I’ve been spending ridiculous amounts of time lately thinking about the difference between known and unknown information seeking (and all of the grey areas in between).
I think that part of the reason that I spend so much time on this is that I have a usability background, not a LIS background, but the type of IA work that I do (big messy intranets and government websites) is a combination of usability/user-centred and information science.
The usability and user centred field just haven’t come to grips with the idea of exploratory information seeking. Most of the usability/UCD techniques revolve around known tasks. The UCD focus on personas and scenarios, and the usability testing focus on scenarios all assumes that people know what they want. The focus on task analysis is about a known task (I had a long argument with someone recently who suggested that an IA for a site should be done by undertaking a series of hierarchical task analyses. Yeah, right!). This is not unrealistic considering that the background was primarily in task-based software development, not in decision making and information gathering.
And I still think that the LIS field haven’t come to grips with the fact that there are people on the end of their precious content (OK, this is a generalisation as I’m not as deeply involved in this field, but I have been spending *lots* of time reading IS journals and I spend a lot of time with LIS folk). Their focus is on beautifully describing records/pages and making them findable by a search engine.
The most valuable work that we are involved in requires a strong understanding of these two fields, beyond just the surface rhetoric. We need to deeply understand the things that people want to know and the different ways that they approach information, and the difficulty of designing for unknown, impossible to articulate, exploratory information seeking tasks. And we need to deeply know about the behaviours, decision making methods and cognitive capabilities of people.
And you probably expected me to conclude with a way to do this, but I haven’t figured out that yet, except to say that human-computer interaction in this domain is really about human-information interaction (HCI/HII?).
Stay posted as I muse.