Sunday, April 3, 2011

In test of online versus offline research, guess which is quicker?

Thanks to our good buddies at the Law Librarian Blog for alerting us to this recent U. Michigan study called A Day Without A Search Engine: An Experimental Study Of Online and Offline Search. It sought to compare the time needed to complete traditonal, offline research tasks against the time needed to complete those same tasks online.  The online tasks took less than a third of the time as the offliners. Is anyone surprised?

Here's the study abstract:

With the advent of the Web and search engines, online search has become a common method of obtaining information. The question arises as to how much time people save by using search engines for their information needs, and the extent to which online search affects search experiences and outcomes. Using a random sample of queries from a major search engine, we conduct an experiment to compare online and offline search experiences and outcomes. We find that participants are significantly more likely to find an answer on the Web. Restricting to the set of queries which participants find answers in both treatments, the average search time is 22 minutes offline, and 7 minute online. While library sources are judged to be significantly more trustworthy and authoritative than the corresponding web sources, web sources are judged to be significantly more relevant and more likely to contain enough information to answer the question. Balancing all factors, the overall source quality is not significantly different between the two treatments. Lastly, post-search questionnaires reveal that online search is more enjoyable than offline search.

There's some detailed commentary at the LLB, including the reaction from Google, which you can read by clicking here. To read the original study, click here.


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