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... the editorial blog by Marydee Ojala, Editor of ONLINE: Exploring Technology & Resources for Information Professionals. ONLINE Insider intends to extend the reach of the print publication, presenting a more timely commentary on the products, people, and events that shape today's online world. It explores new technologies as they impact the working lives of information professionals, explains resources for specific topic areas, and expounds on information management tools and techniques.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Marydee Ojala @ 11:44 am

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.

1 Comment

  1. Research based on input of only 50 people between 17 and 24 years old, how representable can it be? Not very, if you ask me. Ask 50 others, and you’ll have different results.

    I’m working as a webcoordinator at a Dutch (higher education) library, we invest a lot in our digital library. I think that would be an interesting topic for an eyetracking study; see how long it takes students, teachers and staff to figure out the OPAC and other resources, how they read or scan the library blog and wiki.

    But then again, the results of such a survey would probably be pretty predictable; They won’t figure out the OPAC, will click on the top three results in every database and hardly navigate in a structured way through that big pile of library information.

    These things most of us already know, but maybe such a study could of course come in handy for those who need some proof to slap their managers with.

    By the way, I was at the ILI2006, just didn’t get a chance to meet you there.

    Comment by Gerard Bierens — February 23, 2007 @ 5:08 pm

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