An article on What are people searching for and where are they looking?in the March 2008 KM World caught my eye. This time it was a report by IDC's Susan Feldman, talking about their research looking into search habits. It will be interesting to see what they drum up over a longer series of surveys and other research.
We know that knowledge workers spend a large percentage of their time looking for information. What are they looking for and where are they looking? In fall 2007, we set about trying to find out. In conjunction with KMWorld and IDC’s Technology Advisory Panel, we asked participants to tell us how long they spent searching, what their typical questions were, and where they went (online or print) to find the information they needed.
I was surprised at the heavy use of online search engines when people seek out information (62% at search services), but then looking at the wording of the article suggests that the survey was worded in such a way that it assumed search-as-technology rather than search-as-activity. The framing question in the survey had to do with the "last time you looked for information." What if this were framed as, "the last time you tried to answer a question" or "how did you go about answering the last question that came across your desk?"
Feldman indicates some amazement that 13% of people said they were looking for company information, but that only 2% said they looked on the company intranet. However, the data reported 8% called someone, 4% used desktop search, 4% browsed through their computer files, 4% IM'd someone, and 1% browsed through their paper files. That is Another 21% that could easily be company information.
The research also found that respondents were running about three queries per hour, when searching. And that they spend quite a bit of time processing those queries: on the order of 10 hours a week.
Feldman also provided some thoughts about why so many people started at the search engines, rather than with topic-specific websites. She took the results to be a rather negative statement about the quality of the specific websites. I see the opposite. If the topic specific websites have created quality information, then the search engines will index them, and I can rely on the search engines to help me find the topic-specific services. This is particularly important when I have no idea where to start on a topic.