Casual-leisure Searching – some comments

Wilson, M. L., & Elsweiler, D. (2010). Casual-leisure Searching: the Exploratory Search scenarios that break our current models. In Proceedings of the Fourth Workshop on Human-Computer Interaction and Information Retrieval, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 22 August 2010. Presented at the HCIR 2010, New Brunswick, N.J. Retrieved from

When clearing out my aggregator a couple weeks back I came across this article in ResourceShelf (29 August 2010). It is a short, 4-page article which I printed and read on casual-leisure searching.

It appears to be a preprint from an ACM journal but the real info is lacking. I did some Google Scholar and Google searching and determined it to have been a presentation from HCIR 2010 last month. Daniel Tunkelang’s blog was most helpful, even including having the presentation embedded and linking to the mentioned Technology Review article, “Searching for Fun.”

Fourth Workshop on Human-Computer Interaction and Information Retrieval 22 August 2010

Update: The entire proceedings are available as a (big) pdf from the HCIR 2010 site: Proceedings [pdf: 18.2 MB]  Hmmm, Zotero linked to the entire proceedings; when/how did that happen? The individual article pdf is linked in the 1st paragraph (the one after the citation).

I also found a copy of the preprint at the first author’s uni site.

Casual-Leisure Searching

It turns out that, in fact, it is not only librarians who like to search. Some folks do it just to do it. The authors work in the realm of “exploratory search” and based on two different studies they have done have noticed that information retrieval (IR,) information seeking (IS), exploratory search (ES), and Sensemaking models are all incomplete.

“ES is defined as trying to resolve an information need when the searcher has limited knowledge of their goal, domain, or search system [13], normally involving some kind of learning or investigating behaviour [9]” (28).

They provide a very quick overview of these models and how they assume an information need, and that searching occurs to find information. They then discuss personal tasks versus the work-based focus of most of the research in these areas. Stebbins work on non-work and leisure activities in brought in, situating these activities as hedonistic. The area of the least research on information behavior, especially information seeking, is in this arena of casual-leisure. Some of this is now occurring and they do point to the work of Jenna Hartel and others.

All of these previous models are information-focused but in their work they are beginning to see searching for its own sake.

They did a study on TV-based casual information behaviors and one on harvesting real search tasks from Twitter. This is preliminary work but it is exciting. In the TV-based study they were able to look at both behavior and motivation. One might, if a hard-headed enough nit-picker, describe the behavior as still “wanting to find” but it is the motivation that shows the behavior is tending towards search without finding. These folks still, to me, wanted to find something. But their criteria was so loose that, perhaps, many different things could satisfy what they were looking for.

To me, it is the 2nd study, of Twitter, that shows the most promise in expanding our views, and theories, of search. One could get in a huff and say this is only browsing, except that under the previous models browsing is still assumed to be goal-directed and that it is browsing for something.

Have you ever found yourself endlessly browsing, or, or just sort of leisurely following hyperlink after hyperlink to suddenly notice that 2 hours have elapsed? That sort of browsing or searching has no real goal except to pass the time and, as they note, this can be either a good thing or a not so good thing. But often we do just do this for the experience of it. And I must say that this is one of the few current uses of “experience” that I can get behind. People do, in fact, sometimes search for the experience of it. There is no goal except to pass the time, hopefully in a reasonably enjoyable and non-frustrating manner. But other than that, what is found is of no consequence.

This is another area of daily, mundane, life that as usual until recently has been neglected in science—social or otherwise. Info seeking research began by studying scientists and then corporate work life. Eventually studies of nurses, children, janitors, etc. came along but they were still generally work task related. Only recently has the personal, casual, leisure angle begun to be explored. Now that it is the lack of coverage of our models is beginning to show. Even the more recent exploratory search aspect of information seeking is limited in the same way.

Those who claim that “it is only librarians who like to search, everyone likes to find” are, and always were, wrong.

6 thoughts on “Casual-leisure Searching – some comments

  1. God damnit, Zotero! Where is my COinS data? I thought WordPress screwed me again but, no, Zotero did not output the COinS on export. WTF!?!

  2. Thanks for posting this…I find this kind of research fascinating, but I feel guilty reading it when I should be concentrating on New Service Models(tm)

  3. Hi, barbara. It is fascinating. Sorry for making you feel guilty. ;)

    Not sure what to say about NSMs(tm) so probably best not to. :D

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