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?