Online 2010: Learning from user behaviour

If we don't understand how users are looking for and using information, how can we hope to meet user expectations?

It is critical that information intermediaries understand how users' information behaviour is changing.  This is true whether we are information product developers, publishers, or ‘librarians' or other information professionals helping users to locate appropriate information.

In an Online Information 2010 session chaired by Sandra Ward, three case studies presented research, reflection and predictions about user behaviour.

David Nicholas, supported by his colleague David Clark (both of UCL and representing CIBER) told the story of the launch of Europeana - a multilingual portal gateway that points users to over 13 million cultural objects held in 1500 institutions in 27 countries.

Initially developed as ‘a French answer to Google', Europeana points searchers to cultural multimedia and multilingual content held across Europe.  

CIBER monitored this rollout and collected user behaviour data over the last 12 months.  Their aim is to use the data to determine whether target audiences are being served and whether core objectives are being met.  The Europeana rollout provides them with a great opportunity to discover more about how people search a multimedia and multilingual resource.

Once the ‘noise' had been removed from the statistics (including the 90% of traffic that was robotic, mainly from Googlebot), they showed an estimated 1 million users visiting 9-10 million pages over the last 12 months.

There were some interesting traffic patterns - usage tends to peak at 11am and then built again slowly throughout the day.  Tuesdays are the busiest day.  December and March were the busiest months and Sunday is as busy as any working day.   Overall there was a modest growth rate over the year.  There were also some interesting national differences - France and Germany account for 40% of total usage, with the French being the most ‘insular' in their searching for national cultural objects.  Half of all traffic to the site is being driven by Google search but traffic arriving from social media is growing rapidly - most frequently from blogs.

CIBER also found that, in spite of all the search options made available to them, users really love a search box they can type into!  They were less interested in options that show what other people are searching (crowd wisdom) and less likely to take up ‘new content' options. 

Most importantly users wanted video and sound more than anything else.  In fact, they were ten times more likely to want video and sound than any other format, which creates intellectual property challenges to the service.

CIBER will continue to review user behaviour and start asking WHY users are behaving in this fashion.  There is more interesting information to come from this project!

Lee Phillips of Acquire Media wanted to ‘provoke us' into being better prepared for what he called ‘the mobile tablet revolution'.  Acquire Media is a content intermediary, interacting with both publishers and end users.  Lee explained how and why the world of content is changing.  Over 8 million iPads have been sold since April 2010 - an astonishing uptake.  Gartner's recent research report predicts that mobile internet access will outstrip PC access by 2013.   

This take-up of consumer mobile devices is a driver for content change and is helping to blur the division between information as ‘information' and information for entertainment.   

Information professionals and providers need to focus on helping users to:

  • Browse
  • Research
  • Organise
  • Monitor
  • Share

Our focus needs to be on helping them access information that is setting-appropriate.  He predicts that consumers and end users will want more opinion and speculation.  They will be using information not simply to inform decision making but also to help them build networks and reputations.   They are increasingly using information as a currency in their organisation.

You need to be ready to evolve your information offering as your user's needs change - you really have to know your customer!  They will want information around the clock and on mobile devices and their needs and wishes are constantly evolving.

Mariane Lykke's research on workplace information searching supports these views.  We should be helping our users by identifying organisational core search concepts and precise searching vocabularies so that we can point people to the right information at the right time and in the right format.

Lee Phillips' reminder of the key questions we should be asking and answering was timely.

Who are our customers, what are they using information for; where are they doing this; when are they doing it; why are they doing it and, of course, how.   

Our users should be the focus of all of our service and content decisions.