Posted by: bbannan | March 28, 2012

Log Files, Caches and Cookies – Heather

When reading Chapter 13, the section about log files seemed very relevant. Right off the bat I thought of a day where I was browsing women’s apparel at Macy’s (at the mall, not online) and this sort of dopey man was following a women around asking her things like, “Where do you think we should put this line? What type of person would like this dress?” The women actually tried to describe the kind of women who would wear the dress, looked around and pointed out a customer who fit the profile. They were trying to identify where to place the items in the store based on the types of shopper who were browsing specific sections.

Karl Groves of User-Centered Design, Inc. (2007) points out that “server log files are inappropriate for gathering usability data. They are meant to provide server administrators data about behavior of the server, not the behavior of the user.” While Kuniavsky agrees and points out that log files do have their problems, he goes on to state that they are also very helpful in identifying the types of moves you make on a website by “logging” where people go and what they look at. Typical access log elements include things like IP addresses, date and time, and the type of request made. All of this can be very helpful in determining what a user wants to see on a site.

Imagine the dopey man following you around Macy’s documenting everything about your shopping experience…you just wouldn’t allow it. But when it comes to the online experience, sometimes we become annoyed with privacy-related features, but for the most part we all welcome the feature if it saves us time and money in the long run.

Cache
According to Kuniavsky (2003), “the most severe problems come from the caching of web pages.” The “problems” he is referring to is using caching to track user data. The term “caching” refers to local storage of remote data designed to reduce network transfers, increasing download speeds. Although, caching is great from a user perspective, to the log-analyzer it only creates problems. Because there may never be a connection between the user’s computer and the site’s server in order to fulfill the user’s request and have the page received, “web servers tend to translate access to cached pages incorrectly, thus making all site traffic completely inaccurate” (Groves 2007). As a user I am on the fence.  I have found that caching can either be extremely helpful or completely sabotage what I’m working on when I am specifically looking for an update to the web page.

Cookies

Session cookies can be used to gather information about a user’s navigation through a website. It seems that almost every site these days uses cookies for some purpose. Session cookies tend to have short expiration dates, usually minutes to hours. Identity cookies have longer expiration times and can stretch over multiple sessions.

To continue my shopping theme, I’m reminded of visiting a site recently that alerted me that I had items in my shopping cart. To my surprise I added the items several months ago. I thought to myself, “I really need to delete my cookies more often.” This is definitely an identity cookie.

One thing I think could be extremely useful in the cookies category is the clickstream. “Clickstreams tell you the order of pages visited in a session, which specific pages were accessed, and how much time was spent on each page” (Kuniavsky 2003). I think this concept would be a great help in Group 3’s second round of user testing. We’ve had varying results from the first round and I think it would be interesting to track exactly what path the user independently takes, once the site is functional. Of course our prototype will only function as a website, rather than an X-box Kinect program, but it would still be beneficial to our research.

References

Groves, K. (2007, Octover 24). The Limitations of Server Log Files for Usability Analysis. Retrieved March 27, 2012, from: http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/the-limitations-of

Kuniavsky, M. (2003). Observing the user experience: a practitioner’s guide to user research. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.

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