This article in JASIST caught my eye:

“The role of subjective factors in the information search process,” by Jacek Gwizdka (Rutgers), Irene Lopatovska (Pratt). Forthcoming.

“Subjective factors” are any and all of the feelings and perceptions users have while seeking information:

In this article, we refer to ratings that were self-reported by searchers as subjective factors. This broad term includes affective (e.g., positive and negative feelings), cognitive (e.g., perception of being lost), and evaluative (e.g., judgment of task difficulty) measures that reflected searchers’ perceptions of self and the search environment.

Not surprisingly, the authors show that stuff like emotions and subjective perceptions play an important role in searching for information online:

The findings confirm some previous results as well as extend them. For example, we found the link between objective search-task difficulty (e.g., the amount of time spent on the task, number of pages visited, etc.) and the perception of task difficulty; the link between the mood and search behavior and outcomes. All these findings are in line with previous research on the role of subjective factors in information seeking.

Our original findings suggest that better mood before and during the search correlates with better mood after the search, but also correlates with worse performance on the search task and lower satisfaction. We based our analysis on statistical correlations. The effects of controlled factors , and the relationships between variables with a strictly defined order in time allow us to talk about plausible causal effects. If causal relationships are verified, the finding implies that mood might be a major predictor of search outcomes (regardless of the task or the interface), and individual differences between the searchers (optimists vs. pessimists, searchers experiencing positive vs. negative affective states, etc.) might have a major effect on search outcomes. To a certain degree, this finding also questions the efforts to design pleasurable search experiences since feeling good during the search does not seem to translate into better search task outcomes. Due to the potential importance of these findings, they should be further investigated and validated.

Very interesting that mood plays affects success of a search outcome.

I’ve written and talked about the potential role emotions play in information seeking in the past. In fact, the authors cite my 2006 JASIST article: “I’m feeling lucky : The role of emotions in seeking information on the Web.” And I presented a model at the 2004 IA Summit in Austin called the Information Search Experience (ISX).

Or see a previous blog posting with an excerpt from Designing Web Navigation, where I also briefly mention emotions and information seeking.

Jeppe Nicolaisen, from the Royal School of Library and Information Science, has an interesting forthcoming article in JASIST:

Nicolaisen, J. (in press). Compromised need and the label effect: An examination of claims and evidence Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 1-6 DOI: 10.1002/asi.21129

In a nutshell, he puts the empirical-ness of Taylor’s notion of the “compromised need” in doubt. To quickly review, according to Taylor an information need progresses through four levels when a seeker is looking for information:

  • Visceral need – This is the actual, but unexpressed need for information
  • Conscious need – The recognized need at a cognitive level
  • Formalized need – A formal statement of the need
  • Compromised need – This is the question as presented to the information system or intermediary. It called the compromised need because the inquirer must adapt the question to accommodate the available resources. This has also been called the label effect, because it has been assumed that seekers frequently fail to specify their true information needs, i.e., they use the wrong labels.

Taylor’s theory has been the inspiration for many user-centered studies in information retrieval and library science for the past three decades. It was even (part of ) the basis in my Information Search Experience model I presented at the IA Summit in 2004 in Austin. See my presentation: Information Search Experience: Emotions in Information Seeking.

But Nicolaisen finds problem after problem with studies that supposedly support the notion of the “compromised need” empirically. He is particularly critical of some works by Ingwersen, pointing out incorrect citations and interpretation of other studies. Yikes.

Nicolaisen concludes:

We have examined available studies of the compromised need / the label effect and have compared claims against evidence. The aim was to establish whether the compromised need / the label effect is a frequently occurring phenomenon or not. We found that the studies that reportedly had verified the phenomenon (Ingwersen & Kaae, [1980]; Ingwersen, [1982]; Belkin et al., [1982]; Belkin, [1984]; Nordlie, [1999]) all suffer from technical problems that put the claim of verification in doubt. Two other studies (Lynch, [1978]; Hauptman, [1987]) that report low percentages of questions changing from the initial query during large-scale studies of user-librarian negotiations might indicate that users are quite often asking for precisely what they want. Although it is difficult to imagine that so many users would have accepted leaving with unanswered information needs, the fact that the librarians did not conduct in-depth interviews, and therefore may have failed to discover users’ real information needs, preclude us from making definite conclusions. However, what we can conclude is that the compromised need / the label effect is not the empirical fact that it has otherwise been claimed to be.



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