The Eyes Have It: GazeHawk Introduces Low-Cost Eye Tracking Studies for Web Designers

8/17/10Follow @wroush

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noise and errors from the often-grainy video signals produced by webcams. But one key to the system is that the tester’s machine merely records video files, which are then uploaded to GazeHawk’s servers for processing into finished heatmaps. That can be done at a relatively leisurely pace. “We realized that Web usability is not a field where real-time feedback is necessary,” says Gershenson.

At $49 per tester per page (and $39 for bigger studies), GazeHawk’s service could inspire a lot of Web developers and e-commerce managers to try eye tracking for the first time, in much the same way that companies like Amesbury, MA-based Performable are making it far easier for small businesses to do A/B testing and multivariate testing—automated methods for gauging Web visitors’ responses to various design and content choices. But there may be one built-in limit on the rate of GazeHawk’s growth, and that’s the difficulty of drawing actionable lessons from eye-tracking studies.

Part of the reason eye-tracking consultants charge so much is that they’re trained in the arcane art of interpreting heatmaps and suggesting attention-getting changes in the size or placement of various page elements. (Consulting services are also frequently provided as an “upsell” by the companies that make eye-tracking equipment, Krausz says.) While GazeHawk does provide personalized recommendations with each heatmap, it’s not one of Krausz and Gershenson’s specialties.

“We will try to give custom advice [to customers] based on the conclusion of their studies,” says Gershenson. “We’ll say, ‘We noticed people aren’t looking at this, and that’s a problem that often crops up because of X, Y, or Z. But a lot of questions about eye tracking are really open. If you look at the best UX [user experience] blogs, there is an open argument about how useful eye tracking is for different things. But we think that by offering this at a significantly reduced cost, we will allow more people to try it, and maybe start adding to the conversation about what you do when you see a certain problem.”

For now, says Krausz, the startup’s first priority is to get its technology working cost-effectively. In part, that means training testers better and lowering the proportion of study data that has to be discarded due to problems like poor calibration and unsuitable lighting conditions. (GazeHawk eats the costs of unusable eye-tracking recordings.)

In fact, Krausz and Gershenson have been so busy optimizing the eye-tracking algorithms that they haven’t yet had a chance to run eye-tracking studies on the GazeHawk.com website. “We love eating our own dog food, and other Y Combinator companies have been using the product,” says Krausz. “But our own website design was finished only a couple of days before we launched. I expect we’ll iterate that as soon as the launch hype is past.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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