Quick Judgment Online

Online, the clock is ticking. When searching for information on the web, people apparently have short attention spans—and itchy trigger fingers. One in five web viewers spends a minute or less with a search engine, according to Penn State researchers. After three minutes of searching, two out of five people have given up and moved on.

To understand the habits of web users, Jim Jansen, a professor at the university's School of Information Sciences, analyzed one day's queries at the search engine alltheweb.com. Jansen charted how long users stayed at the site, how many pages they visited and how relevant each result was. The day's tally included more than 450,000 information requests.

According to Jansen, web searchers were quick to judge. Half the users completed just one search and 54 percent of visitors only clicked on one search result.

Unfortunately, those quick-draw results don't mean that web searchers are well served by Internet search engines. Analyzing the queries further, the researchers found that one out of every two results weren't relevant to the original request. Jansen concludes that there is room for search engines to improve—especially when searchers suffer from impatience and a double-click mentality.

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