Once in a while it is a good and refreshing thing to revisit some of the classics. In this case a paper that I consider to be a primary lens for looking at information seeking behaviours.
Something struck me as I was rereading Marcia Bates‘ “The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the On-Line Search Interface” (Published in 1989, a time when on-line searching was awkward, expensive and the preserve of academics and scientists. We can argue whether or not the situation has actually improved on another day.)
The berrypicking (or evolving search) model that she describes is now a widely used shorthand for a set of user behaviors. Unfortunately like many abbreviated terms, we forget the full complexity of the ideas that the shorthand represents.
Five of the six specific information chasing strategies that she describes as being used by academic searchers are used everyday by the bloggers and blog readers. Blogs have evolved tools for their own versions of:
- Footnote Chasing: (also known as backward chaining.) No need to write that citation down and go the library to look up the cited material, just click on the link in the blog post and get an immediate look at it.
- Citation Chasing: (forward chaining,) Most non-academics don’t ever learn about using a citation index but it’s one of the best ways to move your search for information forward through time. Now with trackbacks everyone can do citation chasing without even knowing that they are engaging in one of the rituals of graduate school. Also have look at technorati’s blog reactions for links to blog posts that refer to another post.
- Journal Run: Instead of sitting on the floor of the periodicals stacks running your finger down the table of contents of each issue of the Journal of Cat-like Things for the last two years just click on the handy archive links in the left (right) hand navigation pane of the blog.
- Author Searching: Most blog writers who publish in more than one place add links to their other blogs or guest writing spots in their “home” blogs.
- Subject Searches: Searches limited to the world of blogs and blogging are available from Technorati, Google Blog Search, and a slew of specialized blog search engines.
The sixth search technique is a little harder to place in the blog world. At least I thought it was, until I spent some time looking at a handful of blogs trying to find good examples of the first five techniques.
- Area Scanning: the habit of looking at the adjoining shelves. Once you have found Audubon’s Birds of North America (DDC 598AUD) you will find Kale’s Florida’s Birds (DDC 598.2975 KAL) as well as Garrido’s Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba (DDC 598.097291 GAR) on nearby shelves. Handy if you’re looking for information on birds you might see in the Florida Keys. The blog equivalent is looking at the blog rolls. Perhaps not as tidy as the library shelf model but none-the-less titles co-located by being placed on the same list are likely to have useful relationships to one another. (This blog is the sad counter example; my blog roll is exactly a list of things that are not related to the primary topic of my essays.)
For the next couple of days I’ll be more aware of which search habits I might be dragging from the paper based past into the digital present present and thinking about whether or not they are still useful and if useful are they well provided for?