DonnaM » Blog Archive » Human-information interaction

Human-information interaction

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.

4 Responses to “Human-information interaction”

  1. ia/ Says:

    Human-information interaction

    Donna Maurer has an insightful post comparing the task-orientation of HCI to the iterative information seeking behaviors we see on the web. Trying to apply

  2. Jim Says:

    Hi Donna,

    Very interesting musings. As an ex-LIS person turned IA and now doing more interaction design and usability, I’ve struggled with pretty much the same issue you put forth above.

    I agree the the usability field hasn’t come to grips with exploratory information seeking. The HCI community also tends to misunderstand information seeking to some degree as well. Solving complex information problems and creating meaning from the information we find can’t always be accurately described by a task analysis. There’s an interplay of cognitive, social, cultural, orgainzational, affective and linguistics factors to consider.

    But LIS folk do indeed recognize that there are users at the other end of their content – at least in theory. For instance, the notion of human-information interaction already exists as a sub-field within information science. The iSchool in Washington even has a center for it:
    Other schools refer to such concepts as “human information behavior” or the like. What’s lacking from the LIS field – in my opinion – are the practical solutions to keep up with a quick-paced business world that IAs create on a daily basis. It’s really the typical gap between theory and practice found in just about any discipline. Morville and Rosenfeld have done great work “pulling” from LIS, but there is little “push” as far as I can tell.

    I’d be happy to point to you a butt load of information behavior research if you want. Just let me know.


  3. Melvin Kumar Says:

    Hi Donna,

    You seem to be talking about the information retrival community, but there is a part of the Information organization community that is exploring on the area of seeking unknown information through a culmination of organization methods. Enabling Serendipitous discovery is the word I guess.

    Although this community is exploring that, I have realized its hard validate the effectiveness of organization as there is no proper testing mechanism available. Thus traditional usability methods are used, which in my opinion doesn’t really give “real” results.

    Melvin Kumar

  4. nemrut Says:

    Some interesting thoughts. The way I think about IA and its place within UX development is more along the lines of serving an exploratory approach that you mentioned. Users are fee to explore but are more likely to find areas of interest when information is grouped and cross-referenced in a relevant manner.

    In terms of Task Analysis, one could make the argument that sure users may be initially exploring but ultimately its all about completing a task(eg, research). That being said, you’re right in that TA is more relevant to software dev vs reference site such as an online encyclopedia. But as you also may be aware, more companies are follwing the web application model of software development and lines between exploration and pure task based functions are becoming more and more blurrd.

    So the question is not either or which is better or worse for either situation, but as you alluded to, a more solid approach and sensitivity to how people consume information and differing ways of doing so.