Web 2.0 Web metrics

Watching users interact with your site – Robot Replay

There are so many new ‘analytics’ tools springing up. A while back I wrote about Clickdensity who also recently presented at Museums & the Web. Clickdensity’s heat mapping has been an excellent tool for us to better understand how real world users have been using elements of our navigation and screen design. Clickdensity’s visualisation of mouseclicks and navigation makes it instantly possible to see what works and what doesn’t.

Robot Replay is a new free service that uses similar Javascript technology to Clickdensity but records videos of user sessions. This can show you how users spend time moving their mouse around your pages trying to work out what to click on next, rather than just showing where they clicked (assuming they did). Used in conjunction with other tools Robot Replay could, in time, potentially supplant the expensive ‘watch the users’ focus group evaluations that most museums use when redesigning their sites.

Robot Replay certainly isn’t a magic bullet on its own and it needs to be used with many other tools. The ‘replays’ are a bit clunky and show that this is still very much in development. Visualising multiple user sessions is best done via Clickdensity or other heat mapping tools, and log file analysis still offers the best overall picture – but there are some exciting possibilities beginning to open up.

Even if you aren’t redesigning, surely you are curious as to how your current site is actually being used.

A word of caution, you may need to look at your privacy policy to ensure that your use of these tools is in keeping with, in our case, maintaining anonymity of the user and only identifying them by IP address. You need to be very careful that you are recording only only parts of the site where no personally identifying information is being entered – don’t go using it to test your ecommerce site . . . .

3 replies on “Watching users interact with your site – Robot Replay”

I’m starting to worry about tools like this. You’re sending remarkable amounts of your data off to someone else – which is all very well if it’s Google (hey, they’re not evil after all!?!), but are RobotReplay evil?
Could somebody intercept the data you’re sending to someone like RobotReplay and make evil use of it?

As you say, you have to be careful not to be recording sensitive stuff, in accordance with your privacy policy, but the more these tools get used, the less we’ll be able to be confident that other sites are being just as sensitive about our own web use. I think we’ll be seeing more and more Firefox addons that block this sort of stuff. I’d certainly use them, just as I use AdBlock and Flashblock…

Hi Peter,

From my understanding Robot Replay captures mouse coordinates (like Clickdensity does) using Javascript. If you turn JS off then it won’t track you. On the backend, once the tracker logs in Robot Replay reassembles the mouse coordinates and overlays them over the webpage to ‘replay’ them.

I’m almost certain that we’re NOT talking screen captures here. (that probably is only a matter of time – web forensics and security organisations can almost certainly already do this)

Web analytics has always involved tracking users with varying degrees of indentification. The trade off for the user, like anything on the internet, is between privacy and use value. I’m sure that in the next 5-10 years this trade off is going to be even more dramatic – where if you keep your privacy you will almost entirely lose your user experience (assuming you get access at all) – much in the same way you can’t use Gmail without Google sending you adverts based on the content of your emails.


Yep, sure, I think actual screen captures are a while off yet, fortunately! Charlie Stross put up an interesting article recently looking at near-future technology predictions, and implications for privacy etc:

Of course, I never see Google’s Gmail ads, because I use Firefox with Adblock… I do leave Javascript on though, because so much “Web 2.0” functionality depends on it these days. I tend to think I’d rather keep my privacy than buy into the apparently enhanced user experience, in the same way that for instance I’d rather keep my computer organised the way I want to than the way it thinks I’d want to (based on analysing my usage) and so on. I know I’m fighting a losing battle though ;)

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