Why Are People on the Web?

I was born in the 80’s and was raised in an environment where the internet was just something that existed at school.  The first computer I remember using still only came in two colors: black and green.  Remember ClarisWorks?  I was introduced to that technology in middle school.  It wasn’t even until I got into high school that I began using the internet seriously for academics or entertainment.  And even then, I still had dial-up at home!  Remember PeoplePC?  That was my dial-up internet provider for several years.

That being said, I have seen the internet change from a place where you signed up through Xanga and Geosites to a place where some of the most obscure things on earth might have an entry on Wikipedia.  Why are people on the Web?  Because of the ease, speed, and availability of information at your fingertips.

Where I’m pulling all my ideas out of:

I read the following study:

Savolainen, R., & Kari, J. (2006).  User-defined relevance criteria in Web searching.  Journal of Documentation 62(6), 685-707.

which provided an insight into how people look at web searching, as compared to other forms of online information gathering (such as from encyclopedias, dictionaries, or other sources).  The paper took a closer look at some of the criteria that users take into consideration when making choices on whether to pursue a given link in their search for information.

A quick summary:

I found that the paper was somewhat difficult to read, if only because of the grammatical breaks in the writing itself.  Many of these mistakes can likely be attributed to the fact that the paper was intended for a Finnish audience (as much of the data was pulled from a Finnish study).  However, the ideas presented in the paper were simultaneously interesting and obvious.

Although it is often interesting and worthwhile to investigate the “obvious” with scientific rigor, if only for the fact that these “obvious” things are often the most overlooked, this particular study seemed to lack the in-depth analysis that I was expecting.  In comparison to similar papers presented by search companies such as Google, or even simply using data gathered from tools provided by search engines, the Savolainen and Kari study seemed to lack the information to back up their claims.  In fact, the paper only listed 9 informants responses as valid, because

“All videotaped case searches were not taken into the analysis, due to some informants’ inability to verbalize their search activities in sufficient detail…only the “best” searches were included in the analysis.”

Even if the study was conducted as more of a sociological venture or literature review, I feel that more attention could have been paid to the actual analysis of user criterion, rather than a simple reiteration of other, possibly more relevant, studies.

If you were wondering what the paper was actually saying, it was this:

“Our explorative study revealed that most of the user-defined relevance criteria found in the context of traditional online searching environments can be used to explore web searching, too.  Some new criteria…such as familiarity and curiosity were found…their role remained quite insignificant…Of the individual criteria, Specificity, Topicality and Familiarity were used most frequently.

web searchers tend to favour relevance criteria that pertain to information content; specificity and topicality exemplify most strongly criteria of this kind. Also criteria pertaining to information access and organization of information appeared to be of some importance, in particular, accessibility (or lack of accessibility). Criteria pertaining to the searcher’s domain knowledge, most notably exemplified by familiarity were primarily used in the context of accepting hyperlinks. Finally, criteria pertaining to the searcher’s personal preferences and emotions, for example, affectiveness and curiosity did not figure significantly. All in all, web searchers tend to select hyperlinks and web pages by primarily drawing on the content of links and pages.”

Essentially, users that are searching in an online environment are most likely to judge the value or relevance of a link in relation to their search on the following:

  • Specificity – how specific the information from the link is on a given topic
  • Topicality – how well the information from the link relates to the search topic
  • Familiarity – how familiar the user is with the link, or organization sponsoring the link
  • Access – how easily the information from the link could be accessed by the user

Why this matters:

So who cares and what’s the point?  Let me ask you a question: have you ever wanted to save the world?

Perhaps you’ve heard of them on the news, when a so-called “Real Life Superhero” was arrested in Seattle for assault, or from another perspective, saving someone’s life.

The organization called the Real Life Superhero Project catalogs some of these individuals, assisting in developing awareness and activism to build better communities.

“…what began as a gallery exhibit, has come to serve as the launching pad of something far greater—a living, breathing community that inspires people to become the positive forces for change we all can be. To become more active, more involved, more committed, and perhaps, a little super in the process.”

This is the organization that I would like to work with for the Google Online Marketing Challenge.  As far as I can tell (according to the Challenge Guidelines), the organization is eligible as a non-profit organization.

Some information about the organization:

The core audience of the organization are community leaders and activists, although the website itself seems to attempt to reach out to all individuals.  Given the nature of the organization, its audience also likely includes individuals who are interested in superheroes and comics.

Currently, the organization (and others like it) have been getting scant media attention and represent a small niche among community activists.  Although one could discover the organization relatively easily by searching for “Real Life Superheroes” (it’s the 2nd google search result), searching with other criteria will often bring up other results, such as Superman, Spiderman, and other fictional heroes.  In addition, searching for the group using community activism terms leads to other, more prominent groups.

Why are these “Real Life Superheroes” important?

With respect to the “core” audience of the Real Life Superheroes project, there are at least 5 different points that make them relevant:

  1. The project’s emphasis on community action and activism may inspire leaders to perform.  Because the project itself is fueled through volunteers, there is little possibility of “corruption” or fear that resources may be misused.
  2. The superheroes that participate in the project are often high-profile figures, in the sense that they are extremely visible to the general public.  As a result, the project and its supporters can often gain a kind of “return” on their time and effort put into the project by having a visible recognition of their work.
  3. Superheroes are generally very relatable and familiar to the project’s audience; as described in the Savolainen and Kari study, if the project’s audience can easily relate to, or is already familiar with, the project (or its members), the audience is more likely to interact with the project.
  4. With the 2012 American elections in the near future, the social topics of equality, justice, and general activism have once again jumped to the front of the public’s awareness.  As a result, more individuals have been searching for causes like the “Occupy Movement,” SOPA activism, or the more vigilante-oriented “Anonymous.”  Thus, the Real Life Superhero project could relate perfectly to the current events.
  5. Finally, the fact that anyone can obtain the information regarding the Real Life Superhero project, as well as any information about the heroes’ mission makes the project highly accessible to its audience.  In fact, many of the heroes’ pages link to specific charities or other non profit organizations that can further benefit a community.

How to start:

If you visit the project’s page, you may be immediately impressed with the finished look of the page, the detailed graphics, photographs and professional looking text.  Nearly all of the information about the project is legible, comprehensible, and easy to access.  In comparison with other superhero related pages, such as “Real Life Superheroes.org” and “The World Superhero Registry,” the Real Life Superheroes Project seems quite well put-together.

However, unlike the other sites, the Project’s page lacks much of the content of the other sites, making for a comparitively sparse page.  While this is not inherently bad, a user seeking to become inspired by real life superheroes may visit another site for lack of emphasis on heroes’ activities.  In order to improve this, I would first suggest that the project increase their content, either through collaboration with other participating sites or by adding more heroes to their project.  By increasing content, it is more likely that the audience will be able to connect with these heroes and be drawn to contribute or be inspired by the project.