Eye Tracking, ML and Web Analytics – Correlated Concepts? Absolutely … Not just a Laura-ism, but Confirmed by a Professor at Carnegie

Eye Tracking Studies Required Expensive Hardware in the Past



  Anyone who has read my blog (shameless self-plug: http://www.lauraedell.com) over the years will know, I am very passionate about drinking my own analytical cool-aid. Whether during my stints as a Programmer, BI Developer, BI Manager, Practice Lead / Consultant or Senior Data Scientist, I believe whole-heartedly in measuring my own success with advanced analytics.  Even my fantasy football success (more on that in a later post) …But you wouldn’t believe how often this type of measurement gets ignored. ​

Introduce Eye-Tracking Studies-Daunting little set of machines in that image above, I know…But this system has been a cornerstone in the measurement practices of advertisement efficacy for eons, and something I latched onto into my early 20’s, in fact, ad-nauseam. I was lucky enough to work for the now uber online travel company who shall go nameless (okay, here is a hint: remember a little ditty that ended with some hillbilly singing “dot commmm” & you will know to whom I refer). This company believed so wholeheartedly in the user experience that they allowed me, young ingénue of the workplace, to spend thousands on eye tracking studies against a series of balanced scorecards that I was developing for the senior leadership team. This is important because you can ASK someone whether a designed visualization is WHAT THEY WERE THINKING or WANTING, even if done iteratively with the intended target, yet 9x out of 10, they will nod ‘yes’ instead of being honest, employing conflict avoidance at its best. Note, this applies to most, but I can think of a few in my new role at MSFT who are probably reading this and shaking their head in disagreement at this very moment <Got ya, you know who you are, ya ol’ negative Nelly’s; but I digress…AND… now we’re back –>

Eye tracking studies are used to measure efficacy by tracking what content areas engage users’ brains vs. areas that fall flat, are lackluster, overdesigned &/or contribute to eye/brain fatigue. It measures this by “tracking” where & for how long your eyes dwell on a quadrant (aka visual / website content / widget on a dashboard) and by recording the path & movement of the eyes between different quadrants’ on a page. It’s amazing to watch these advanced, algorithmic-tuned systems, measure a digital, informational message, in real-time, as it’s relayed to the intended audience, all while generating the statistics necessary to either know you “done a good job, son” or go back to the drawing board if you want to achieve the ‘Atta boy’. “BRILLIANT, I say.”

What I also learned which seems a no-brainer now, but people tend to read from Left to Right & from top to bottom. <duh> So, when I see anything that doesn’t at LEAST follow those two simple principles, I just shake my head and tisk tisk tisk, wondering how these improperly designed <insert content here> will ever relay any sort of meaningful message, destined for the “oh that’s interesting to view once” sphere instead of raising to the levels of usefulness it was designed for. Come on now, how hard is it to remember to stick the most important info in that top left quadrant and the least important in the bottom right, especially when creating visualizations for use in the corporate workplace by senior execs. They have even less time & attention these days to focus on even the most relevant KPIs, those they need to monitor to run their business & will get asked to update the CEO on each QTR, with all those fun distractions that come with the latest vernacular du-jour taking up all their brain space: “give me MACHINE LEARNING or give me death; the upstart that replaced mobile/cloud/big data/business intelligence (you fill in the blank).

But for so long, it was me against the hard reality that no one knew what I was blabbing on about, nor would they give me carte blanche to re-run those studies ever again <silently humming, “Cry me a River”>, And lo and behold, my Laura-ism soapbox has now been vetted, in fact, quantified by a prestigious University professor from Carnegie, all possible because a little know hero named


Edmond Huey, now near and dear to my heart, grandfather of the heatmap, followed up his color-friendly block chart by building the first device capable of tracking eye movements while people were reading. This breakthrough initiated a revolution for scientists but it was intrusive and readers had to wear special lenses with a tiny opening and a pointer attached to it like the 1st image pictured above.

heatmapFast-forward 100 years, and combine all ingredients into the cauldron of innovation and technological advancement, sprinkle in my favorite algorithmic pals:  CNN and LSTM, and the result is that grandchild now known as heat mapping. It’s eye tracking analytics without all the cost, basically a measure of the same phenomena (at a fraction of the cost).

Cool history lesson, right?

So, for those non-believers, I say, use some of the web analytic trends of the future (aka Web Analytics 3.0). Be a future-thinker, forward mover, innovator of your data science sphere of influence, and I tell you, you will become so much more informed and able to offer more information to others based on…MEASUREMENT (Intelligent MEASUREMENT in a digital transformational age).


