Information seeking on the Web: An integrated model of browsing and searching

Chun Wei Choo, Brian Detlor, Dan Turnbull


This paper presents findings from a study of how knowledge workers use the Web to seek external information as part of their daily work. Thirty-four users from seven companies took part in the study. Participants were mainly IT specialists, managers, and research/marketing/consulting staff working in organizations that included a large utility company, a major bank, and a consulting firm. Participants answered a detailed questionnaire and were interviewed individually in order to understand their information needs and information seeking preferences. A custom-developed WebTracker software application was installed on each of their work place PCs, and participants' Web-use activities were then recorded continuously during two-week periods. The WebTracker recorded how participants used the browser to seek information on the Web: it logged menu choices, button bar selections, and keystroke actions, allowing browsing and searching sequences to be reconstructed. In a second round of personal interviews, participants recalled critical incidents of using information from the Web.
Data from the two interviews and the WebTracker logs constituted the database for analysis. Sixty-one significant episodes of information seeking were identified. A model was developed to describe the common repertoires of information seeking that were observed. On one axis of the model, episodes were plotted according to the four scanning modes identified by Aguilar (1967), Weick and Daft (1983): undirected viewing, conditioned viewing, informal search, and formal search. Each mode is characterized by its own information needs and information seeking strategies. On the other axis of the model, episodes were plotted according to the occurrence of one or more of the six categories of information seeking behaviors identified by Ellis (1989, 1990): starting, chaining, browsing, differentiating, monitoring, and extracting. The study suggests that a behavioral framework that relates motivations (Aguilar) and moves (Ellis) may be helpful in analyzing patterns of Web-based information seeking.

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