Fragmented Visual Attention in Web Browsing: Weibull Analysis of Item Visit Times

Advances in Information Retrieval, 45th European Conference on IR research, ECIR 2023
We investigated participants browsing newsfeeds with two layouts: single- and multicolumn. Within each layout, the items (article previews) included an image, and possibly an additional image and/or description.
How do people browse the web without a specific goal?
  • Browsing without a specific goal is a common activity on the web (e.g., in social media and news applications)
  • We present a study of such browsing, investigating how people distribute visual attention on the page while browsing newsfeeds on single- and multi-column layouts
  • Our results suggest that visual attention in the given browsing tasks is fragmented, and that the number, properties and the composition of the items visible affect how long items are attended
  • Based on our study, single-column layouts are a better choice if the goal is to maximize the amount of attention allocated to one item
Browsing behavior
Browsing behavior was examined through two concepts. Items offer a clickable preview to an article. Visit to an item consists of a continuous dwell on it; when the user gazes away from the item the current visit ends.

Users often browse the web in an exploratory way, inspecting what they find interesting without a specific goal. However, the temporal dynamics of visual attention during such sessions, emerging when users gaze from one item to another, are not well understood. In this paper, we examine how people distribute visual attention among content items when browsing news. Distribution of visual attention is studied in a controlled experiment, wherein eye-tracking data and web logs are collected for 18 participants exploring newsfeeds in a single- and multi-column layout. Behavior is modeled using Weibull analysis of item (article) visit times, which describes these visits via quantities like durations and frequencies of switching focused item. Bayesian inference is used to quantify uncertainty. The results suggest that visual attention in browsing is fragmented, and affected by the number, properties and composition of the items visible on the viewport. We connect these findings to previous work explaining information-seeking behavior through cost-benefit judgments.

  • Supplement wherein the impact of different foveal areas is analysed is available here:

    Grid NSGA paper

Please contact the corresponding author for any questions:

Aini Putkonen

aini.putkonen (at)

Acknowledgements: This project received support from the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI), the Academy of Finland (projects Human Automata – ID: 328813 and BAD – ID: 318559), as well as Technology Industries of Finland (project SOWP). Many thanks to the reviewers and our colleagues for providing feedback.