Bill Kules and Robert Capra have an interesting poster at JCDL 2009. “Designing Exploratory Search Tasks for User Studies of Information Seeking Support Systems” describes a study that evaluated an algorithm for determining whether a search task makes a good exploratory or known-item search candidate. They evaluated their approach by having 18 study participants run candidate queries (four exploratory and two known-item). After performing the specified searches, participants answered the questions about
- Familiarity with the topic
- Topic difficulty
- Their confidence that the task was fulfilled
- The degree to which answering the question required finding multiple documents
- The extent that the person’s understanding of the topic changed during the session
The study reported the following significant differences between the two conditions: People said that they found exploratory tasks more difficult, they had lower confidence that the task was fulfilled, they had to find multiple documents to fulfill the request, and their goals changed during the search session.
This is a nice summary of the distinctions between exploratory search and known-item or navigational searches, and underscores the need to build interfaces that support the differences among these tasks.