In FACT last week running two days of browser history workshops I learned a huge amount about my topic specifically, and about conducting public-facing research in general. As a way of getting to the core question of the case study: How can narratively configured browser history lead to meaning construction? I designed an activity to elicit visual responses by drawing comics from the browser history list. I provided a range of A4 paper templates with graphic panels in various layouts, pens, ink and brushes. The intention was to constrain the browser history to only those elements that would fit onto an A4 sheet, although there was no restriction to how many sheets an individual could use. In many cases this caused people to think about why they were online rather than where they went online
One major challenge in previous work done on browser history is how to represent a web page. Answers range from favicons, text URLs, web pages at 25% scale, and systems that automatically select the largest image. What these approaches have in common is that they assume the visual appearance of the page rather than the task the page represents is important. They are studies conducted under laboratory conditions designed to test a previously implemented design. My research in contrast is co-design. As much attention is paid to what participants contribute as to any pre-conceived design direction. Emphasis is placed on what the main decision points in the story might be.
Over two days more than 30 people participated (with queues forming at several times) some as couples or families. Most people used their smartphones to access their browser history list but others brought laptops, or created a comic based on remembered browsing. Those without smartphones created a story from an SMS exchange. Since the focus of the research is how people choose to represent browsing in sequential visual form, doing so from memory is a valid method. Reflecting on the exercise it was important that the activity was constrained but offered opportunity for personal expression. Providing templates and materials meant people could witness others and see in advance what was expected, while allowing themselves time to plan what they wanted to depict.
The next phase for this research will involve tracing the hyperlink journey of selected browser history stories with the aim of learning how many page hits make up a coherent narrative.