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Message and Messenger: The Carrier Effect on Judgments of Credibility

Paul Aumer-Ryan and Katherine Aumer-Ryan

ASIS&T 2008 Annual Meeting (AM08 2008)
Columbus, Ohio, October 24-29, 2008


In digital library search engines, "no results found" is a misleading phrase because it masquerades as a definitive answer; in reality, the collection being searched may in fact contain content that matches a user's query. This research examines the effect of null result sets on search behavior and on the perception of contents in digital libraries. In particular, this research supports the hypothesis that interface and design flaws have an effect on the perceived authority and credibility (here defined in terms of being authentic, factual, trustworthy, scholarly, and accurate) of the information being communicated by the interface in question. In short, interface design and the "form" of information (or, alternatively, the messenger) can negatively impact the perception of the quality of the "content" of information (the message). For example, we might assume that users browsing a poorly designed digital library may in turn perceive the materials they retrieve from this library as amateur, unscientific, and irrelevant to their search topic. Chesney (2006) found that domain novices were more likely than domain experts to conclude that Wikipedia entries were not credible, implying that Wikipedia's design and reputation negatively impacted the perception of what was (according to experts) highly credible information. In a sense, this basic act of information triage by domain novices illuminates one of the methods by which we evaluate new or poorly understood information: by examining its distribution mechanism (and by judging the credibility of its source and presentation). Generally speaking, this research is an indication of how individuals are prone to confound messages and messengers, in this case allowing features of the messenger (the interface) to affect the reception of the message (the digital library content).

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