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Observing Serendipity in Digital Information Environments

Makri, S., Bhuiya, J., Carthy, J. & Owusu-Bonsu, J. (2016). Observing Serendipity in Digital Information Environments. Paper presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 6-10 Nov 2015, St Louis, USA.


We often interact with digital information environments to find useful information. But sometimes useful information finds us unexpectedly, propelling us in new and exciting directions. We might come across information serendipitously when looking for information on something else, or when we are not looking for anything in particular. In previous studies, people have self-reported that they come across information serendipitously. However, there has been limited success in directly observing people doing so. To see if we could have more success, we conducted naturalistic observations of 45 users interacting with different types of digital information environments. Without priming them about serendipity, we asked the users to conduct self-chosen naturalistic information tasks, which varied from broad tasks such as browsing online news to narrow tasks such as finding a particular product to buy. We noted several examples where users either 1) stated they were looking for information on a particular topic or product and unexpectedly found useful/potentially useful information about something else or 2) unexpectedly found useful/potentially useful information when not looking for anything in particular. Our findings suggest that, with a carefully-considered approach, serendipity-related information interaction behaviour can be directly observed. Direct observation allows designers of digital information environments to better understand this behaviour and use this understanding to reason about ways of designing new or improving existing support for serendipity.

Publication Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Publisher Keywords: Serendipity, digital libraries, e-commerce, online news
Subjects: Z Bibliography. Library Science. Information Resources > Z665 Library Science. Information Science
Departments: School of Science & Technology > Computer Science > Human Computer Interaction Design
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