Beyond Logs and Surveys: In-Depth Measures of People's Online Skills

2002. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 53(14):1239-1244.


Finding information on the Web can be a much more complex search process than previously experienced on many pre-Web information retrieval systems given that finding content online does not have to happen via a search algorithm typed into a search field. Rather, the Web allows for a myriad of search strategies. Although there are numerous studies of Web search techniques, these studies often limit their focus to just one part of the search process and are not based on the behavior of the general user population, nor do they include information about the users. To remedy these shortcomings, this project looks at how people find information online in the context of their other media use, their general Internet use patterns, in addition to using information about their demographic background and social support networks. This article describes the methodology in detail, and suggests that a mix of survey instruments and in-person observations can yield the type of rich data set that is necessary to understand in depth the differences in people’s information retrieval behavior online.

I. Introduction
II. Existing Research on Web Use for Information Retrieval
III. Collecting In-Depth Data: Structured Observations and Interviews
IV. Coding and Analyzing the Data
V. Findings
VI. Conclusion

I would like to thank Paul DiMaggio for his insightful comments on this project and Stan Katz for his ongoing support. Barbara Wildemuth and the anonymous reviewers from the ASIST SIG USE Research Symposium offered very helpful suggestions. I am also grateful to Edward Freeland, James Chu, and Jeremy Davis-Turak for their help with the survey components of the project, to Carolyn Mordas for help with recruiting and to Inna Barmash for her help with interviews and coding the data. Generous support from the Markle Foundation is acknowledged. The project has also been supported in part by NSF Grant #SES9819907, a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, and through a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Princeton University. I am also grateful to the Fellowship of Woodrow Wilson Scholars at Princeton University. A similar version of this article was presented at the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference on October 29, 2001, in Alexandria, VA

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