Sometimes, a thought strikes you as important even though there isn’t much obvious precedent for it. Robin Hanson on the Overcoming Bias blog has an interesting post comparing information browsing to information searching while adding a fascinating alternative — information chasing:
In searching mode, readers tend to be less critical. If a source came recommended, they tend to keep reading along even if they aren’t quite sure what the point is. Since authors tend to be more prestigious than readers, readers tend to feel reluctant to question or judge what they’ve read. They are more likely to talk about whether they enjoyed the read, than whether the author’s argument works. In chasing mode, readers are naturally more critical. When you are looking for something particular, it feels less presumptuous to stop reading when your source comes to seem irrelevant. After all, the source might be good for some other purpose, even if not for your purpose.
Browsing is a mode of information intake that’s largely passive, creating at best an awareness of the delta in knowledge that may exist while filling that gap with little else. Searching is usually focused on finding information around a specific question, but as Hanson says, readers can still be less critical. Once they find what they’re looking for and which satisfies an information expectation, the search is over. Seeking is getting closer to chasing, but there isn’t the full engagement I derive from chasing. Seeking also has a cliche quality to it. It’s a little tired as a phrase.
However, chasing is something altogether more intense. As Katja Grace writes on the Meteuphoric blog:
I think Robin’s dichotomy goes a long way to explaining why reading is disappointing relative to thinking. In thinking it’s much easier to chase. Refraining from following a line of inquiry, and filling in gaps, and jumping to conclusions, can be harder than doing these things. There is usually some interesting path open to chase down. You don’t have to page through all your memories and concepts to catch a glimpse of your prey.
My personal experience with information chasing behavior comes from writing this blog. When I pick up on a thought I want to pursue, I usually have a short time to compose a coherent piece. I need information fast, and I have to chase it down. I devour links, run various searches, and write, edit, revise, reject, and polish until the piece resembles a complete and lucid sequence of thought, and I also feel that I’ve exhausted the topic, or at least one perspective on it.
With the read-write Web allowing more of our users to submit online comments, online letters to the editor, and write blogs and posts themselves, information chasing might be an increasingly familiar style of thinking.
I think this is an important concept for publishers to absorb, a new way to capture an especially intense and perhaps common dimension of reader behavior.
My experience is that we think the most intense behavior is either searching or seeking. Given the level of specialization and research activism our audiences possess, I think some of their behavior is actually information chasing, which is much more akin to thinking than to merely answering a superficial search query.
Embracing this concept has important information design implications. Links, lookups, and broad relationships of information sources all become more vital to the chase. Google’s solutions aren’t sufficient for information chasing. Articles aren’t sufficient for information chasing. Recognizing this legitimate and common specialist information need — to pursue thinking through a thread of information, conduct a chase — can be important to remaining relevant and useful.
So, I’ll be adding this term to my user behavior description vocabulary. I’d suggest we all do.