Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman

ClickMap helps visualize traffic, usability problems

I agree with Julie Albertson that Omniture SiteCatalyst’s ClickMap plugin is incredibly useful and interesting. It’s also a lot of fun to play with, as good interfaces are. The day we got it at work, I started showing it off to everyone.

The ClickMap visualization is really helping us think through our upcoming redesign. It isn’t going to be the only tool, though. The heatmap of clicks can show you what works — which links people did find and click on. But for the links that didn’t get many clicks, the software can’t tell you why. Was it because people weren’t interested in that link, or that they couldn’t find it? If they couldn’t find it, where were they looking for it?

Because ClickMap only tracks clicks, the best it can tell you is “such-and-such isn’t working.” That’s incredibly valuable knowledge, but you still have to be creative, or at least take shots in the dark, to figure out an alternative design. There’s no substitute for watching ordinary people using your site to get the deepest picture of usability flaws, but there’s also no substitute for ClickMap to get a subset of that picture in real time.

Comment by Julie, posted March 1, 2005, 4:40 pm

Excellent point -- it's not magical. It ALSO can't tell you if your users actually found what they were looking for once they clicked (which is actually the most important thing, eh).

What's funny is that Omniture really underplays this feature, kind of shrugging it off as 'what's the big deal, you've had this data all along.' They must have better staffing budgets than most newspapers (who doesn't ;) because they don't seem to properly appreciate the tremendous value in having the system do all the mapping for you so that analysis that would have taken hours can happen in seconds.

Comment by Tom Dalton, posted March 4, 2005, 12:11 pm

We use clickmap at work, as well, but I find that I tend to agree with Omniture's implied position on the feature: we've had the data all along. While clickmap's visual data is useful for individual page analysis, on any larger site (of the type generally associated with Omniture's exorbitant fees) the type of analysis you're doing most of the time involves paths and groups of pages. All of the information ClickMap can give you is really pulled out of other reports just as easily -- in fact, I generally find it much faster to simply run another report within the Omniture interface, than swap out to IE (only runs on IE, not Firefox), load up my site, load up the plugin, and go to the page in question.

That said, it is still fun -- and provides a great eye-opener for truculent clients who refuse to believe that placing the CEO's picture on the front page is a bad idea.

Comment by Howard Owens, posted March 4, 2005, 1:02 pm

I use the click map regularly to make my case for how news should be played and what other links work us us and which don't. I wish we'd had this tool years ago.

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I haven't posted in ages; come work with me

1. It’s been a really long time since I posted last.

2. If you’re a skilled Web programmer with an interest in news sites, you should apply to work with me.

Let me explain how those two thoughts are related by telling a little story.

When I first started working at, the site was frankly just awful. The home page was a collage of disorganized distracting graphics, the CMS was stripping certain punctuation marks out of news stories, and worst of all, no one else was really devoting any energy toward fixing those kinds of problems. I was frustrated about work a lot. During this period, blogging, not work, was my outlet for dreaming up off-the-wall ideas about what the perfect news site would be like.

Then a funny thing happened. Several people left. I ended up in charge. This took several months of getting used to. At first I still regularly complained about our problems to anyone who would listen. Then I realized that the only thing standing in the way of fixing the problems was my own attitude about them. Rather than debating whether the organizational culture here would permit doing certain things, it was time to make the organizational culture more enlightened. As I made progress on that, complaining about things in the blog no longer felt like the most effective way I could make the world better. Projects at work started becoming the main creative outlet for my whole heart and soul. And they’ve been really rewarding.

That’s the reason I think you should come work here: Our culture has changed enough that we are specifically adding a position for someone who will “give the users the content they want, and the interface they need.”

I hope you won’t be scared off by the fact that we’re small, or that there are still many, many ways in which we aren’t yet doing what we know we need to be doing. If you agree with our first principles and if you’re willing to view the glass as half full, your energy and your skill are going to help make it three-quarters full.

If you know your programming languages and this sounds intriguing, read the job description, apply, and come help us do great things (or at least give me a teeny bit of free time to blog again).

Comment by Hassan Voyeau, posted February 11, 2005, 12:22 pm

Suggestion : get rid of netscape icon on

Comment by Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman, posted February 11, 2005, 12:53 pm

Hassan, you’re right. It looks like our favicon got deleted somehow. Let me check into that.

