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Re-Finding Information on the Web: What Do People Do And What Do They Need?

Harry Bruce Email:; William Jones Email: Susan Dumais Email:

Presented at ASIST 2004 Annual Meeting; "Managing and Enhancing Information: Cultures and Conflicts" (ASIST AM 04), Providence, Rhode Island, November 13 - 18, 2004


An observational study investigated the methods people use in their workplace to re-access web information. In a previous study, people were observed using many different methods to keep web information for later use including the use of Bookmarks (or Favorites), self-addressed email, hand-written notes, and paper print-outs. Each keeping method realizes its own constellation of important features or functions. No observed method provides all desired functions. In the study described in this article, participants were tested for their ability to return to a web site. When prompted with web site descriptions they had generated three to six months earlier, participants had 95% or better success rate in returning to the cued-for web sites. Moreover, two thirds of these re-finding methods required no explicit keeping behavior. Especially popular are the use of: 1.) A search service. 2.) Partial completion of a site’s web address and acceptance of a suggested completion to this address (the auto-complete function). 3.) The Hyperlinks from another web site. Results underline the importance of a reminding function. This paper also reports the data collected from a web survey completed by 214 participants. The data from this survey validated and elaborated the various methods that people use to keep web information for later re-use that were identified in earlier observational studies.

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