Thursday, 12 June 2008

exhibiting exploratory behaviour

Next week I am giving a talk on our paper at JCDL08, on the longitudinal real-world usage of a website that has both faceted and keyword search persistently available. One of the aims of this research was to see how people changed behaviour over time, as they grew more familiar with both the data and the website. This is motivated, of course, by the notion of Exploratory Search, which represents users who dont necessarily know what they are looking for or how to find it.

It has only struck me recently how undefined exploratory behaviour really is. Originally, it was suggested that people who are exploring would click around on things such as facets and categories, rather than keyword search, because they do not know what to search for. Then later they would keyword search, because they have learned whats available on the site.

The alternative view is that people who really don't know what to search for, start with the 'vague query', and then use the facets to refine.

What we saw in the study is that people exhibit either pattern of behaviour at any stage, and this idea of order is not the variable that defines exploratory behaviour. For example, some experienced users were using the facets to produce very specific queries, rather than typing boolean queries into the keyword search box. Similarly, we saw experienced users start with a keyword search and then narrow the results down effectively.

So what variables do identify exploratory behaviour? is it this effective behaviour? if we see a lot of similar queries or a lot of swap and change within one facet does that make them a learner? because i can sure think of occasions when one problem involves selecting lots of items in a column, regardless of whether im good or bad at it: where to go on holiday? you could select lots of countries and cities.

one of our earlier papers (a few years ago) thought maybe it was the idea of backing out of your decisions.

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