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Dissertation Information for Elaine G. Toms

- Elaine G. Toms

- Ph.D.

- Library and Information Science

- University of Western Ontario (Canada) (1997)

- Jean Mary Tague-Sutcliffe
- Mark Kinnucan

- Yuri Quintana
- Michael Shepherd

MPACT Status: Fully Complete

Title: Browsing digital information: Examining the 'affordances' in the interaction of user and text

Abstract: The objective of this research was to examine how browsers interact with their browsing environment and what might facilitate it. A digitized newspaper was chosen as the text for the experimental research. Two types of interface tools constructed from its content were tested. The first, a set of menus, was thought of as a stable device which controlled digressions and disorientation and facilitated access to the contents. The second was a set of items to browse. This was thought of as a tool which encouraged meandering and diversion. It was meant to 'prime' the browsing activity and create situations where natural human curiosity and exploration might lead to a serendipitous experience. Two types of menus (hierarchical and tiled) were compared, as well as two ways of suggesting other items to browse (one generated from a user query and one generated by the system based on the similarity of articles). Additionally, to clarify what is meant by browsing, two tasks were used to test these features: a task with a highly specific search goal and a task with no search goal.

Forty-seven adults (24 males) representing an age span from teenager to senior citizen performed the two types of tasks in four sessions over a period of four weeks. Participants scanned and/or searched the current issue plus three months of back issues of the Halifax Chronicle Herald/Mail Star using a system designed specifically for this research. Dependent measures included both efficiency (e.g., number of pertinent nodes accessed and time spent looking searching) and effectiveness (e.g., exploration and interest). In addition, participants assessed usability, evaluated the interface tools and prescribed the type of browsing environment preferred. Using retrospective verbal protocols in combination with a screen capture tool, they identified the textual cues used and indicated their motivation for each article selection.

Results from this work showed that a stable orientating device in combination with a device that encourages meandering facilitates browsing. The type of menu had no effect on user performance--a surprise result--since the hierarchical menu required extensive window management, while the tiled menu presented the two-level menu hierarchy in context. Significant differences were found between the two items-to-browse tools and between the two tasks.

From this research we know that good browsing facilitators must prime the user. More interesting items were found when the system-generated list of articles was in use. When people browsed or searched over the same time period, the browsers examined more items and scanned more lists but spent more of their time reading the contents of articles than looking for articles to examine. Results supported the thesis that different combinations of tools are better suited to different tasks. Not surprisingly, browsing tasks were better performed in unstructured environments, while those doing a querying task did better with search tools and given the opportunity, always selected those tools. Of exploratory interest in the experiment was the use of landmarks or cues in the text itself during browsing. Qualitative evidence suggested that browsers used the text as a browsing facilitator to a significant extent. A noteworthy finding, of interest to the digital newspapers, was the preference of browsers for user-driven pathways. Finally, the study was guided by a model of browsing and its outcome suggests a Digital Browsing Instant. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

MPACT Scores for Elaine G. Toms

A = 2
C = 1
A+C = 3
T = 2
G = 1
W = 2
TD = 2
TA = 0
calculated 2010-09-28 00:51:39

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Students under Elaine G. Toms

- Joan Catherine Bartlett - University of Toronto (2004)
- Luanne Silvia Freund - University of Toronto (2008)

- Mark A. Rosso - University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (2005)