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Home-page JavaScript makes one entire site inaccessible

Go to with JavaScript turned off, and you’ll see a completely blank page — nothing at all.

This is a terrible mistake from a news site that’s produced some outstanding online journalism and an unusually decent electronic edition. This use of JavaScript pretty much firewalls the site away from mobile devices, screen readers or non-graphical browsers. (Disclaimer: Florida Today is a competitor of the site I work for.)

The culprit is the site’s JavaScript redirect from to!NEWSROOM/index.htm. There are many ways Florida Today could have done this better:

  1. Not issue the redirect at all. Home page URLs should not redirect to something else.
  2. Send the redirect in the HTTP headers. Just about any piece of Web server software can be configured to do this, or just about any server-side scripting language can be programmed to.
  3. Use the “meta refresh” technique. At least that would generally work even without JavaScript.
  4. Offer a backup. For goodness’ sake, don’t leave the <BODY> blank! Put a “if you are not redirected automatically...” message in there with a link people can follow manually.

I was also amused by the unnecessary setTimeout call in the onload attribute. But that’s a minor point compared to this use of JavaScript in the first place.

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One site that does its paid archive right

All news sites that have paid archives should make them work the way the Arizona Daily Sun’s does. Their site does not let URLs expire.

I just tried a link in an old blog entry that goes to an article from January 2003. You now get the first two paragraphs of the article and a note that buying the full article costs $2.95. But the URL magically goes to the right place, rather than to a 404 error page telling me the article is probably walled off in a completely different archive system that I now have to search manually.

The fact that almost all Web sites’ paid archive software still doesn’t talk to the CMS that handles free content is just idiotic.

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Vin Crosbie: Serve readers better (duh!)

Consultant Vin Crosbie has just published a tour-de-force article on the very long-term survival of the newspaper industry in OJR.

Crosbie looks at the newspaper industry’s “steady 40-year declines” in circulation and readership and concludes that readers are dropping (or never picking up) newspapers because they just don’t meet their specific and unique needs. Band-aid fixes readership focus groups come up with, like more intense zoning, eliminating jumps, or bold redesigns, don’t cure the disease. Readers are telling us, voting with their feet: Something is fundamentally wrong with the idea of one-size-fits-all newspapers. And it’s not just print editions; Crosbie argues one-size-fits-all online editions have the same problem.

In short, Crosbie seems to see the industry’s salvation in being the one-stop “daily me that cuts through information glut from many sources, regardless of branding. That isn’t a new idea. But I think what is new is such a powerful argument that:

  1. Giving readers what they actually want — being useful — is what we need to do. (This is exactly what I want to hear as an online news usability advocate, although Crosbie’s point is broader than usability and broader than online.)
  2. Given that premise, getting there is going to require unbelievable levels of thought and effort. This isn’t a simple readership fix of redesigning your paper to better attract the youth market, or adjusting the topics you cover. This requires completely rethinking the entire process and staffing by which news is gathered, edited and distributed — and making very radical changes in print, not just online. (This is exactly what I want my bosses to hear.)

Back in the dot-com days, many media companies created or invested in separate interactive media divisions that often tried to create not just completely different content from the newspapers, but completely different kinds of content. That may have been an idea before its time. But it’s also possible that those interactive media operations focused too much on what they could do quickly in the exciting new world of online, and focused too little on what readers really wanted. Maybe the time is right in 2004 for an interactive media effort willing to make a long-term, expensive commitment to reengineering what we think of as news and how we should gather and deliver it to our readers.

Comment by john, posted March 4, 2004, 11:34 pm

Nathan, you might want to check out MyWay:

That's the start of the concept, minus the local and regional information I want... but, on my own "myway" page, I've got the categories of news I'm interested in, and the 5 TV channels I watch, the color scheme the way I want it, and the weather for my city. I really love the concept and would pay for access to this type of service, if it had 'all' of the news I wanted aggregated "myway" ...

Comment by Chris Heisel, posted March 9, 2004, 12:29 pm

That's a really interesting article... I've said it before, there is practically no cost associated with leaving a site (besides the few calories burned to nudge your mouse to the close box, and hit the x).

The online marketplace is a hostile environment the newspaper industry hasn't faced since there were real competing dailies.

Newspapers are just one type of "end" on the Internet, competing against all the others... blogs, portals, and whatever comes next.

We've got to serve our readers (duh seconded)!

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