Research: When The Web Beats The Books

Bad news for advocates of traditional, book-based, brick-and-mortar library-centric research: the Web may be a better place to get your answers. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan compares the efficacy of on-line and off-line search methods, with on-line search providing answers a greater percentage of the and with 2/3 less time invested. From the study’s introduction:

Using a random sample of queries from a major search engine, we evaluate the amount of time participants spend when they use a search engine versus when they use the library without access to Web resources; any quality differences in the information found from the Web versus non-Web resources; and any differences in affective experiences between online and offline search processes.

Here is what the researchers found:

Searchers are significantly more likely to find an answer using web search. Of the 305 questions, 99.7% are answered in the web treatment, while 90.2% are answered in the non-web treatment.

Web search yields significantly more positive affective experiences than non-web search.

Online search takes significantly less time than offline search. Online search takes on average 1/3 of the time of offline search.

Searchers under the web condition looked at and used more sources than those under the non-web condition.

While non-web sources are judged to be significantly more trustworthy and authoritative than the corresponding web sources, web sources are judged to be significantly more relevant and more likely to contain enough information to answer the question. Furthermore, the accuracy of answer source is not significantly different across the two treatments. Balancing all factors, the overall source quality is not significantly different across the two venues.

I feel it necessary to point out a caveat to these conclusions, which even the researchers recognize. The research questions underpinning the study were all gleaned from the Web, with the implication that the Web would be the best place to answer Web questions. It is not certain that the same results would obtain for research questions first posed in a library setting. Nonetheless, the study certainly is sufficient to point out that for a subset of questions, the Web is definitely the place to go.

But, I still love libraries. 🙂

Content Creators Wanted!

In the face of ovewhelming growth in web participation flies a recent statistic from Forrester Research showing a decline in the number of content creation / creators on the web. The report (link here), entitled Global Social Technographics (whatever that means), encapsulates two years of data collection on how consumers world wide are engaging with social technologies. Users were slotted into a “ladder” of use categories: inactives; spectators; joiners; collectors; critics; conversationalists; and, creators. The report confirms suspicions that the numbers of people joining the social media circus (via Facebook, primarily) is building at a rapid rate. However, the report also notes that the content creator group, in the U.S. and in many other countries, dropped a percentage point or more.

At a time when more people are online than ever before, the source of the content drawing this attention is dwindling. What to do?

My obvious answer, as a fairly prolific content creator, is of course to create more content. But the message is even more significant for on-line professionals who may have taken the first step as spectators, joiners or even collectors to jump up the ladder into content creation. The audience for your work is growing – the furnace of interest is looking for kindling to consume. If you thought your voice might not be heard amidst the roar, think again.

Some have posited that fewer content creators means fewer ideas. In front of a thirsty, expanding audience, your ideas and your content may shine even brighter.

At any rate, Forrester’s blog post on the subject of the report concludes with this valuable insight:

The story behind the data is pretty clear. The initial wave of consumers using social technologies in the US has halted. Companies will now need to devise strategies to extend social applications past the early adopters. This means that you need to understand how your consumers use social media. Do you know the Social Technographics Profiles of your customers? Is your company preparing for this next phase of social media strategy?

On-Line Social Really IS Social!!!

NerdNewsflash: the Internet is NOT making you weird! According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, studies show that people who employ modern methods of communicating via the Web and mobile devices actually have larger and more diverse social networks. You can download a copy of the report of the study here. What are the numbers? From the press release:

“The new findings from the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that, on average, the size of people’s discussion networks – those with whom people discuss important matters– is 12% larger amongst mobile phone users, 9% larger for those who share photos online, and 9% bigger for those who use instant messaging. The diversity of people’s core networks – their closest and most significant confidants – tends to be 25% larger for mobile phone users, 15% larger for basic internet users, and even larger for frequent internet users, those who use instant messaging, and those who share digital photos online.”

The study was directed, in part, at measuring a perceived increased level of social isolation experienced by heavy users of the internet and mobile devices, but found quite the opposite. While “discussion” networks in real life have been shrinking since the mid 1980’s, these networks have been growing for on-line users. There are a number of other semi-startling results that challenge popular opinion as well: on-line use does NOT equate with less involvement in the local community; intenet use is spread equally between long-distance and local communication; internet use actually encourages visits to public places, such as libraries, parks and coffee shops,  – many go to such places to engage on-line, and on-line discussion networks usually include a far wider representative sample of backgrounds and diversity than in real life groups.

In other words, the researchers conclude that your social life is enhanced, rather than hindered, by engagement in on-line communication and activity. Don’t hesitate to enter the on-line fray to expand your discussion groups and influence and increase your value to others.

You can breathe easy now. Internet use does NOT make you weird. But it may not be able to help you if you already are.

Hat tip to Resource Shelf.