Thursday, 31 October 2013

Different ways of interacting with an information resource

I'm at a workshop on how to evaluate information retrieval systems, and we are discussing the scope of concern. What is an IR system, and is the concept still useful in the 21st Century, where people engage with information resources in many different ways? The model of information seeking in sessions for a clear purpose still holds for some interactions, but it's certainly not the dominant practice any more.

I was struck when I first used the NHS Choices site that it encourages exploration above seeking: it invites visitors to consume health information that they hadn't realised that they might be interested in. This is possible with health in a way that it might not be in some other areas because most people have some inherent interest in better understanding their own health and wellbeing. At least some of the time! Such sites encourage unplanned consumption, hopefully leading to new understanding, without having a particular curriculum to impart.

On the way here, I read a paper by Natalya Godbold in which she describes the experiences of dialysis patients. One of the points she makes is that people on dialysis exploit a wide range of information resources in managing their condition – importantly, including how they feel at the time. This takes embodied interaction into a new space (or rather, into a space in which it has been occurring for a long time without being noticed as such): the interaction with the technology affects and is informed by the experienced effects that flow (literally as well as metaphorically) through the body. And information need, acquisition, interpretation and use are seamlessly integrated as the individual monitors, makes sense of and manages their own condition. The body, as well as the world around us, is part of the ecology of information resources we work with, often without noticing.

While many such resources can't be "designed", it's surely important to recognise their presence and value when designing explicit information resources and IR systems.

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