TQR- Berry Picking Time (with apologies to both Ms. Bates and Great Big Sea)

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.

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?