Dec 3

Andy Oram

Andy Oram

New survey: what problems do you have when searching for information?

The next time you have to search for information on any topic, try recording your efforts in a survey I've just put up:

Easy searches usually aren't interesting, so I'm seeking submissions just about searches that covered three or more documents (besides search engines). Relevant searches can be done online, using print media, or both--and even other media such as radio or film.

The survey is designed to cull a variety of information about searches, including:

  • When do people turn from online sources to print sources, and vice versa?

  • Do people start with a trusted site in their field, or toss the dice with a search on a generic search engine such as Google?

  • Do people refine their search strings repeatedly in order to turn up better results?

  • Are people happy with the quality of the documents they find?

  • Do people follow references they find in magazines and books? Are they more likely to follow references they find online?

  • How useful are traditional book indexes compared to online searches?

You can also help this research effort by telling colleagues about this survey. It's not limited to computer information; I'd like to get results from people in many areas.

I plan to use the data to enhance the research I've done during the past three years on community documentation. I'll publish articles about my findings on the O'Reilly Network and report on them at conferences. Ultimately, I hope the survey will:

  • Encourage authors to add more links and references that help readers find relevant background and related information

  • Spur developers to create software that makes it easy for readers to add such links.

  • Guide web sites to developing more focused search tools, tailored to their readers' interests.

  • Enrich discussions about new search strategies, such as those suggested by the recently unveiled "Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP).
  • Uncover other techniques to help authors and publishers find more effective ways to offer information.

tags:   | comments: 4   | Sphere It

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Comments: 4

  Graeme Williams [12.03.07 09:21 AM]

The text above says you are interested in searches on any topic, but the survey (when you follow the link) says that it is about technical information. Which is it?

The hardest search I do is to find good restaurants when I'm traveling to a new city or town, but it doesn't sound as though that's what you're interested in.

  Lasse [12.03.07 11:44 AM]

Well, I saw people typing full sentences on google. They type "I'm looking for someone who can" into search engines. These people have got problems when searching for information

  Andy Oram [12.04.07 11:46 AM]

Thanks to Graeme Williams for pointing out a confusing phrase in the introductory text; I changed it. What I'm trying to convey is that I want people to talk about looking for answers to specific questions--searches that have a definite end. Not just people surfing around for general knowledge or out of curiosity.

  People Finder [12.04.07 01:24 PM]

I guess it all depends on exactly what I am looking for and how much information and knowledge I have before I start the search.

In my line of work ( skip tracing a.k.a. - people searching ) it comes down to the person's name and known personal identifiers.

People with common first and last names are hardest to find, unless they just happen to be listed in an online white pages search. If not, the Google search engine is my next choice for finding people using any known personal identifiers along with the person's name in my query.

Such personal identifiers could include previous known addresses; places of employment; professional identifiers; school and university information as well as any known hobbies or interests. I have found numerous people on the Google search engine just by typing in their name and known hobbies.

People with uncommon last names are easier to find because even if you don't find the person listed on a free online white pages site, you can usually find potential relatives by doing a last name only search on these sites, especially if you know of previous city-state of residence for the person.

If all else fails, I will refer to online free federal, state and local public record searches to try to find location information.

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