Two views into the same site: The prototype website that MIT researchers built for British Telecom takes different forms, depending on its guess as to the user’s cognitive style. Above left is an example of what an analytic, visually oriented user might see: a Web page full of charts and graphs. Above right is an example of what a more holistic, impulsive user might see. This version of the website minimizes the information, specifically recommending three plans.
Bamshad Mobasher, an associate professor in the school of computer science at DePaul University, in Chicago, who has done work on adapting websites based on data collected from users’ patterns of clicks, says that a lot of other work, including his own, relies simply on matching a user to others who have clicked through a website in a similar way, without trying to discover what those patterns mean. Adding the psychological dimension, he says, makes the task more challenging for a website’s designers, and he says that he’ll be interested to see whether that approach turns out to be better than measuring users’ past behavior alone.
Glen Urban, a professor of marketing at the Sloan School who was involved in the research, says that the team plans to build a full version of its system for the Japanese company Suruga Bank. For the Suruga project, which is being done through the MIT Center for Digital Business, the researchers plan to watch website users for cultural attitudes as well as for cognitive style, evaluating whether visitors have a hierarchical or egalitarian view of society, or whether they think in terms of what is good for the individual or what is good for the collective. Someone with a hierarchical view of society might receive loan advice from someone in a position of authority, while someone with an egalitarian view might receive advice from a peer. Similarly, a person’s tendency to think individually or collectively might influence which features of a product are most emphasized. If that experiment goes well, Urban says, he envisions global companies one day using website morphing techniques to build single websites that can adapt to users based on their cultural background, as well as on their cognitive style. The researchers are also working on using their morphing techniques to make banner ads more effective.