WebLabUX is a software tool that allows web developers and researchers to test the effectiveness of different web site designs remotely by combining two data sources: users’ survey responses and their navigational behaviors. Specifically, WebLabUX helps web site stakeholders and researchers assess the users’ perceptions, comprehension, and navigational behaviors as they interact with variations of a web site’s design. Researchers and stakeholders can use the results of the remote studies to improve their site’s design and contribute to the theories of good design.

 

WebLabUX vs. other Web Analytics Software

WebLabUX is different from web analytics software. WebLabUX focuses on browsing behavior and perceptual and comprehension responses, not on getting users to convert from one kind of user to another, as is typically the case when measuring activities such as shopping checkout behavior or registration behavior. With WebLabUX, web site stakeholders can determine whether there is a relationship between users’ navigational behavior and their perceptual and comprehension responses. For instance, WebLabUX could help answer the question, “does an increase in browsing time, pages hit, or links used relate to user perceptions or comprehension?”

 

Added Benefits

WebLabUX provides the following additional benefits when running online studies of users’ behaviors, perceptions, and comprehension of informational websites:

  • WebLabUX accomplishes the activities listed above in an unobtrusive manner by using server-side scripting and instrumented web pages. The web site developer instruments the pages by adding tags to the web pages.
  • Because WebLabUX does not require users in a study to download or install any special software on their computers, as is the case with some commercially available tools, the mechanisms that handle the remote usability study are invisible to the web site’s users.
  • WebLabUX also includes a set of post-processing tools that detect and flag unexpected user behavior or behaviors that violate study protocols. These scripts allow the web design and evaluation team to determine, for example, if users have opened multiple web browser windows to refer back to specific pages while taking surveys and comprehension tests.
  • WebLabUX helps the web design team understanding the users of their web site. We maintain that assessing actual users of a web site in their own environments brings in all of the complexities of the natural world in which users function. Variables such as computing platforms, connection speeds, browsers, and participants with different levels of motivation, interest, topic familiarity, and computer expertise are all factors that are present in the real world.  WebLabUX’s ability to include these real-world factors is a boon to the development of web sites that are appropriate to the users and ecologically valid.

 

Accomplishments

Between 2004-2009, WebLabUX tested the effectiveness of different web site designs for a half-dozen web sites. The results of remote studies performed using WebLabUX have been presented at many international conferences, such as ACM CHI, IEEE, UPA,  and published in many journal articles. Informational web site owners, university researchers, and usability professionals have all expressed interest in using WebLabUX for to study their web sites.

 

Funding for Future Development

We originally developed WebLabUX as a tool to support our research instead of a product to support the design of informational web sites. We are currently seeking one year of funding to improve WebLabUX so that it can be deployed and used by web site designers and stakeholders who have minimal technical skills beyond XHTML/CSS. To make this change, we need to develop a user-friendly interface that will enable setting up and running experiments, improve the robustness of the toolkit by implementing a database back end, and create the user documentation.

Please contact Dr. Spyridakis at jansp@u.washington.edu about funding for these improvements.