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#16 - Information Foraging II - Theory

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Article written by
Juan Jesús Millo

Writing of the week

To read the introductory text on foraging information: www.uxdatabase.io/newsletter-issue/15-information-foraging-i-introduction

In this issue, we're going to look at the theory and slang of information foraging. In the last issue (#15) a little introductory context was given, and now it's time to relate it to the language that is used when we talk about behavior when looking for information on the web, based on food foraging.

In foraging theory, we humans act as the predator, making the analogy with the animal in the middle of the environment looking for food, with the user being the one looking for information on the web. We can put ourselves in the skin of this animal when we need to find information on a specific subject and we go to our mobile phone in search of the data within tangles of links and tabs, filled to the brim with information, while the wild boar is hungry in the forest, and starts sniffing around in search of food in different areas, full of varieties of species.

The predator, in both cases, looks for this information in information patches, and these create a topology. The information patch in the case of the user is a web and the topology, the tangle of a SERP (Search Engine Result Pages), while in the case of the wild boar, it searches in a clearing near the river (patch) in the forest (topology).

These patches within the topology are interconnected by links, but obviously , it requires a cost associated to navigate between patches. When the wild boar is looking for food in the forest clearing, it can on the one hand continue to look for food in the clearing, or go to the other side in case it finds more food and/or more quality, sacrificing energy when it comes to moving around, smelling the position of the prey, the temperature of the environment, etc; while we, the users, must find another source of information, reloading the page, the cognitive load that this entails when analyzing the web to see where the information is, navigating to it, etc.

All this effort is focused on the search for information, so maybe, the animal or the user, when making a mental calculation of the information he has available at the current source, meditates on whether it is worth the sacrifice he has to make to change the source, or continue consuming where he is.

This effort translates into a cost (time), but consuming information from a patch has an associated value depending on the relevance or importance of the data we get. Being the wild boar, is it worth going to another part of the forest if we are in the clearing where there are 4 rabbits, but in the other one there are 3 deer? These animals are the information, what we call in food/information foraging, the prey.

But how do we know if it is worthwhile if we have not visited this website? Changing the source of information has a very high cost, so we will be guided by cues to determine if it is a good option, just like the wild boar does when it gets a strong smell (but is it a strong smell because of the size and strength of the prey or because of the quantity?)

While staying in this patch has a lower interaction cost associated with it, it also has a lower expected benefit, as I have commented several times, we are extremely lazy by nature and want as much information as possible in exchange for the lowest cost.

These cues and predicted calculations of information provide another story, the information scentand how we (or the boars) take one path or another, or stay in the forest clearing hunting rabbits, or risking our energies in search of a larger prey.

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