I’ve been pretty giddy about research uncovering the patterns users follow while searching on the Internet. One of the more popular information-foraging theories that’s currently being proven confirms what we’ve known for quite sometime.
As early as 2001, a Xerox Palo Alto Research study indicated humans track information in a similar fashion to the way animals follow a scent. According to an article on the study:
People… engage in what [Dr. Ed Chi] calls “hub-and-spoke” surfing: They begin at the center, and they follow a trail based on its information scent…. If the scent is sufficiently strong, the surfer will continue to go on that trail. But if the trail is weak, they go back to the hub. “People repeat this process until they’re satisfied,” Chi said.
Knowing how people hunt and sniff around for info is certainly useful, but that usefulness is limited until you determine more about what a person is sniffing for.