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Web Historian - Educational Edition: Visualize your web use to understand your habits

This extension for Google Chrome helps users track their browsing habits to become more mindful of how they spend their time online. This extension has been used in the classroom (middle school through higher ed) to help students understand their actual browsing behavior and digital traces in general, as well as for personal productivity purposes.

Web Historian helps unlock the information that is already in your web browsing history with easy to use interactive visualizations. For more information see It can be installed from the Chrome store.

The extension uses the D3.js for the visualizations and accesses the history data via the chrome.history API.

Web Historian runs entirely on the local browser using only client-side JavaScript and can be used while the browser is offline (the Web Visits view will be less colorful offline since categories are downloaded from a server).

To run the extension in Developer Mode in Chrome

  1. Download the extension code to your machine. Press the "Clone or download" green button on the Web Historian Repsitory From there you can download the zip file or copy the address to clone. If you downoad the zip file you need to unzip it.
  2. In your file system rename the file .../js/app/config.js-template.js to .../js/app/config.js
  3. In your Chrome browser's address bar type: chrome://extensions/
    or navigate: Settings (an icon with three lines or three dots near the top right of the browser) > More Tools > Extensions
  4. Select the Checkbox for "Developer Mode"
  5. Click "Load unpacked extension"
  6. Browse to the directory where you downloaded the extension code and click "Select"

Technical Overview

Web Historian is a web application created in JavaScript using d3.js, jQuery, Bootstrap, require.js and a number of other browser-based technologies.

The entry point into the extension is the index.html file in the root of the project's directory. This file creates the "shell" of the user interface, including the toolbar as well as designated DIV element where various visualizations will load each's respective content.

The JavaScript architecture of the extension is built around RequireJS to split the project into separate module that componentizes the implementation of the project as well as providing "on-demand" loading of components as needed.

On the launch of the extension, this process is followed:

  1. index.html loads the RequireJS library, which uses js/app/main.js to configure the JavaScript environment
  2. js/app/main.js loads js/app/history.js which launches a modal progress display that tracks the progress of the extension retrieving and transforming the user's browsing history for use with other upload and display components.
  3. js/app/main.js loads js/app/home.js to display the home page and trigger the require.js scripts to load on click.
  4. On a successful fetch of the local browsing history, the extension dismisses the progress modal and presents the user with options to visualize their data.

Visualizations Overview

Visualizations rely heavily on RequireJS on-demand component loading. In home.js, visualizations may be launched by clicking the UI element in the main interface wired to a specific visualization:


$("#search_words").click(function() {
  requirejs(["../app/search-terms"], function (search_words) 
    search_words.display(history, history.fullData);

On the example above, the implementation of the search terms visualization is contained within js/app/search-terms.js. The general form of these files are:

define(["../app/utils", "lib1", "lib2"], function(utils, lib1, lib2) 
  // Create object to hold onto shared state.
  var visualization = {};
  // Define functionality required by the visualization.
  // Return an object containing methods to be called by main.js.
  visualization.display = function(history, data)
  return visualization;

The click handler in home.js will call the display method on the returned object and pass the history object containing the extension's state (such as the list of all data loaded from the history) and a data array that reflects the currently-selected subset (from the calendar input) of the entire user history.

This array uses this structure:

    "id": "255153",                   // Unique identifier for the visit instance.
    "url": "", // URL loaded for the visit instance.   
    "urlId": "74289",                 // Unique identifier for the URL visited.
    "protocol": "http:",              // Protocol used to request the resource (http or https).
    "domain": "",          // Domain of the URL host.
    "searchTerms": "",                // Any search terms used to locate this URL.
    "date": 1449426710486.8,          // Unix timestamp of the visit in milliseconds.
    "transType": "typed",             // Method used to navigate to this URL. 
                                      // See for values.
    "refVisitId": "0",                // Referrer visit preceding this visit (if available).
    "title": "Page Title Goes Here."  // Title of the page (if available).
    // Another visit structure.

The visualization is responsible for transforming this array into another representation of the user's browsing history.

Creating a New Visualization

To create a new visualization, follow these steps:

  1. Create a new JavaScript file that will contain your visualization logic using the template provided above.
  2. In index.html, add the UI element that the user will click to load the new visualization. The navigation bar is a great place to include the UI element.
  3. In home.js, setup the click handler that will load the new visualization JavaScript file and call the returned object's display method.
  4. In the visualization JavaScript file, implement the display logic that transforms the browsing history array into a new representation of the data. Don't forget to implement the listeners for the date pickers in the navigation bar:
    $("input#start_date").datepicker().on("changeDate", function(e)
       visualization.display(history, data);
    $("input#end_date").datepicker().on("changeDate", function(e)
      visualization.display(history, data);


Visualize your web use to understand your habits





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