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RAA 4: Information Scent as a Driver of Web Behavior Graphs (CGT 512)


Card, S. K., Pirolli, P., Van Der Wege, M., Morrison, J. B., Reeder, R. W., Schraedley, P. K., & Boshart, J. (2001). Information scent as a driver of Web behavior graphs: results of a protocol analysis method for Web usability. Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems, CHI ’01 (pp. 498–505). New York, NY, USA: ACM. doi:


The first purpose of this study was to collect data, which can be used to identify the forging methods employed by users on simple tasks. The second purpose of this study was to to develop a methodology for studying the Web and other information (involves instrumentation and intensive tasks).


Researchers collected data from 14 students at Stanford University, all of whom indicated using the Web daily. Participants were then informed about the study and conducted practice exercises helping them get used to talking aloud while using the Web. They were then given tasks to complete on the web, primarily dealing with searching for information. Data was collected using WebLogger (tracks everything the user does), eye tracking software, and videotape.

Main Findings

The researchers found five main points from their research

  1. The Web seems to have patchy character, as there are more transitions within a site than across sites. Easy tasks show this even more so than hard tasks.
  2. Search patters relate more to heuristic searching rather than Goals, Operators, Methods, and Selection rules, which is what was thought to be happening.
  3. When users encounter problems, they quickly shift to another one just to avoid the first one.
  4. Users go back to landmark pages (home pages, search engine list)
  5. Information scent played a central role in searches. When it wasn’t strong enough it caused users to backtrack or switch to a different problem.


This article seems to be very in-depth about how information scent plays a role in the finding of relevant information. It helps me to understand that information scent in crucial when developing sites and applications for the web (and everything else in that case). This means information has to be displayed correctly with the correct information describing it, and what it links to (if it links to anything).


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