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Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Second Edition by Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld

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Information Needs

When a user comes to a web site to find something, what does she really want? In the “too-simple” model, she wants the “right answer” to her question. Indeed, right answers do come from searching databases, which store facts and figures and answer questions that really do have right answers, such as “What is the population of San Marino?” To many of us, database searching is the most familiar model of searching.

But web sites store much more than highly structured data. Not surprisingly, text is the most common type of data stored, and text itself is made up of ambiguous, messy ideas and concepts. When we go to a web site for advice on retirement investing, to learn about restaurants in Mendocino County, or to find out what’s happening with the Manchester United football team, we are essentially looking for ideas and concepts that inform us and help us make decisions. This is very different from simply seeking the “right” answer.

So back to the question: What do users want? Let’s use the analogy of fishing to get at the answer.

The Perfect Catch

Sometimes users really are looking for the right answer. Let’s think of that as fishing with a pole, hoping to hook that ideal fish. What is the population of San Marino? You go to the CIA Fact Book or some other useful site that’s jam-packed with data, and you hook in that number (it’s 27,336, by the way). And you’re done, just as the too-simple model would have it.

Lobster Trapping

What about the times you’re looking ...

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