Academics’ responses to encountered information: context matters

Sheila Pontis, G Kefalidou, Ann Blandford, J Forth, Stephann Makri, S Sharples, G Wiggins, M Woods
in Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Journal article


An increasing number of tools are being developed to help academics interact with information, but little is known about the benefits of those tools for their users. This study evaluated academics' receptiveness to information proposed by a mobile app, the SerenA Notebook: information that is based in their inferred interests but does not relate directly to a prior recognized need. The evaluated app aimed at creating the experience of serendipitous encounters: generating ideas and inspiring thoughts, and potentially triggering follow-up actions, by providing users with information related to their work and leisure interests in the form of suggestions. We studied how 20 academics interacted with messages sent by the mobile app at a rate of 3 per day over ten consecutive days. Collected data sets were analyzed using thematic analysis. We found that contextual factors (location, activity and focus) strongly influenced academics' responses to messages. Academics described some unsolicited information as interesting but irrelevant when they could not make immediate use of it. They highlighted filtering information as their major struggle rather than finding information. Some messages that were positively received acted as reminders of activities participants were meant to be doing but were postponing, or were relevant to ongoing activities at the time the information was received.