From: The Guardian (UK)

Do your citizens hover over the help button? Tracking online mouse movements can support behavioural change

Ben Darlington and Tim Pitts

Changing the behaviour of citizens to reduce the demand placed on public services is now a top priority for both central and local government. From voting or volunteering more, to simply accessing council services online, new habits must be developed to meet the financial challenges the government faces.

With direct human-to-human contact being replaced with human-to-screen interaction, local government websites have a central role to play in delivering that change in behaviour. But behaviour change is fundamentally a soft skilll; you do it with emotions, not excel spreadsheets. So how do you put the human back into that virtual relationship?

The way you use a mouse – or pinch and scroll on a tablet or smartphone – can say a lot about you. It’s your “cyber signature”. If you know what you’re doing on a webpage, your movements will generally be organised and controlled. If you don’t, they’ll be far less coherent. The mouse, and words over which you hover, also indicate your interests and needs.

In simple terms, mouse movements are a cyber-proxy for body language or tone of voice.

We recently developed a new technology to track mouse position and speed, or smartphone screen scrolling, for visitors to local government websites. The original intention was to use the technology to identify the hot topics. What we didn’t expect to find – but the technology quickly revealed – was that visitors in different areas also have very different cyber signatures.

The average mouse speed of a visitor to the council website in a poorer area was around a third slower than that of an equivalent visitor to a wealthier council area.

The focus was also very different: those visitors from wealthier areas were much more controlled. There was also a critical correlation between cyber signatures and use of online services. Websites with a higher proportion of controlled cyber signatures also had much higher takeup levels. All sites were well-designed with good, well-performing online services, so these differences in takeup differences were not down to the quality of the site or online service design.

It’s not a shock that a literate visitor comfortable with technology is more likely to use an online service. But what is significant is that you can detect the difference, and forecast likely needs and behaviours, by the cyber signature of the visitor.

That knowledge can be of substantial value when designing a website to meet the needs of a local population. The word “help”, for example, performs very differently on different websites. On websites where cyber signatures are less controlled and slower, this help button receives a lot of attention. On websites in wealthier areas it sits untouched by 99% of users.

In the near future it will be possible to change the experience that visitors have on a local government website according to their cyber signature. A visitor halfway through completing an online form, who begins to exhibit a lost or worried cyber signature could be offered online help, perhaps via web chat. A comfortable visitor who knew what they were doing would just be left to get on with it.

Being able to understand citizens by their cyber signatures – a cyber body language, if you prefer – is not the answer in itself and these are still early days. But its potential looks promising.

Ben Darlington is director of Logo-Net, which helps local authorities understand website traffic and performance. Tim Pitts is partner in digital services at Agilisys