Developing user orientated Information Services

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The model uses a goal-directed “problem solving” approach that concentrates on a “person centred” approach instead of a “system centred” approach and is therefore based on a qualitative method rather then a quantitative method. Wilson states that an individual’s information seeking behaviour is prompted by their physiological, cognitive and effective needs. Wilson, goes on to note that the context of any one of those needs may be the person themselves, or the role demands of the persons work or life or the environment (political, economic, technological etc) within which that life or work takes place. Wilson theorises that the barriers that impede the search of that information will arise out of the same set of contexts.

Wilson’s model is divided into five phases. The activating mechanism phase of the model is characterised by feelings of uncertainty and vagueness in regards to the information need. The intervening variables attempt to assess the psychological, demographic, interpersonal, environmental and source characteristics that may be providing an obstacle for the user. The model also defines the activating mechanism for the information seeking behaviour and outlines that this may be based upon the risk/rewards theory or the social learning theory. Finally, the model attempts to identify the information seeking behaviour of the user which may vary between passive attention, passive search, active search and ongoing search.

The Wilson model is a very good general model that takes some important factors into account and can be applied to a wide variety of information products/services. However, the model also has various flaws that are mentioned above that limit its effectiveness and the situations in which it can be applied to. Spink develops a model that is designed to be most compatible with internet searching and includes feedback as a key element in the information seeking process. Feedback is an interactive process for query modification. Relevance feedback is one of the examples, in which a user selects a small set of items relevant to a query, and the system then uses features from the selected items to adjust the query.

Spink suggests that a search process consists of user judgements, search tactics or moves, interactive feedback loops, and cycles. As a result, unlike the Wilson model, Spink’s model is concerned with the moment of interaction i.e. when people are interacting with information retrieval systems.Overall, I feel that both the Wilson model and Spink model can be used to study a community to an extent. Due to the general nature of Wilson’s models compared to the specific nature of Spink’s model, I feel that a mixture of the two models would perhaps offer the best way to study a particular community.

Similarly, Wilson’s model is very good in understanding the psychological, demographic, inter-personal, environmental and source characteristic intervening variables of user communities. If this is applied to a community such as journalists, the model does well to identify their information seeking behaviour through options such as passive search, passive attention, active search and ongoing search. This offers various search mechanisms for the different users with different needs in this community. However a community such as journalists would often require more then a single source of information and thus by incorporating the Spink model to various information products such as databases and CD-ROMS and then incorporating them into a single large database based upon the Wilson model may satisfy the needs of this community.

In contrast, the models fail to take into account that different users in different communities have varying levels of knowledge and thus it may be difficult to apply a single system that would satisfy the needs of all level of users within a community. This can be seen in the case of the student community where a single database such as Dialog can not be expected to appeal to all users it is a database that is difficult to use for the novice user. Similarly, different users within a community may have different needs and this can once again be seen in a student community where a database designed for further reading would have to hold different levels of information for a first year student in comparison to a PHD students. As a result, although it may be a single database serving a single community of users, the needs of these users may be very different.

The models also fail to specify exactly how they understand the needs, wants and demands of the user and determine what the user values. This is vital when assessing what information service to provide to a community and how it will best serve the user through meeting their needs. The models also fail to take into account user education. Different people learn better using different methods and therefore whilst some users may be more suited to an auditory method such as a presentation, other users may be suited to visual and kinaesthetic methods through a more “hands on” approach to learning. It is vital to incorporate a learning system into these models which identify how the user would gain the information skills/literacy and how best a balance can be gained between the user and the learning method.

Attention and memory constraints suffered by users are another factor that the models do not directly take into account. Metaphors, icons, graphic and colour coding are all factors that can determine how easily the user relates to the product and therefore how quickly they learn. In conclusion, whilst the Wilson and Spink model both have their own respective strengths and weaknesses, I feel that it would depend upon the particular community itself and its needs that would eventually determine the success of the model. In many communities such as journalism, a combination of the broad Wilson model and a more specific model such as Spink’s model would be very useful as incorporating the two together would help serve the varying needs of the smaller communities within the general community of journalists. I also feel that the models need to incorporate other factors as well such as identifying that different users have varying level of knowledge and expertise, comfort levels, differences in seeking behaviour, tasks goals etc and therefore a single model can not apply to every one in every community.

Finally, I feel that the models need to incorporate a research aspect and attempt to identify how each model can be promoted and taught to the user, taking into account that each user has different information literacy rates and is suited to varying methods of learning. This can also be combined with an assessment aspect of the model which can allow the community to evaluate the product/service that has been based on the model and measure its effectiveness, benefits and performance.

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