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Social Spaces, Casual Interactions, Meaningful Exchanges: Information Ground Characteristics based on the College Student Experience. Uni. Karen Fisher, Carol Landry & Charles Naumer The Information School University of Washington. Theories of Information Behavior (2005).

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Social Spaces, Casual Interactions, Meaningful Exchanges:Information Ground Characteristics based on theCollege Student Experience


Karen Fisher, Carol Landry & Charles Naumer

The Information School

University of Washington

theories of information behavior 2005
Theories ofInformation Behavior (2005)

Fisher, K. E., Erdelez, S., & McKechnie, E. F. (Eds.)

social settings
Social Settings
  • Recent attention
  • Part of context
  • LQ special issue on “Library as Place”
  • Work in cognate fields
    • Urban geography, sociology
new view
New View
  • Social Capital  People Factors
    • Putnam et al
  • 3rd Place  People + Place
    • Oldenburg
  • Info Grounds  People + Place + Info
    • Fisher et al
information grounds
Information Grounds

“Environment[s] temporarily created when people come together for a singular purpose but from whose behavior emerges a social atmosphere that fosters the spontaneous and serendipitous sharing of info” (Pettigrew, 1999)

** Foot clinics in Canada **

ig propositions fisher durance hinton 2004
IG Propositions(Fisher, Durance & Hinton, 2004)
  • IGs can occur anywhere, in any type of temporal setting and are predicated on the presence of individuals
  • People gather at IGs for a primary, instrumental purpose other than info sharing
  • IGs are attended by different social types, most if not all of whom play expected and important, albeit different roles in info flow
  • Social interaction is a primary activity at IGs such that info flow is a byproduct
  • People engage in formal and informal info sharing, and info flow occurs in many directions
  • People use info obtained at IGs in alternative ways, and benefit along physical, social, affective and cognitive dimensions
  • Many sub-contexts exist within an IG and are based on people's perspectives and physical factors; together these sub-contexts form a grand context
past research fisher naumer 2006
Past Research(Fisher & Naumer, 2006)
  • Propositions studied using varied populations
    • Foot Clinics (n=30)
    • Immigrants and QBPL programs (n=45)
    • East King County (n=612)
    • Northwest Residents (n=276)
    • Migrant Hispanic Farm Workers (n=51)
    • College Students (n=729)
    • Tweens (ages 9-13; n=30)
    • Stay-at-home mothers (n=20)
    • Café People
    • Book Clubs (n=6)
    • (Plus many anecdotal reports…)
findings to date
Findings To-date
  • Everyone has at least one IG
  • Most popular for general public:
    • Church (lower income people)
    • Workplace lunchroom (higher income)
  • Broad range of other settings; looking for “mingable” places
  • “Hostage” phenomena  When people are stuck together
    • Waiting rooms (auto shops, offices), queues, laundromats, ferries, buses & trains, airport luggage carousels…
  • Bonding and bridging social capital
info grounds
Info Grounds
  • What’s yours?
  • What makes it a good “info” place?
college student rqs
College Student RQs
  • What are students’ IGs?
  • What types of info do students obtain at IGs?
  • What makes these IGs opportune for info flow?
  • How can these IGs be explained using an typology based on previous IG studies?
college students
College Students
  • n=729
  • Oct. 14-21, 2004
  • 55% female
  • 24 years (mean age)
  • 72% undergrads, 15% masters, 7% PhD, 6% non-degree
  • 23.5 months average attendance
info grounds1

< < Info Grounds > >

Where do you think they are for college students?

people place information trichotomy


  • Membership Size
  • Membership Type
  • Familiarity
  • Actor Roles
  • Motivation
  • Place
  • Focal Activities
  • Conviviality
  • Creature Comfort
  • Location & Permanence
  • Privacy
  • Ambient Noise
  • Information
  • Significance
  • Frequency Discussed
  • How Created/Shared
  • Topics
People-Place-Information Trichotomy
people characteristics
Membership Size

