Today marks the final day that my team at 3M is working on the Visual Attention Service web site (http://vas.3m.com). It has been an awesome year working with this team on a really, really great project.
The list of features and technologies used on this project was impressive:
- Public web site built with ASP .NET MVC 2, hosted in Azure
- Windows Azure (web roles, worker roles, blob storage)
- SQL Azure
- Native c++ analysis engine, hosted in Azure
- Silverlight (file uploads, interactive image preparation)
- iPhone prototype
- RESTful web API (xml/json) built with ASP .NET MVC 2, hosted in Azure
Briefly, the Visual Attention Service site is used by graphic designers or marketing agencies to quickly determine where people will look within an advertisement or graphic within the first few seconds. Think billboards, magazine ads, menus, brochures, web pages, store displays… the list goes on. This system is not an eye-tracking system - rather it uses 3M’s scientific algorithms to determine where a person’s focus will go first.
Let’s say I wanted to analyze Apple’s web site:
After an analysis the Visual Attention Service tells me where it thinks a viewer will look within the first five seconds by providing a sequence map:
In the case above, it seems to me that Apple has done a good job of drawing viewers to a single, high-value area at the top of the page with product images and important text. But don’t take my word for it - I’m not a vision scientist!
The service also provides a heatmap of the image:
Contrast these results with the results of today’s Dell.com web page:
Notice that dell.com’s first region (the one with the highest percentage) in the sequence is the guy doing flips on a field. The heatmap also seems to show that this region has the highest amount of contrast - it really “pops”. Probably not what Dell wants to showcase on their web site.
As I said earlier - I’m not a vision scientist or an expert in this field. Please don’t put too much weight on my interpretation of these results. If you sign up for VAS, you can ping the 3M scientists with questions about your analysis and they will give you the real story about your stuff.
As I mentioned before, this team has been awesome. The developers I worked with included Rick Weyenberg, Joe White, Judah Himango, and Eric Bowen. Steve Digre did the design work. The team was much more than these five people, but I simply can’t list everybody.
From the start it has been a results-driven team with a high motivation to continuously produce. We did our first release of the fully-functional web site in two and a half months in November 2009, and since then we’ve deployed regular enhancements every 2-3 months. This past August we deployed major feature changes including a great Silverlight user interface and the RESTful web API.
This project has certainly been a learning experience. Here are a number of relevant technical blog posts I wrote while working on the project (please note the Azure technology has changed a lot since these posts were written):
- Azure Lessons from the Trenches
- Azure Diagnostic Logging
- Automated Azure Deployments with TFS Build
- Azure Management API, “Internal Server Error”, and Powershell Azure Commandlets
- HTTPS with Azure, Web APIs, Local Environments, and Build Automation
Overall this project has been great. I hope I get a chance to work on a team like this again in the future.