Our Ph.D. student, Yiwei Wang, has successfully defended her dissertation titled “Authentic vs. Synthetic: A Comparison of Different Methods for Studying Task-based Information Seeking”. The committee included Chirag Shah (University of Washington, Chair), Nick Belkin (Rutgers University), Kaitlin Costello (Rutgers University), and Diane Kelly (University of Tennessee Knoxville).
In task-based information seeking research, researchers often collect data about users’ online behaviors to predict task characteristics and personalize information for users. User behavior may be directly influenced by the environment in which a study is conducted, and the tasks used. This dissertation investigates the impact of study setting and task authenticity on users’ searching behaviors, perceived task characteristics, and search experiences. Thirty-six undergraduate participants finished one lab session and one remote session in which they completed one authentic and one simulated task. The findings demonstrate that the synthetic lab setting and simulated tasks had significant influences mostly on behaviors related to content pages, such as page dwell time and number of pages visited per task. Meanwhile, first-query behaviors were less affected than whole-session behaviors, indicating the reliability of using first-query behaviors in task prediction. Subjective task characteristics—such as task motivation and importance—also varied in different settings and tasks. Qualitative interviews reveal why users were influenced. This dissertation addresses methodological limitations in existing research and provides new insights and implications for researchers who collect online user search behavioral data.