Influences how info created & exchanged

Degree of intimacy

Degree of access to info types

College students IGs typically small to medium

Membership Types (n=729)

Open & public (70.4%)

Closed & exclusive (29.6%)

People Characteristics
people characteristics1
People Characteristics
  • Familiarity/Relational Dynamics
    • Making connections
      • Fleeting relationships
        • It is not necessary to worry about “what other people think because you never have to see them again”
      • Anchored relationships
        • “They don’t mind me hanging around and they know my drink.”
    • Homogeneity
      • Shared interests, background, characteristics, activities
    • Heterogeneity
      • Diverse perspectives
people characteristics2
Actor Roles

Reason for being at IG

Significant to flow of info

Students7 roles (n=790)

Customer 25.4%

Student 20.1%

Staff 19.9%

Member 16.2%

Info Giver 12.4%

Resident 4.1%

Other 1.9%





Bus/bus stop

Classroom and hallways before and after class

People Characteristics
place characteristics
Place Characteristics
  • Focal Activities
    • Reason for going to IG
    • Bring people together
    • Multiple activities occur simultaneously
  • Conviviality
    • Can include food or drink
    • Festive mood
    • Fosters interaction among people
place characteristics1
Place Characteristics
  • Creature Comforts
    • Environmental factors
      • Chairs, lighting, music
    • Create relaxing environment conducive to info exchange
  • Location & Permanence
    • Convenience
    • How IGs created, sustained, transform, disappear
place characteristics2
Place Characteristics
  • Privacy
    • Perceived privacy fosters conversation
    • Crowds allow for eavesdropping
  • Ambient Noise
    • May or may not facilitate conversation and info sharing
info characteristics

Usefulness of info

Decision making

Frequency Discussed

Topic comes up often

New ideas and issues


Info very useful (49.9%)

Info somewhat useful (37.4%)

Can’t do without info (6.1%)

Info not useful (5.0%)

Info not applicable (1.7%)



Make trivial decisions (35.9%)

Make big decisions (22.2%)

Make trivial & big (37.6%)

Make small decisions (2.5%)

Other (1.8%)

Info Characteristics
info characteristics1
Info Characteristics
  • How Created & Shared
    • Social interaction
    • Purposive
    • Serendipitous


  • Talk to non-employee (37.9%)
  • Talk to employee (22.6%)
  • Overhear conversation (14%)
  • Read posted material (8.7%)
  • Media (5.8%)
  • Observing people (4.2%)
  • Read printed material (4.2%)
  • Lecture (1.8%)
  • Other (0.3%)
info characteristics2
Personal vs. Local vs. World

Things you need to learn more about (28.0%)

What’s happening in area (19.8%)

What’s happening in world (18.5%)

Who’s doing what (17.4%)

Things about places (8.8%)

Things for self-improvement (2.0%)

Things to apply to daily living (2.0%)

Other (2.0%)

Other’s thoughts and opinions (1.6%)

Info Characteristics
future research
Future Research
  • Effects of manipulating different people-place-info factor  system design
  • How people re-conceptualize their everyday life situations and redefine their info needs within social settings
  • How info is socially constructed among different actors
  • How people’s perceptions and participation in IGs change over time
  • IGs as small worlds—in Chatman’s sense and applicability of her theories
  • Future sites: Places of worship, and the workplace

 Our findings suggest that IGs encompass a strong affective component where many IG factors elicit emotional responses

current ibec projects
Current IBEC Projects
  • Info Grounds (places of worship, workplace)
  • Proxy info seekers—consumer health info
  • Community Tech Centers—assessing impact
  • Stay-at-home moms, and preteens
  • “211” and its impact on communities
  • Microsoft Research, Community Technologies Group—Sabbatical
    • SHOPPERS MOBILE USERS (SLAM; Counts & Fisher)
thank you

Thank You!