MouselabWEB: Monitoring information acquisition processes on the Web

MouselabWEB is a process tracing tool that can be used to monitor the information acquisition process of decision makers. This technology has been used extensively in applications to understand the decisions made by financial analysts, submarine commanders, and ordinary consumers. It is derived from earlier work studying decision processes termed MouseLab, and the original site is here.

The design philosophy behind MouselabWEB is to allow process tracing in ordinary web browsing, causing a minimum of hassle on the part of the decision-maker. This currently requires the experimenter to build simple web pages using an HTML editor, a process greatly facilitated by the MouselabWEB Designer. MouselabWEB is open-source and we encourage others to help with the development.

Technically, MouselabWEB uses technology already in the browser, dynamic HTML and javascript technology, and can therefore be implemented inside existing web pages and used as a tool in internet questionnaires. The technology is simple, and the user (participant) does not need to download plugins or other software: just one of a large set of fairly recent and common browsers is sufficient to view and use a MouselabWEB page.

How does it work?

Information in MouselabWEB is hidden behind boxes. To access the information, the decision maker moves the mouse pointer over the box on the screen. As long as the pointer is over the box, it will display the information. Whenever the pointer moves out of the box, the box closes and the information is hidden again. The program records the time of each box opening and closing. Try it yourself in the example below that shows a simple MouselabWEB table structure.

Now click on the show data button, and see what you did! Also try counterbalancing. This is done easily in MouselabWEB.


Move the mouse over the boxes below to see how MouselabWEB works.

Header A
Inactive Box
Header B
(inactive box)
This is the information inside Box A!
This is Box A!
This is the information inside Box B!
This is Box B!

Control Center

View the process data:

Select counterbalancing condition:

MouselabWEB Features

The above example shows most of the features of MouselabWEB. These features include:


On the side of the participant, requirements are few: the participant needs to have a computer with internet connection and a recent browser. For Windows OS, MouselabWEB has been tested to work in Internet Explorer (version 6 recommended, but seems to work from version 4) and in Mozilla/Netscape 7 as well as FireFox. For MacOS X the Safari browser and Mozilla have been tested. Internet explorer 5 for Mac is not working properly, due to known bugs in this browser.

On the side of the experimenter, MouseLabWEB assumes that the designer can construct a web page (or knows somebody who can) and can read simple HTML and make small alterations to the code it generates. Familiarity with an HTML editor (DreamWeaver, FrontPage, etc.) and some way (FTP, etc) of getting the pages to the server is required. In terms of servers, it supports a PHP, MySQL environment running under Apache or other servers. A hosting service is fine. If the included form mailer is used, no serverside scripting is necessary and the mouselabWEB can be put in any web directory, without the need of PHP/mySQL support. None of this is nearly as difficult as it sounds, but if you are not very sophisticated with these things, buying a few drinks for a friend who knows this stuff is a good idea.

How to learn to understand and use MouselabWEB

The place to start is the The Demo Page that will demonstrate most of the underlying techniques used in MouselabWEB. After you have seen the demo page, you can read more on how to create MouselabWEB pages yourself, using the Designer, in the manual that is available in the download section.

More information on the system can be found in the FAQ and the Technical Notes. Learning to design a MouselabWEB page yourself is easiest with the tutorial that is included in the MouselabWEB documentation. For support, an online Forum has been installed.

On the Downloads page, one can download the scripts, template pages and documentation needed to develop a MouselabWEB page. Only registered users (see registration page) can view the download page and download the software and documentation. Registration is free and will enable us to keep track of the users of MouselabWEB and send important update notifications. Registered users can also subscribe to our mailing list, and can use the form mailer to send data to their (registered) email.

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