Understanding user behavior in naturalistic information search tasks

Tung Vuong*, Miamaria Saastamoinen, Giulio Jacucci, Tuukka Ruotsalo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
91 Downloads (Pure)


Understanding users' search behavior has largely relied on the information available from search engine logs, which provide limited information about the contextual factors affecting users' behavior. Consequently, questions such as how users' intentions, task goals, and substances of the users' tasks affect search behavior, as well as what triggers information needs, remain largely unanswered. We report an experiment in which naturalistic information search behavior was captured by analyzing 24/7 continuous recordings of information on participants' computer screens. Written task diaries describing the participants' tasks were collected and used as real-life task contexts for further categorization. All search tasks were extracted and classified under various task categories according to users' intentions, task goals, and substances of the tasks. We investigated the effect of different task categories on three behavioral factors: search efforts, content-triggers, and application context. Our results suggest four findings: (i) Search activity is integrally associated with the users' creative processes. The content users have seen prior to searching more often triggers search, and is used as a query, within creative tasks. (ii) Searching within intellectual and creative tasks is more time-intensive, while search activity occurring as a part of daily routine tasks is associated with more frequent searching within a search task. (iii) Searching is more often induced from utility applications in tasks demanding a degree of intellectual effort. (iv) Users' leisure information-seeking activity is occurring inherently within social media services or comes from social communication platforms. The implications of our findings for information access and management systems are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1248-1261
Number of pages14
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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