Finance is the Participation Sport of the BI Olympics

IT is no longer the powerhouse that it once was, and unfortunately for CIOs who haven’t embraced change, much of their realm was commoditized by cloud computing powered by the core principles of grid computational engines and schema-less database designs. The whole concept of spending millions of dollars to bring all disparate systems together into one data warehouse has proven modesty beneficial but if we are being truly honest, what has all that money and time actually yielded, especially towards the bottom line?
And by the time you finished with the EDW, I guarantee it was missing core operational data streams that were then designed into their own sea of data marts. Fast forward a few years, and you probably have some level of EDW, many more data marts , probably one or more cube (ROLAP/MOLAP) applications and n-number of cubes or a massive 1+ hyper-cube(s) and still, the business depends of spreadsheets to sit on top of these systems, creating individual silos of information under the desk or in the mind of one individual.

Wait<<<rewind<<< Isn’t that where we started?

Having disparate, ungoverned and untrusted data sources being managed by individuals instead of by enterprise systems of record?

And now we’re back>>>press play to continue>>>

When you stop to think about the last ten years, fellow BI practitioners, you might be scared of your ever-changing role. From a grass-roots effort to a formalized department team, Business Intelligence went from the shadows to the mainstream, and brought with it reports then dashboards, then KPIs and scorecards, managing by exception, proactive notifications and so on. And bam! We were hit by the first smattering of changes to come when Hadoop and others hit the presses. But we really didnt grok what the true potential and actual meaning of said systems unless you come from a background like myself, either competitively, or from a big data friendly industry group like telecommunications, or from a consultant/implementation p.o.v.
And then social networking took off like gang busters and mobile became a reality with the introduction of the tablet device (though, I hate to float my boat as always by mentioning my soap box dream spewed at a TDWI conference about the future of mobile BI when the 1st generation iPhone released).

But that is neither here nor there. And, as always, I digress and am back…

At the same time as we myopically focused on the technological changing landscape around us, a shifting power paradigm was building wherein the Finance organization, once relegated to the back partition of cubicles, where a pin drop was heard ’round the world (or at least, the floor), was growing more and more despondent with not being able to access the data they needed without IT intervention in order to update their monthly forecasts and produce their subsequent P&L, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Planning statements. And IT’s response was to acquire (for additional millions of dollars) a “BI tool” aka an ad-hoc reporting application that would allow them to pull their own data. But it had been installed and the data had been pulled, and validated and by the time of completion, the Finance team had either found an alternate solution or found the system useful for a very small sliver of analysis but went outside of IT to get additional sources of information that wanted and needed to adapt to the changing business pressures from the convergence of social, mobile and unstructured datasets. And suddenly those once, shiny BI tools, seemed like antiquated relics, and simply could not handle the sheer data volumes that were now expected from it or would crash (unless filtered beyond the point of value). Businesses need not adapt their queries to the tool but need a tool that can adapt to their ever-changing processes and needed.

Drowning in data but starving for information...

Drowning in data but starving for information…

So if necessity if the mother of invention, Finance was its well deserving child. And why? The business across the board is starving for information but drowning in data. And Finance is no longer a game of solitaire, understood by few and ignored by many. In fact, Finance has become the participation sport of the BI Olympics, and rightfully so, where departmental collaboration at the fringe of the organization has proven as the missing link that before prevented successful top-down planning efforts. Where visualizations demands made dashboards a thing of the past, and demanded and better story, vis-a-vie storylines / infographics, to help disseminate more than just the numbers, but the story behind the numbers to the rest of the organization, or what I like to call the “fringe”.

I remember a few years ago when the biggest challenge was getting data, and often, we joked about how nice it would be to have a sea of data to drown in; an analysts’ buffet-du-jour; a happy paralysis-induced-by said analysis plate was the special of the day, yet only for a few, while the rest was but a gleam in our data-starved eyes.

Looking forward from there, I ask, dear reader, where do we go from here…If it’s a Finance party and we are all invited, what do we bring to the party table as BI practitioners of value? Can we provide the next critical differentiator?

Well, I believe that we can, and that critical differentiator is forward-looking data. Why?

Gartner Group stated that “Predictive data will increase profitability by 20% and that historical data will become a thing of the past” (for a BI practitioner, the last part of that statement should worry you, if you are still resisting the plunge into the predictive analytics pool).

Remember, predictive is a process that allows an organization to get true insight and has been executed amongst a larger group of people to drive faster, smarter business users. This is perfect for enterprise needs because by definition, they offer a larger group of people to work with.

Smooth sailingIn fact, it was Jack Welch would said  An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage” 

If you haven’t already, go out and started learning one of the statistical application packages. I suggest “R” and in the coming weeks, I will provide R and SAS scripts (I have experience with both) for those interested in growing their chosen profession and remaining relevant as we weather the sea of business changes