Do your friends make you smarter?: an analysis of social strategies in online information seeking


Evans, B. M.; Kairam, S.; Pirolli, P. L. Do your friends make you smarter?: an analysis of social strategies in online information seeking. Information Processing & Management. 2010 November; 46 (6): 679-692.


Prior research in the social search space has focused on the informational benefits of collaborating with others during web and workplace information seeking. However, social interactions, especially during complex tasks, can have cognitive benefits as well. Our goal in this paper is to document the methods and outcomes of using social resources to help with exploratory search tasks. We used a talk-aloud protocol and video capture to explore the actions of eight subjects as they completed two “Google-hard” search tasks. Task questions were alternated between a Social and Non-Social Condition. The Social Condition restricted participants to use only social resources – search engines were not allowed. The Non-Social Condition permitted normal web-based information sources, but restricted the use of social tools. We describe the social tactics our participants used in their search process. Asking questions on social networking sites and targeting friends one-on-one both resulted in increased information processing but during different phases of the question-answering process. Participants received more responses via social networking sites but more thorough answers in private channels (one-on-one). We discuss the possibility that the technological and cultural affordances of different social-informational media may provide complementary cognitive benefits to searchers. Our work suggests that online social tools could be better integrated with each other and with existing search facilities. We conclude with a discussion of our findings and implications for the design of social search tools.

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