Online research tools for international projects
While the worldwide web provides a myriad of opportunities for international online research these also come with their own problems and potential obstacles. The most obvious and significant ones relate to language and culture and international researchers have to be extremely careful that they don’t imprint their own cultural and ethnic biases onto the research project. The process can be further complicated by the fact that most international online research will be conducted remotely; it is usually too expensive and time-consuming to visit the countries in question to conduct the research in situ.
Due to geographical, temporal and other factors this type of research will often be unmoderated which introduces other issues which need to be addressed. Fortunately there are a number of devices that can help in this respect.
The essence of online user research is getting insights by observing how subjects approach and interact with the interface. There are aids such as heat-mapping, mouse tracking, click-mapping and other in-page web analysis tools that can provide a useful insight into how users find their way around and engage with webpages but this is only a small and superficial aspect of the process. (Mouse tracking is following the user’s movement around the screen via the mouse and heat mapping plots the most visited and observed parts of the screen either through the mouse or by following eye movement.) Post-activity interrogation of subjects is also inadequate in providing the depth and understanding needed to successfully interpret tests.
If post hoc questioning and technical observation is only part of the process the remainder is understanding the participant’s movements, motivations, interaction with the product or site. This can only really be appreciated by getting the user’s commentary on their actions and feelings as they happen. Simultaneous audio and video recording through the computer can greatly facilitate this whether observed at the time or after the test. Having this permanent record can also address some of the language and culture problems as you can engage an expert to help you interpret and translate the findings.
There is no right or wrong (or easy way) to capture this sort of information – or at least none that any researcher is prepared to share! The secret here seems to be to use all of the technology and tools at your disposal to provide the access, interaction and records that you need to make sense of this complex and involved process. This requires something very close to immersion in the process for the researcher, building up a close personal relationship with the subject and recording dialogue and interactions in whatever form is available from social media to smartphones –even pen and paper if necessary! Only a constant iteration of actions and interactions is likely to evoke the level of empathy and understanding necessary to make judgements in this detailed field of study.
You have probably gathered from this brief sortie in the field that international online research is fraught with problems and, done properly, is a very time-consuming and involved exercise. This doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done; it just means you need to be cautious, thorough and aware of the pitfalls – and of the assistance and techniques available.
If you would like to know more about this absorbing and potentially fruitful area of research, why not call us free on 0800 0246 247 or drop us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org for a free initial consultation?