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The digital magazine of InfoVis.net

Web Monitoring
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 67]

The taking of decisions about offers, promotions and marketing campaigns require real time monitoring of our web site activity. In this issue we'll see some visualisation systems that help do that, without forgetting that business doesn't only happen within the web.

Following the scheme stated in the previous issue we'll devote this one to the third point: real time monitoring of a web site with the goal of taking sound decision regarding offers, promotions, issuing banner ads and even the planning of our inventory. Increasingly it is becoming necessary to have the ability to change the contents, to adjust the advertising and modify our marketing campaigns in the web according to our understanding of the productivity of the same on a daily, even hourly, basis.

eBizLive from VisualInsights, based on MS Commerce Server 2000 is one of these systems. The visualisation (see the attached images) is organised around a "wall" and a "floor" seen in perspective where groups of related pages called "watch lists" are depicted. On the floor lay the sites, in columns, like the aisles of a supermarket, that as a result of our marketing campaign, contain ads pointing to our site (Referral sites), the catalogue and the products selected (clicking on the catalogue) that focus our interests. In another column lays what the authors call the "buying pipeline" including the shopping cart, payment type and so on.

eBizLive.jpg (556823 bytes) ebizlive.gif (28583 bytes)
eBizLive, from VisualInsights. You can see the lay out as a "floor" and "wall". In the wall the tab "Campaigns" tab is open allowing us to evaluate in real time the effectiveness of our marketing campaigns.
(Click on the image to enlarge it)
eBizLive, open in this case by the Flow Graph tab, showing the flow of visitors between a particular entry of the catalogue and the pages where visitors have come from  and the ones where the users have left.
(Click on the image to enlarge it)

Each of those columns contains some cylinders that represent the number of visited pages of each item during the solicited period. A line chart associated to each cylinder shows the history of the behaviour of the corresponding item. The movement of visitors within the site is depicted by an icon jumping between pages. The size of the icon is proportional to the number of visitors in movement.

On the "wall" you can find several tabs that allow you to see:

  • the flow to and from the selected watch list (Flow graph). 

  • key performance indicators (KPI) like the number of visitors, number of visited pages, purchase volume, etc.

  • the effectiveness of ongoing promotion campaigns (Campaigns).

Another fascinating form of dynamic visualisation is provided by Ben Fry's Anemone. This system uses as visual metaphor, what Ben Fry calls Organic Information Design. Organisms grow, have parts that activate or become atrophic, metabolise nutrients and as a whole tend towards equilibrium. Ben Fry uses the simulation of these organic properties to visualise large amounts of data.

AnemoneBFry.jpg (97274 bytes) AnemonBckgrnd.gif (111246 bytes)
Anemone. Image of a particular web site. Note the tree-like structure. Some of the page names are shown. A very visited page stands out near the center of the image. It's very commendable to see Anemone in action using the Java Applet or the Quicktime movie available at Anemone's web. 
Images courtesy of Ben Fry (Click on the image to enlarge it)
Anemone. Another view where you can better appreciate several very visited pages (the thick ones) compared with other less visited (thin) ones. Juxtaposed you can see the lines that show the paths followed by the visitors. 
(Click on the image to enlarge it)

Anemone is like an organism. When a page is visited for the first time a branch begins to grow, guided by a growth rule. The areas not used begin to atrophy, eventually disappearing. Related areas get closer following movement rules. The end of each branch is a web page. Every time a user visits the page, it becomes slightly thicker, so that the most visited pages are considerably thicker than the less visited ones.

In Anemone it's possible to see how the visits "propagate" from exterior nodes (search engines, for instance) throughout the organism. It's also possible to visualise the paths visitors follow, juxtaposed to the visit structure above mentioned. The user can interact with the structure in order to see what page he/she is looking at, moving parts of the organism to better see what's going on, among other possibilities.

Anemone has a Java Applet that allows you to see it functioning (although I didn't get it working on my computer). It's a fascinating application, still far from the commercial world and day to day use but based on a powerful metaphor. You can download Ben Fry's Master's thesis to better understand it.

Nowadays it's essential to know what our clients are doing in real time. But not only in the virtual world. Businesses are becoming more and more hybrid. Real world businesses are using the net to support their operations and businesses that began on the Net send tentacles to the real world. We must follow our customers through both worlds. 

As Tom Sullivan explains in his interesting article "Web analytics move across the enterprise" we live in a multi-channel world. If we just analyse one of the channels we are lost.

"Mapping how people use a web site" is an interesting article written by Martin Dodge about Anemone for MappaMundi magazine.

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