Wednesday, 26 November 2008


Microsoft Research has just published a research paper on what happens when people seek health information on the Web. Abstract reads:

The World Wide Web provides an abundant source of medical information. This information can assist people who are not healthcare professionals to better understand health and disease, and to provide them with feasible explanations for symptoms. However, the Web has the potential to increase the anxieties of people who have little or no medical training, especially when Web search is employed as a diagnostic procedure. We use the term cyberchondria to refer to the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology, based on the review of search results and literature on the Web. We performed a large-scale, longitudinal, log-based study of how people search for medical information online, supported by a large-scale survey of 515 individuals’ health-related search experiences. We focused on the extent to which common, likely innocuous symptoms can escalate into the review of content on serious, rare conditions that are linked to the common symptoms. Our results show that Web search engines have the potential to escalate medical concerns. We show that escalation is influenced by the amount and distribution of medical content viewed by users, the presence of escalatory terminology in pages visited, and a user’s predisposition to escalate versus to seek more reasonable explanations for ailments. We also demonstrate the persistence of post-session anxiety following escalations and the effect that such anxieties can have on interrupting user’s activities across multiple sessions. Our findings underscore the potential costs and challenges of cyberchondria and suggest actionable design implications that hold opportunity for improving the search and navigation experience for people turning to the Web to interpret common symptoms.

Mobile internet usage on the rise
according to this BBC News story.

How useable is the Science Portal on mobile devices? (never having used one myself!)

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Meebo widgets and Voyager

I was reading this post:

and wondering if it would be easy to do with Newton? (I guess this is really a question for Ed and Lihua).

Ed replied:
Newton (or Voyagers web interface, both the old version and the forthcoming version now used by OU) are niggly about returning 'no results', both preferring to stick a message at the top of the screen that basically says 'you suck at searching', rather than giving the user anything useful, or even much space to add a search box.

The newer version will come online for us at some point next year (currently an issue of some debate), so we could experiment with that. It is XML based, so could be re-jigged to include helpful information more easily. As always, we would need to ensure that a human was at the other end of the chat interface. Otherwise, we would just be saying 'your searching sucks and I don't want to talk to you'.

On a similar basis, I would like to pass the search term to Google's spellcheck API, although currently a limit on daily usage prevents this from being workable, otherwise everyone would have done it.

Also of interest is the BL's new pages:

Clever search results there, with a 'top 5' of everything being shown.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Mike Wesch is US Professor of the Year

Mike Wesch has been awarded one of the U.S. Professors of the Year awards. Acceptance speech is here.

The MacArthur report on digital natives

The Macarthur Foundation funded a big study on digital natives. The report, entitled "Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project" is now out. Excerpt from the press release reads:

The most extensive U.S. study on teens and their use of digital media finds that America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online – often in ways adults do not understand or value.

“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online,” said Mizuko Ito, University of California, Irvine researcher and the report’s lead author. “There are myths about kids spending time online – that it is dangerous or making them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”

The study was supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s $50-million digital media and learning initiative, which is exploring how digital media are changing how young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life.

Over three years, Ito’s team of 28 researchers interviewed over 800 young people and their parents, both one-on-one and in focus groups; spent more than 5,000 hours observing teens on sites such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and other networked communities; and conducted diary studies to document how, and to what end, young people engage with digital media.

The researchers identified two distinct categories of teen engagement with digital media: friendship-driven and interest-driven. While friendship-driven participation centered on “hanging out” with existing friends, interest-driven participation involved accessing online information and communities that may not be present in the teen’s local peer group.

I have a copy of the report, but pdf is available from here.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Science Portal continues to attract comment

For example, this from Tony Hirst at the OU.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Net Gen (contd.)

The Economist has a glowing review of Don Tapscott's new book.

In the past two years, Don Tapscott has overseen a $4.5m study of nearly 8,000 people in 12 countries born between 1978 and 1994. In “Grown Up Digital” he uses the results to paint a portrait of this generation that is entertaining, optimistic and convincing. The problem, he suspects, is not the net generation but befuddled baby-boomers, who once sang along with Bob Dylan that “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is”, yet now find that they are clueless about the revolutionary changes taking place among the young.

“As the first global generation ever, the Net Geners are smarter, quicker and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors,” Mr Tapscott argues. “These empowered young people are beginning to transform every institution of modern life.” They care strongly about justice, and are actively trying to improve society—witness their role in the recent Obama campaign, in which they organised themselves through the internet and mobile phones and campaigned on YouTube. Mr Tapscott’s prescient chapter on “The Net Generation and Democracy: Obama, Social Networks and Citizen Engagement” alone should ensure his book a wide readership...

Monday, 3 November 2008

Plagiarism in Cambridge?

Almost half of students admitted to plagiarism in a poll carried out by a students' newspaper at the University of Cambridge.

The Varsity newspaper reported that students admitted to copying material found on the internet and submitting it as their own.

The survey also claimed that only one in 20 students had been caught.
The University of Cambridge says that it has policies in place to prevent this serious disciplinary offence.

Link (BBC Online News)