Why is it difficult to find comprehensive information? Implications of information scatter for search and design

  • Bhavnani S
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The rapid development of Web sites providing extensive coverage of a topic, coupled with the development of powerful search engines (designed to help users find such Web sites), suggests that users can easily find comprehensive information about a topic. In domains such as consumer healthcare, finding comprehensive information about a topic is critical as it can improve a patient's judgment in making healthcare decisions, and can encourage higher compliance with treatment. However, recent studies show that despite using powerful search engines, many healthcare information seekers have difficulty finding comprehensive information even for narrow healthcare topics because the relevant information is scattered across many Web sites. To date, no studies have analyzed how facts related to a search topic are distributed across relevant Web pages and Web sites. In this study, the distribution of facts related to five common healthcare topics across high-quality sites is analyzed, and the reasons underlying those distributions are explored. The analysis revealed the existence of few pages that had many facts, many pages that had few facts, and no single page or site that provided all the facts. While such a distribution conforms to other information-related phenomena, a deeper analysis revealed that the distributions were caused by a trade-off between depth and breadth, leading to the existence of general, specialized, and sparse pages. Furthermore, the results helped to make explicit the knowledge needed by searchers to find comprehensive healthcare information, and suggested the motivation to explore distribution-conscious approaches for the development of future search systems, search interfaces, Web page designs, and training. (Original abstract)

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  • Suresh K. Bhavnani

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