A Field Study Characterizing Web-based Information Seeking Tasks


Melanie Kellar
Carolyn Watters
Michael Shepherd

Author Addresses: 

Faculty of Computer Science
Dalhousie University
6050 University Ave.
PO Box 15000
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
B3H 4R2



Previous studies have examined various aspects of user behaviour on the Web, including general information seeking patterns, search engine use, and revisitation habits. Little research has been conducted to study how users navigate and interact with their Web browser across different information seeking tasks. We have conducted a field study of 21 participants in which we logged detailed Web usage and asked participants to provide task categorizations of their Web usage based on the following categories: Fact Finding, Information Gathering, Browsing, and Transactions. We used implicit measures logged during each task session to provide usage measures, such as dwell time, number of pages viewed, and the use of specific browser navigation mechanisms. We also report on differences in how participants interacted with their Web browser across the range of information seeking tasks. Within each type of task we found several distinguishing characteristics. In particular, Information Gathering tasks were the most complex; participants spent more time completing this task, viewed more pages, and used the Web browser functions most heavily during this task. The results of this analysis have been used to provide implications for future support of information seeking on the Web, as well as direction for future research in this area.

Tech Report Number: 
Report Date: 
January 15, 2005
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