Clara Vetter
Friday, 23 April 2021
6 min read
Clara Vetter

Free smartphone app & platform to study human behavior for students and researchers

We provide students and researchers with the necessary tools to study participants’ behavior in real-time. Create a study on our web platform, collect smartphone usage, mobility, and questionnaire data via an app and export it for further analyses into your preferred statistics program (R, SPSS, Excel, etc). The general framework of our software makes it applicable to a variety of research topics, whether you are interested in sleeping patterns, shopping trends or social media addiction. If you’re affiliated with an academic institution, you can use our platform and app for free!

What data can I collect?

With our platform and app, you can collect the following types of data:

  1. App sessions (i.e., which apps were used for how long and in which sequence): This data can also be aggregated to daily / hourly app usage, as well as generalized to phone / screen usage time

  2. Location data (coordinates at a time point): This allows you to investigate things like traveling behavior and compare phone usage at home vs. on the go

  3. Questionnaire data (at start / end of study and time-triggered): Next to some default socio-demographic questions, you have the option to include your own additional questionnaires throughout the study

You could for example use this data to make inferences about when participants use which apps, their mobility behavior and other behavioral patterns (e.g. sleep duration). Since you can also deliver time-triggered questionnaires via push notifications on participants’ phones, you can also use it for experience sampling (ESM). We trust your research expertise and creativity, to come up with innovative use cases that we haven't even thought of ourselves.

How does it work?

Once registered, you can access our platform where you can manage studies and participants. On the platform, you can set up new studies and build your own questionnaires.

Recruiting participants for your studies is easily done by sharing a generic link or QR code. In some cases, you might prefer to send personalized codes, e.g., when you want to match the phone usage data to other data sources, or if you have stringent inclusion criteria. To incentivize your participants, you can offer them access to a visual breakdown of their personal app usage behavior (see Fig 1, bottom-right). Participants have to download the Murmuras app from the Google PlayStore and are asked to fill in their anonymized identification code (either generated by the generic link or by you) when first opening the app. Each study also includes a default onboarding questionnaire which collects basic socio-demographic information (age,gender, etc.). You can use the answers of your participants for your own purposes. During your study period, screen and app usage, location and - if you included any - questionnaire data will be collected. You can download data from the platform at any point during your study in different formats, filtered by time and participant depending on your needs. For your final analyses, we advise to wait until after the study has finished before downloading the data, to ensure all data is included.
The data is available in CSV-format making it easily readable in your favorite statistics program, e.g. R or SPSS.

Murmuras App and Data Platform
Fig. 1 Collect data with the app and analyse it with the platform

What kind of studies (use cases) is our data suited for

You can read in detail about a selection of our own studies on our blog. For a conference presentation we looked at how sleeping behavior can be measured using phone usage data alone. While we could only approximate sleeping duration as the length of phone-free time at night, we were still able to identify patterns. For example, working people in our sample set their alarms on average about an hour earlier than students (Fig. 2).

Alarm times for working people
Fig. 2 Alarm times for working people

At the beginning of this year we looked at the most used apps throughout 2020 and compared age, sex and employment differences (Fig 3).

Most used smartphone apps in 2020
Fig. 3 Most used smartphone apps in 2020

Next to our own analyses, we also work on projects with academic partners. These projects range from smartphone addiction and digital detox to monitoring of depression symptoms and issues in public transport systems supported by the BMVI.

What about data privacy?

We take data privacy and ethical requirements very seriously. Our software is strictly GDPR compliant, and all data is stored on servers located in Germany. Data is never used in any way that might be detrimental to participants, e.g. for targeted advertising or profiling. The Murmuras platform is based on the Menthal platform which has been running securely since 2014 at the university of Bonn. The Murmuras software framework has been approved by several ethics committees, data privacy officers and security officers of European universities.

Why we offer it for free

We believe that nowadays, students and early-career researchers should be enabled to tackle their projects from a data-driven perspective. By giving them the opportunity to easily collect large amounts of data in short periods of time, they have the means to do so. For many research questions, measuring behavior in real-time with smartphones and in the participants’ everyday environment promises more precise results. Therefore, we decided to offer a free version of our software to ultimately improve scientific results. Getting researchers used to the benefits of this method will als increase interest in our paid version. In the free version, are also allowed to use participants' data in aggregated and pseudonymized form for our own scientific studies, for example as base for smartphone usage studies we publish on statista or for conference papers at psychology conferences ICP and TeaP It is needless to say that all our analyses are compliant with GDPR requirements and that participants’ privacy is our top priority - personal data is never leaving our servers. Lastly, having more users and consequently feedback on our platform and app helps us to improve our services.

Let’s get started!

To get started with your own research, the first step is to register for our platform, and you are good to go! If you have a special study design in mind or you want to explore other options not included in the free version such as context-triggered questionnaires ("You just used Whatsapp. 'How are you feeling?"), drop us a message for a customized offer.