Tracking the scent of
Cognitive psychologists have found that people search for information online
in much the same way that animals hunt for food. Now those researchers are
extending their theory to Twitter, Wikipedia and the rest of Web 2.0.
BY LEA WINERMAN • Monitor staff
Researchers have estimated the world’s data storage capacity at 295 exabytes — enough information to fill a pile of CDs that would stretch beyond the moon. That
vast pile of information is only getting vaster: It increases by a
factor of 10 every five years, according to researchers.
More recently, Pirolli and others have turned their attention
to Web 2.0 — platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Del.icio.us,
Wikipedia and others that encourage people to collaborate and
share information. Their goal now is to figure out how users
navigate through this new, socially networked space.
They hope that by doing so, they’ll pave the way for websites
that allow people to find, share and synthesize knowledge
more effectively — a goal that grows more relevant each year,
as people begin to use social networks not just for leisure but
also to share health-care information online, manage work
systems, and complete other complex tasks. And once again, the
researchers are finding clues in the natural world that can help
explain how the socially networked world works.
Rise of the ‘informavore’
Pirolli and his colleague Stuart Card, PhD, first began
developing their information foraging theory in the early 1990s,
the dawn of the Internet age. They found their inspiration in
biological foraging theory, which biologists and ecologists had
developed decades earlier to help explain how animals decide
when and where to look for food.