings/WISI2007.pdf
http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/eye-tracking-studies-more-than-meets.html
http://www.seobythesea.com/?p=874
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.95.5691&rep=rep1&type=pdf
http://www.gmi-mr.com/documents/bylines/Quirks_Click-Testing_0408.pdf

Guido TapiaSoftware Development Manager
PicNet Pty Ltd

Feb, 03, 2010

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