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Examining Users on News Provider Web Sites: A Review of Methodology

William Gibbs

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 3, Issue 3, May 2008, pp. 129-148

Article Contents


Information seeking behaviors

The sections present the information seeking trails, the interaction variance, the Web page recurrence, the URL frequency as a function of distance, the behavior identification, and the sequential analysis.

Information seeking trails

The author labeled browsing events on the information seeking trails as Browse (B) and Search (S) and the transitions between them as forward (f) and back (b). The combination of events and transition resulted in four interaction events: (a) forward-to-search, (b) backward-to-search, (c) forward-to-browse, and (d) backward-to-browse. Figure 2 shows the proportion of the interaction events during all browsing tasks. The least popular interaction was forward-to-search; only 5% of interactions involved this operation. This finding is unlike White and Drucker's (2007) research that reported 21% of interactions as forward-to-search. It is also noteworthy that only about 7% of the interactions involved backward-to-search and most involved browsing pages on the hyperlink trail.

Figure 2. Browsing events on the information seeking trails

Figure 2. Browsing events on the information seeking trails

Interaction variance

The Levenshtein Distance (LD) was computed so that every browsing event was compared to every other event followed by a user. Character strings representing each event were created and then compared. For example, two events for a user might consist of the following character strings:

Event 1 (CNN): BBSB

Event 2 (USA): BBbB

The LD (smallest number of substitutions needed to change one string into another) for these events is LD = (event 1, event 2) = 1. Similar to White and Drucker (2007), the author calculated the average distance for all events for a user. Each user had six events, one for each news Web site. The LD was calculated so that each event was compared to the other five. The fewest number of interactions is optimal to locate a target so the event with the smallest average distance from all events was selected as representative of the user's interaction patterns. The averaged distance of this representative event was used to measure interaction variance so that if the representative event had a high-average distance from all other events for a user, then it was assumed that there was a high variance in the information search patterns of that individual. Conversely, a low-average distance would indicate a low variance for that person.

For all participants, the approximate within-user interaction variance was 1.0 whereas the interaction variance for all users across information seeking trials was 4.0 (SD = 1.3, Max = 6, Min = .2). The browsing events for an individual varied less than the browsing events across users.

Web page recurrence

Table 3 shows the recurrence rate for all users and for those having the directed and semi-directed task. The overall recurrence rate or the portion of pages revisited by users was 27%.

Table 3. Rate of recurrence
  Total pages Unique pages Recurrence rate
All users 1472 1069 27%
Directed 707 491 31%
Non directed 765 537 30%

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