Driving north from here, just alongside the interstate highway, is a new housing development. Fully visible to the multitudinous cars and trucks that drive by on that road, the houses under construction are advertised with a large sign, also fully visible, that proclaims the name of the development to be “Hidden Pointe.” Hidden? What’s hidden about this? And what’s the point (pointe?) of mentioning this on a blog about online stuff? Because it seems to me to be an analogy for much of what happens on the Web.
Ordinary people, even professional researchers, are having an increasingly difficult time finding things that are hidden in plain sight. It’s really clear that Hidden Pointe is not hidden from the freeway. However, it’s between two exits. Get off on either one and you’re on your own trying to find Hidden Pointe. So maybe it really is hidden. Similarly, studies show that most Internet search engine users look at only the top few hits. They don’t scroll down. They don’t change their preferences to display 50 to 100 hits at a time, leaving the default of 10 in place.
A recent Eyetracking Research Report was just published by search engine marketing firm Checkit, based on research done by de Vos & Jansen Market Research. Both companies are in The Netherlands. Comparing how individuals’ search behaviors differ depending on whether they’re told to look for information or to buy something, the study found that buyers view more search results (but still only about 10) and take more time to view the results. They also found that buyers pay more attention to brand names. From the nature of the question the individuals were asked to search, it’s clear that Checkit and de Vos & Jansen didn’t have serious researchers in mind. In other words, it wasn’t a library research type of inquiry. Plus, only 50 searchers participated and they were young, between 17 and 24 years old.
I’m wondering if some Dutch special librarians (although there are only 8 SLA members in the entire country), or information specialists, would like to hop over to Nijmegen and help out on the next eyetracking study, one that compares how real researchers behave when they’re looking for hidden points. Or perhaps some of our Dutch colleagues/film crew who attended Internet Librarian International last year should have a go at it.