An eye tracking study was conducted to evaluate specific design features for a prototype web portal application. This software serves independent web content through separate, rectangular, user-modifiable portlets on a web page. Each of seven participants navigated across multiple web pages while conducting six specific tasks, such as removing a link from a portlet. Specific experimental questions included (1) whether eye tracking-derived parameters were related to page sequence or user actions preceding page visits, (2) whether users were biased to traveling vertically or horizontally while viewing a web page, and (3) whether specific sub-features of portlets were visited in any particular order. Participants required 2-15 screens, and from 7-360+ seconds to complete each task. Based on analysis of screen sequences, there was little evidence that search became more directed as screen sequence increased. Navigation among portlets, when at least two columns exist, was biased towards horizontal search (across columns) as opposed to vertical search (within column). Within a portlet, the header bar was not reliably visited prior to the portlet's body, evidence that header bars are not reliably used for navigation cues. Initial design recommendations emphasized the need to place critical portlets on the left and top of the web portal area, and that related portlets do not need to appear in the same column. Further experimental replications are recommended to generalize these results to other applications.
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