The Multitasking Man

The first Keynote on this years British HCI conference was by Stephen Payne who talked about task switching and studying of multiple texts. He talked about how users use different strategies to find the information they’re looking for and how it is important to give clues to which content is the most relevant.

So in this world that’s overloaded with information, how do you choose the best text?

According to Stephen Payne, most people use a satisficing strategy when reading trough texts. That basically means that you study a good enough text, instead of keep looking for the best one. So you pick the first text and keep reading until you’ve learned enough or get fed up. The consequences of this is that it’s important to create texts that have good readability and that are skimable as well, which can be made by dividing the text into smaller patches.

One other thing Stephen Payne talked about was the fact that the give-up time for a task is depending on the sucess with the information seeking in the previous results. So if the first page the user looks at is good, the user has more patience looking for information in the next page. And so if the first results are bad the user’s patience and give-up time decreases.

The consequences this has for search is related to content tuning and ranking. Because if the first results are bad the users have less patience looking for the information they really wanted. By providing sponsored links for example, one could control the top hits for specific keywords and then make sure that the most popular searches get good results. This does not have to be the way to go, but it is absolutely an option one could use to aid ranking of documents and improve the user’s perceived quality of the search results.