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~~~ Ramana Rao's INFORMATION FLOW ~~~ Issue #6 ~~ Oct 2002 ~~~~~

"Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring
individuals to "recognize when information is needed and have
the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the
needed information." Information literacy is increasingly
important in the contemporary environment of rapid
technological change and proliferating information resources.
... The uncertain quality and expanding quantity of
information pose large challenges for society. The sheer
abundance of information will not in itself create a more
informed citizenry without a complementary cluster of
abilities necessary to use information effectively.

-- Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000

~~~ IN THIS ISSUE ~~~ October 2002 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Editorial Announcements
* Models of Information Seeking
* Notes from the London Underground

~~~ Editorial Announcements ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE: I am not able to publish against a "near
the middle of the month" schedule. You can expect to see
future issues, still monthly, before the end of each month.

Web SITE REDESIGN Coming Soon: My new Web site design will be
launched before the next issue. I'd love to hear comments on
www.ramanarao.com, before or after.

~~~ Models of Information Seeking ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I often characterize the user task supported by Inxight as
finding what you are looking for and understanding what you have
found. At PARC, we called this "information access," and our
research was about, well, "intelligent" information access. A
label that seems to have stuck in academic circles for this user
task is "information seeking," an activity in which a user is
trying to fulfill an "information need."

The academic literature offers a number of models of information
seeking. I "collocate" distillations of five of these for your
browsing pleasure:

1. Xerox PARC Study of Critical Incidence
~> http://www2.parc.com/istl/projects/uir/pubs/pdf/UIR-R-2000-17-Morrison-CHI2001-WebTaxonomy.pdf

PARC researchers analyzed the responses of over 2000 web users to
one question on the well known Georgia Tech web survey. In
particular, users were asked to recall a recent instance in which
they found important information on the Web that lead to a
significant action or decision.

The question focuses on "significant" or "important" incidences,
thus the results are tilted as you would expect toward
goal-oriented and outcome-based activities. Perhaps the right
tilt for intranet/extranet applications.

Based on responses to this question, the whys and hows of web
searching behavior were coded with the following results:

Purpose Taxonomy: What was the primary reason for the
respondentís search?

24% Find:
15% A fact
6% A document
2% A download
2% Find out about a product

51% Compare/Choose: Evaluate multiple products or pieces of
information to make a decision.

24% Understand: Use of the Web to help the respondent to
understand some topic; generally includes locating facts
or documents.

Method Taxonomy: How did the respondent find the information?
What was the respondentís goal?

25% Find: Searching for a particular fact/document/piece of
information. Search is triggered by a goal.

71% Collect: Searching for multiple pieces of information.
Searcher is open to any answer, not looking for a
particular one. A goal drives the searcherís behavior.

2% Explore: General searching for information. The search is
not triggered by a particular goal.

2% Monitor: Repeated visits to specific websites to update
information. The search is not triggered by a particular
goal; it is a routine behavior.

2. Elaine Svenonius on Bibliographic Objectives in Libraries
~> Book Info on Amazon

Librarian's for over 150 years tried to codify the specific
objectives of bibliographic systems. Panizzi, in the middle of
1800s, argued for catalogs to bring together like items and
differentiate among similar ones. Later characterizations are
more focused specifically on the tasks that catalogs enable
information seeker to perform. Library Scientist Elaine
Svenonius provides in her book an amended version of
bibliographic objectives formulated by the International
Federation of Libaray Associations and Institutions (IFLA):

to locate entities in a file or database as the result of a
search using attributes or relationships of the entities:

to find a single entity -- that is, a document

to locate sets of entities representing:
all documents belonging to the same work
all documents belonging to the same edition
all documents by a given author
all documents on a given subject
all documents defined by "other" criteria

to identify an entity (that is, to confirm that the entity
described in a record corresponds to the entity sought or to
distinguish between two or more entities with similar

to select an entity that is appropriate to the users needs
(that is, to choose an entity that meets the user's
requirements with respect to content, physical format, and so
on or to reject an entity as being inappropriate to the
user's needs);

to acquire or obtain access to the entity described (that is,
to acquire an entity through purchase, loan, and so on or
to access an entity electronically through an online
connection to a remote computer);

to navigate a bibliographic database (that is, to find works
related to a given work by generalization, association, and
aggregation; to find attributes related by equivalence,
association, and hierarchy).

Svenonius's book is *very* academic, but if you are really
interested in philisophy, history, and intellectual issues
related to libraries and information organization, it is quite
worth the effort.

3. Marchionini's Information Seeking Framework
~> Book Info on Amazon

Besides providing extensive organization of the pre-1995
literature on how users seek information, Gary Marchionini's
(also quite academic) book provides a framework for understanding
the wide variety of contextual factors that affect information
seeking in electronic environments. The framework delineates the
stages of information seeking, though users almost always cycle
back and forth:

* recognize and accept an information problem
* define and understand the problem
* choose a search system
* formulate a query
* execute search
* examine results
* extract information
* reflect/iterate/stop

4. ACRL's Information Literacy Standard, 2000
~> http://www.ala.org/acrl/ilintro.html
~> http://www.ala.org/acrl/ilcomstan.html

In 2000, the Association of College and Research Libraries
published a competency standard for "information literacy" in
higher education. The intro quotation was drawn from there. The
report further states that an "information literate" individual
should be able to:

* Determine the extent of information needed
* Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
* Evaluate information and its sources critically
* Incorporate selected information into oneís knowledge base
* Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
* Understand the economic, legal, and social issues
surrounding the use of information, and access and use
information ethically and legally

5. The Big6 Curriculum for Information Seeking Skills
~> http://www.esf.edu.hk/appendix/Big6/TMR.htm
~> http://www.big6.com/showcategory.php?cid=6

Mike Eisenberg and Bob Berkowitz have researched information
literacy over a couple of decades. They founded the Big6 effort
to spread a horizontal curriculum for information literacy. The
six steps of the Big6 model are quite similar to the models

* Task Definition
* Information Seeking Strategies
* Location and Access
* Use of Information
* Synthesis
* Evaluation

Looking at any of these models reveals a much richer set of
requirements for truly supporting information seeking than
typically supported by current systems. I can point at many
research systems that do quite a good job at much of this and
some personal products, but the enterprise solutions are only now
becoming available.

