Google knows where your eyeballs go

Google's watching what people are looking at when they search. Should you be scared? The company says it's helped make the Google home page work better.

On a recent trip to Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., I got a quick peek at one of the test rooms Google uses to track user interactions with its products. Gmail's product manager Todd Jackson told me it was just one of the many other user testing facilities the company had, and that collectively the testing had given the team important feedback of how people were using Gmail. Enough to change where entire features like user chat took up residence on a user's screen.

This Friday Google unveiled results from using this technique on some of its other products. In this case it's the results page from Google.com, the company's most heavily trafficked property. Unsurprisingly most people only care about what's on the top of the page, but what's really interesting is this video the company has put out that shows where one user's eyeballs are going and when:


What I found really neat though was that the mouse lagged far behind whatever the user's eyeballs were doing. We all do this, it's just fascinating to see it in action.

Anne Aula and Kerry Rodden, two of Google's user experience researchers, say this tracking technique led to the inclusion of thumbnails for photos and videos in search results. They also say that this actually made the page easier to parse without people getting confused. There are some before-and-after shots of what people looked at on this page. It's definitely worth checking out if you want to know where Google thinks your eyeballs will go too.

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About the author

Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.

 

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