In the last post we spoke about information diet, the situation where a user searching for information has access to multiple classes of resources and strategically chooses which one(s) to interact with based on estimations of cost/benefit, or profitability.
This concept encourages us to think about information resources not just as this web page or that document, but as sets of delivered information differing in how well they support certain dimensions of profitability that users might adopt based on their current situation.
What dimensions of profitability might we consider as we explore this concept? User research and introspection might indicate the following candidates:
- time factors: are there pressure to find and consume the information, or is slow and thoughtful deliberation and evaluation of information encouraged
- where needed: is the information loosely or tightly coupled to where the need for the information arose or where the information might be applied
- content factors: are we looking for broad brush strokes or exhaustive information
- interface factors: does the user prefer to consume the content on a mobile device or large engineering workstation
- preferred or habitual access methods: all things being equal, does the user prefer documents, face-to-face with another person, videos, etc.
Let’s take the example of helping users learn about our company’s corporate web conferencing program. We might imagine a cluster of related information resources for users, including:
- a survival guide, for people under pressure to set up their first web conference, say in the middle of a meeting This could be made available in hard copy as a wallet reference, or for delivery on a smartphone
- a features guide, for someone tasked with finding a way of enhancing remote collaboration
- a training guide, intermediate in coverage between the survival and features guide, with content curated to align with common usage scenarios for this organization
- video training, definitely not suited as a survival guide.
It makes sense to cross-link them so that users can choose a more profitable resource if the one they first find is not quite right for them.
These are presentation level variants. Other presentation level variants might involve manipulating density of information, or catering to holistic or serial users, or providing different organizations of the same information, for example depth- or breadth-first.
But how can we create all these variants in a way that is flexible and maintainable? One key concept is to deconstruct content into a pool of useful fragments that can be recombined in multiple useful ways.
For example, a pool of pieces for our web conferencing material might include:
- how-to fragments: a structured set of how-to fragments, with short explanation, more detailed explanation, screen shots, etc.
- features fragments: a structured set of features fragments, describing the features and associated user scenarios.
Suitably constructed, these allow the creation of the different presentations mentioned above, and more beside.
This power of this approach is only hinted at by the web conferencing example, and the motivation is broader than information diet. For a deeper understanding of the concepts and some of the technologies involved, I recommend the book “Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future Ready Content” by Sara Wachter-Boettcher, which I have reviewed.
That’s all for now on the Information Foraging model. We have discussed it mainly in the context of what is achievable in typical corporate technology and platform settings. But it has also been applied in specialized government and other settings, informing the design of specialized user interfaces.
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