~~~ Notes from the London Underground ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the last year, I've been to London three times and another
trip is coming next month. I can now rapidly pull up a gif of
the London Underground map from my hard disk. This map is often
cited as a great act of information design.

At first glance (~>), the Tube map immediately strikes as
attractive and visually interesting. Well this is a good start
in my opinion, because beauty does matter (this last statement
could get me blacklisted by many user interface designers and
startup executives).

~> http://www.thetube.com/content/tubemap/images/pocket_map.gif

But as I use the map for my own purposes, e.g. figuring out where
I might want to stay based on where I have meetings, I am
frustrated because I can't find a station by its name or I can't
figure out how the map relates to a location above ground. And I
sense vague anxiety just looking at the maze of lines going in
all directions.

"Mind the gap," the voice warns at a number of stations on the
Picadilly line from Heathrow, meaning the space between the
platform and the train. But as my frustrations suggest, this six
inches of air that troubles my wheelie may not be the biggest gap
to mind.

The Tube map abstracts away from precise realities of above
ground, for example, north and south and distances between
stations. Such warping in service of the navigator's task is
held out as a virtue of the design. Yet in my tasks, it was
exactly this gap between the underground and above ground,
between the map and the territory, that caused me grief.

Other such gaps seethe up from below. The long escalator down
gives me ample time to develop fear and loathing about whether
I'll go left or right to find the inbound or outbound, north or
south routes. Or about how many tunnels I'll have to chase
through to get to the right line that is down there somewhere.

As I use the map and live the reality, I get more and more
comfortable using it (along with complementary maps) to plan my
journeys. And the map seems to get better, the memory of the
first experiences fading (okay, not completely). In ten years of
commercializing information visualization, boy, do I ever
appreciate how significant the first few seconds of using a new
tool can be to the chances of it being accepted.

Often people raise concerns that Inxight's visualizations don't
appear intuitive or that they will overwhelm ordinary users.
Exactly as with, I would (did) say, the London Underground map.
Yet, what the comments are really about are familiarity, as
Esther Dyson has pointed out, not some ill-defined

Ultimately, designers should be looking at how good a tool can be
with what amount of experience and effort on the part of the
users. Though the adoption problem is a key issue for designers,
I get concerned when too much compromise is made to the first
moment of use at the expense of all moments after it. (I
personally felt that way about the one button mouse.)

Back above ground, I can always take a cab. The cabbies after
all have "The Knowledge." They supposedly pass a test
demonstrating that they can navigate streets and routes across
London without a map. Unfortunately, I'm starting to catch "The
Knowledge" myself.

Ramana Rao is Founder and CTO of Inxight Software, Inc.
Copyright (c) 2002 Ramana Rao. All rights reserved.
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