[FoRK] [NYT] on UW's KFTF and StuffIveSeen
khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Thu Jan 22 10:52:43 PST 2004
There is a *lot* more here than meets the eye. Flatland isn't a very
appealing metaphor to me, btw. How about, oh, I don't know,
bookshelves? Mine are pretty random, and yet they still work *because
the spines make search easy*... oh well, Rohit
Now Where Was I? New Ways to Revisit Web Sites
By LISA GUERNSEY
Published: January 22, 2004
ELECTRONIC bookmarks were supposed to answer the problem of Web-site
recall. If you came across a site that you expected to need in the
future, you simply added it to your Favorites list in Internet Explorer
for safekeeping. With an application that simple, what's not to like?
Quite a bit, as it turns out. Researchers are finding that despite the
early promise of bookmarks, people seem to be abandoning them.
William Jones, a research associate professor at the Information School
at the University of Washington, says that bookmark lists have become
"information closets" that hold a jumble of sites people never return
to. Only hyperorganized users sort sites into folders, clean out dead
links or click on inscrutable addresses to figure out why they were
bookmarked in the first place.
"We say 'Oh my god!' and we close the door," Dr. Jones said. "We don't
like to think that we are that disorganized."
He and Harry Bruce, an associate professor at the university, are
leading a project called Keeping Found Things Found that they say grew
out of frustrations voiced by Internet users. People would tell him
that they often had to repeat a search for information that they had
found once but were unable to locate again, Mr. Bruce said.
The project, which is being paid for by a three-year $378,000 grant
from the National Science Foundation, is intended to shed light on the
best tools for the job.
So far, observation of a few dozen people in their work environments
has revealed a hodgepodge of approaches to organizing pages, and
bookmarking them is not at the top of the list.
Instead, some people try to keep track of Web sites by sending
themselves an e-mail message with the link and a note of why it might
be useful. Others print pages or use sticky notes. Some people, the
researchers found, make no attempt to save a page, counting on being
able to find it again with a search engine.
When the researchers looked at how people returned to sites they had
visited before, they discovered that context made all the difference.
When subjects in their study had the chance to describe a site in their
own words and were given the description six months later, they had
little trouble finding the site again. Yet in today's typical bookmark
applications, users cannot annotate sites they save.
To allow more room for context, the Washington team created Add to
Favorites 2, a software prototype that enhances the Favorites feature
in Internet Explorer. The prototype includes a box that enables people
to enter a description of a site they want to bookmark. It also lets
them e-mail the link and save it within a document folder. Over the
next few months, the software will be tested by a small group of
Internet users at the University of Washington.
Early tests by Dr. Jones and a few members of his research team have
been discouraging, he said. People who had abandoned using Favorites
were not compelled to return to using them despite the enhancements.
Nonetheless, he said, the software may be worthwhile for those who do
Meanwhile, the researchers have turned some of their attention to the
AutoComplete feature that comes with today's Web browsers. With
AutoComplete, typing a few characters of a Web address triggers
software that recalls the complete address of a site previously visited
that starts with the same characters, and automatically enters it.
"It's a very crude tool that deserves more attention," Dr. Jones said.
But what if the user has only a vague memory of a site, without any
sense of what its address might be? And how could software remind
people that a site they once saw might be useful to them now?
Ben Bederson, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the
University of Maryland, agrees that bookmarks "are pretty hopeless."
The concept is flawed, he said, "because it assumes in advance that
this is a page that you want to revisit, and you don't always know
Software being tested at Microsoft Research takes a stab at solving
that problem. Susan Dumais, a senior researcher with Microsoft who is
also part of the University of Washington team, has helped develop a
program called Stuff I've Seen. The software is designed to help people
recall documents like e-mail messages and Web sites through a unified
search interface. Keyword search results include related Web sites
already visited, regardless of whether they have been bookmarked.
About 1,500 Microsoft employees are now testing versions of the
software. It is not designed to be a commercial product, but its
features could show up in the next release of Microsoft's operating
system, code-named Longhorn and due out in late 2004 or 2005. "Many of
the lessons learned from Stuff I've Seen will be incorporated into
Longhorn," Dr. Dumais said.
Good search engines may eliminate the need for bookmarks or home-made
filing systems altogether, according to these researchers. Both Dr.
Dumais and Dr. Bederson envision living in "flatland," where folder
hierarchies will be a thing of the past. Dr. Bederson, for example, has
created software called NoteLens (available as a free download at
www.windsorinterfaces.com) that enables people to retrieve old notes
through rapid-fire keyword searches rather than by browsing through
folders. He said the technology could be adapted for the recall of Web
Whatever the answer, people want to feel that they are in control of
their information world, Dr. Bruce said. Even as search engines
improve, he expects that people will still need to rely on what he
calls interventions that trigger memories of a Web page seen before.
"The challenge," he said, "is getting back to it."
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