User Manual



The HCI Browser is a tool designed to help administer and collect data for studies of web information seeking behavior. Studies involving web search and browsing often involve presenting participants with a set of tasks to do on the Web and then recording information about the web sites visited, searches conducted, windows opened, and other interactions with the browser such as clicks and scrolling events. Sometimes, questionnaires are administered before or after each task to ask participants about their experiences. The HCI browser supports these types of studies and is designed to automatically present tasks, administer questionnaires, and collect interaction data. A major goal of the design is that it will guide participants through the questionnaires and tasks with minimal experimenter intervention.


The HCI Browser is easily installed as an extension to the Mozilla Firefox 3 web browser. Information about downloading and installing the current version is available on the Download page.

Running the program

After the HCI Browser extension has been installed, when Firefox starts, it will display the start-up dialog box shown below. On this screen, the experimenter can enter information about the session number, participant id, and starting task. The session number and participant id are used to label the data that is recorded for this session and can be any string that the experimenter wishes to use. The starting task number specifies what task to start with based on the order given in the task.txt configuration file (described in the User Manual ). It is useful in case there is a need to re-start the program at a particular task number.

After clicking "OK", an introduction screen is displayed as shown below. The intro.txt configuration file is used to specify what text to display on this screen. This screen is useful to provide instructions and general information to the participant before beginning the tasks. Also, the experimenter can enter the information on the start-up screen before the participants arrives and then leave this introduction on the screen as the first thing the participant will see when they sit down at the computer.

When the participant clicks "OK" on the introduction screen, an optional set of pre-task questions can be presented. These questions can be changed using a configuration file and can be of three types: multiple choice, Likert-type/semantic differential, and open answer. If the configuration file is not present, then the pre-task question screen is skipped.

Next, the participant is taken to the main browser window which displays the first task in the toolbar area. This is a standard Firefox browser and the participant can search, browse, and navigate as usual. In the picture below, the user has navigated to a particular web site that has information requested by the task. There are two buttons in the toolbar: "Found an answer on this page", and "Done with answers for this task". The participant can use these buttons to submit answers they find and indicate when they are done with the task. The number of answers submitted are displayed in the lower left of the toolbar, along with an indication of the maximum number of answers they may submit (these are configurable).

When the participant finds an answer and clicks the "Found an answer" button, the toolbar changes as shown below. The URL of the page is automatically entered into the "URL of answer" box, and the user can type in text of the answer in the "Answer text" box.

When the participant wishes to submit an answer as one of their "official" answers for this task, they can click the "Submit this answer" button. If they are to submit additional answers for this task, the controls revert back to show buttons for "Found an answer" and "Done with answers". When they are done with finding answers or have found the maximum number of answers for this task (configurable), then the system will automatically close all opened tabs and windows and display the post-task questions as shown below.

As with the pre-task questions, the post-task questions are configurable by the experimenter and may be left out. When the participant has completed the post-task questions (or if they are left out), the program will then advance to the next task. When the last task is reached, a message is displayed letting the participant know that they have completed all the tasks.

Data logging

As the program runs, a wide array of data and browser events are collected in log files. The HCI Browser creates a separate log file for each task and labels each file with the sesison number, participant id, and time/date stamp. Details of the log file and events recorded are explained in the User Manual .