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What Can Searching Behavior Tell Us About the Difficulty of Information Tasks? A Study of Web Navigation

Jacek Gwizdka, Ian Spence

ASIS&T Annual Meeting - 2006 (ASIS&T 2006)
Austin, Texas, November 3-9, 2006


Task has been recognized as an influential factor in information seeking behavior. An increasing number of studies are concentrating on the specific characteristics of the task as independent variables to explain associated information-seeking activities. This paper examines the relationships between operational measures of information search behavior and subjectively perceived post-task difficulty in the context of factual information-seeking tasks on the web. A question-driven, web-based information-finding study was conducted in a controlled experimental setting. The study participants performed nine search tasks of varying complexity. Subjective task difficulty was found to be correlated with many measures that characterize the searcher’s activities. Four of those measures, the number of the unique web pages visited, the time spent on each page, the degree of deviation from the optimal path and the degree of the navigation path's linearity, were found to be the best predictors of subjective task difficulty. Task complexity was found to affect the relative importance of those predictors. Task complexity was also found to affect subjective judgments of task difficulty.

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