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How Do People Get Back to Information on the Web? How Can They Do It Better?. William Jones, Harry Bruce The Information School University of Washington Susan Dumais Microsoft Research. The Problem. Finding things is a well-studied problem.

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How do people get back to information on the web how can they do it better

How Do People Get Back to Information on the Web? How Can They Do It Better?

William Jones, Harry Bruce

The Information SchoolUniversity of Washington

Susan Dumais

Microsoft Research

The problem

The Problem

  • Finding things is a well-studied problem.

  • Keeping things found is not so well-studied but arises in many domains:

    • Everyday objects in our lives

    • Personal files – paper and electronic

    • Email

    • The Web

Related work

Related Work

  • Organizing personal files

    • Files & “piles”, (Malone, 1983)

    • Location memory is limited, (Jones & Dumais, 1986)

    • Preference for browsing, (Barreau & Nardi, 1995); but see Fertig, Freeman & Gelernter (1996) for a rebuttal.

  • Organizing email

    • Similar use patterns, similar problems as for personal files, (Whittaker & Sidner, 1996)

  • Related work cont

    Related Work (cont.)

    • Organizing the Web

      • Widespread use of “Bookmarks”, (Pitkow & Kehoe, 1996)

      • Steady increase in number with time, (Abrams Baecker & Chignell, 1998)

      • Increasing use of folders, (Abrams et al., 1998)

      • Frequent use of “Back” button within a session; infrequent use of “History”, (Tauscher & Greenberg, 1997)

    Overall research objectives

    Overall Research Objectives

    We’re looking for answers to the following questions:

    • How do people manage information for re-access and re-use? How do people “keep found things found”?

    • What problems do people encounter?

    • What can be done to help?

    The research project

    The Research Project

    • Study 1: Observe “keeping” activities as participants complete work-related, web-intensive tasks in their workplace.

      • 25 participants in all.

  • Study 2: Observe efforts to “re-find” web information for a subset of these same participants.

    • 13 participants in all

  • Survey a larger group.

    • Initiated.

  • Prototype selectively.

  • Study 1 the participants

    Study 1: The Participants

    • 6 Researchers.

    • 10 Information professionals -- including librarians and corporate information specialists.

    • 9 Managers.

    Study 1 the procedure

    Study 1: The Procedure

    • Prior to the observation

      • Participants completed an email questionnaire…

      • and listed at least three work-related, web-intensive “free-time” tasks.

      • One task was selected for the observation.

    • During the observation

      • Participants were observed in their own workplace.

      • Sessions lasted about an hour.

      • An “over-the-shoulder” video recording was made of participants as they “thought-aloud” while working on the task.

      • Participants handled office interruptions (phone calls, visitors, etc.) as they normally would.

    Study 1 the results

    Study 1: The Results

    Many “keeping” methods were observed:

    • Send email to self.

    • Send email to others.

    • Print out the web page.

    • Save the web page as a file.

    • Paste URL into a document.

    • Add hyperlink to a web site.

    • Do nothing (and enter URL directly later, search for or access from another web site).

    • Bookmark the page.

    • Write down the URL on paper.

    Survey results so far

    Survey results (so far)

    A researcher

    A Researcher

    • MC is a part-time lecturer and researcher at the University of Washington. Her task for the observation was to locate web materials that might relate to a lecture she was preparing on the use of Microsoft PowerPoint. MC made frequent use of email. She mailed several URLs to herself – each in a separate email along with comments. On two occasions MC also emailed URLs to colleagues along with comments regarding potential relevance. MC maintained an elaborate organization of folders and subfolders in her email application (Microsoft Outlook) and expressed confidence that she could quickly locate an old email when needed. MC uses Favorites from time to time but declared that “it is a mess” because it hadn’t been organized recently.

    A manager

    A Manager

    • DH is a third-level manager at Boeing. He travels frequently and is rarely in his office for an hour at a time. DH was interviewed over the telephone. DH rarely accesses the Web directly for workplace matters. When he does use the Web, the task is nearly always limited in time and scope. For example, he may occasionally use the Web to look up contact information for someone or to confirm a flight. DH depends heavily on email – from colleagues, his subordinates and other managers to whom he is responsible in one way or another.

    A functional analysis

    A Functional Analysis

    Several functions appear to influence the choice of method:

    • Reminding

    • Context

    • Number of access points – home, work, road…

    • Ease of maintenance

    A functional analysis cont

    A Functional Analysis (cont.)

    A functional analysis cont1

    A Functional Analysis (cont.)

    A functional analysis cont2

    A Functional Analysis (cont.)

    Other notables

    Other Notables

    • Participants seemed to distinguish between three categories.

      • Web sites used repeatedly – make it easy to access.

      • Web sites used infrequently but important to be able to access.

      • Web sites to check out later to see if useful.

    Other notables cont

    Other Notables (cont.)

    • Some participants went to great lengths to maintain a single hierarchy.

      • Print web pages to file with other papers.

      • Save email documents to filing system for e-docs.

      • Work with assistant to establish consistent organizations across paper documents, e-docs, email & favorites.

    • Keeping practices appear to vary with a person’s job and relationship to information.

    Study 2 delayed cued recall

    Study 2: Delayed Cued Recall

    • A second study looks at how/how well people are able to get back to web sites.

      • Session 1: Participant describes each in a set of web sites they have visited recently – without including name or URL.

      • Session 2, 3-6 months later: Participants are cued with these descriptions and told to get back to the site as best they can. We observe methods used and problems encountered.

    Study 2 methods

    Study 2 Methods

    • Focus on “useful” web sites – sites that a participant is very likely to want to re-access over the next 12 months (75% or greater).

    • Sample for different frequencies of access in a typical week.

      • High – daily access in a typical week.

      • Medium – 1 to 3 times in a typical week.

      • Low – not accessed in a typical week.

    • Measure cue effectiveness. Does the participant recall the task? The site?

    Study 2 results

    Study 2 Results

    • Success rate is high – 90% or better.

    • Roughly 2/3 of the re-finding methods require no “keeping” forethought.

      • Direct entry of URL

      • Access web site via another web site (such as a “hub”)

      • Search again

    When participant recalls task and site

    When Participant Recalls Task and Site

    When participant recalls task only

    When Participant Recalls Task Only



    … as driven by the data. Simple extensions to Add Favorites to support the following options:

    • Add a comment.

    • Save Favorite to filing system.

    • Email Favorite.

    The prototype

    The Prototype



    • People use a diversity of methods to organize web information for re-access and re-use.

    • A functional analysis can help us to understand the diversity of methods observed and their relative popularity.

    Conclusions cont

    Conclusions (cont.)

    • Methods differ in the functions they provide.

    • No single current method provides all the functions a user may need.

    • The relative importance of functions (and hence the choice of methods) depends upon the task at hand.

    Conclusions cont1

    Conclusions (cont.)

    • A “natural” study of people doing tasks in their workplace can be very useful.

    How can we do it better

    How Can We Do It Better?

    • Better reminding.

    • Better integration.

    • Fewer organizational schemes.

    • Further improvements in “do nothing” methods.

      • In-line matching for suggested completions

      • Factor history into search results? “Stuff I’ve Seen” searching.

    For more information

    For More Information


    Supplemental slides

    Supplemental slides

    A functional analysis cont3

    A Functional Analysis (cont.)

    Additional functions:

    • Persistence of information

    • Preservation of information in its current state

    • Currency of information

    • Ease of integration

    • Communication and information sharing

    • Portability of information

    Use of keeping methods by participant group

    Use of keeping methods by participant group

    A functional analysis cont4

    A Functional Analysis (cont.)

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