Academics' responses to encountered information: Context matters

Pontis, Sheila; Kefalidou, Genovefa; Blandford, Ann; Forth, Jamie; Makri, Stephann; Sharples, Sarah; Wiggins, Geraint and Woods, Mel. 2015. Academics' responses to encountered information: Context matters. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 67(8), pp. 1883-1903. ISSN 2330-1643 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

An increasing number of tools are being developed to help academics interact with information, but little is known about the benefits of those tools for their users. This study evaluated academics' receptiveness to information proposed by a mobile app, the SerenA Notebook: information that is based in their inferred interests but does not relate directly to a prior recognized need. The evaluated app aimed at creating the experience of serendipitous encounters: generating ideas and inspiring thoughts, and potentially triggering follow-up actions, by providing users with suggestions related to their work and leisure interests. We studied how 20 academics interacted with messages sent by the mobile app (3 per day over 10 consecutive days). Collected data sets were analyzed using thematic analysis. We found that contextual factors (location, activity, and focus) strongly influenced their responses to messages. Academics described some unsolicited information as interesting but irrelevant when they could not make immediate use of it. They highlighted filtering information as their major struggle rather than finding information. Some messages that were positively received acted as reminders of activities participants were meant to be doing but were postponing, or were relevant to ongoing activities at the time the information was received.

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This paper is a major output of the EPSRC-funded SerenA project investigating the role of serendipity in research and the potential for technology to support creativity. The work is significant because it demonstrates the importance of making unexpected, but valuable, connections when seeking information – something largely unaccounted for in contemporary search paradigms.

Our data has since been independently analysed to feed into a general model of information encountering [1]. Our novel evaluation method has also been employed in algorithms research to support serendipity [2] – helping bring the core ideas of our work closer to end-users.



information filtering, information use,serendipity

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17 December 2014Accepted
13 May 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

15 Nov 2017 16:35

Last Modified:

24 Jul 2020 14:03

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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