Online searchers can help strangers make sense of data

May 8th, 2012 - 4:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 8 (IANS) People who have already processed online information to make sense of a subject can help strangers facing similar tasks. This process of distributed sense making, say researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Microsoft, could save time and result in a better understanding of the information needed for whatever goal users might have.

They could be planning a vacation, gathering information about a serious disease or trying to decide what product to buy, according to a Carnegie Mellon statement.

Researchers explored the use of digital knowledge maps, a means of representing the thought processes used to make sense of information gathered from the Web.

For instance, two people looking to start a garden might live in different climates or settings, so the types of seeds they might plant could be different, but each would benefit from elements such as “design ideas,” “how to” and so on. When participants used a knowledge map that had been created and improved upon by several previous users, they reported that the quality of their own work was better than when they started from scratch or used a newly-created knowledge map.

“Collectively, people spend more than 70 billion hours a year trying to make sense of information they have gathered online,” said Aniket Kittur, assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, who led the study.

“Yet in most cases, when someone finishes a project, that work is essentially lost, benefiting no one else and perhaps even being forgotten by that person. If we could somehow share those efforts, however, all of us might learn faster.”

These findings were presented at CHI 2012, the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, in Austin, Texas, US.

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