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New formats, new information environments, new methodologies : the virtual unknown

Pennington, Diane (2017) New formats, new information environments, new methodologies : the virtual unknown. In: Information: Interactions and Impact (i3), 2017-06-27 - 2017-06-30, Robert Gordon University.

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The ubiquitous availability of virtual information has changed how people seek and use it. The increasing existence of smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices has made virtual information environments available almost everywhere. Initial Internet environments were largely textual. Increasingly, however, with the advent of social media and the increased ability of users to create and share information, the landscape changed (O’Reilly, 2005) as the virtual world experienced a dramatic increase in non-textual objects. These include photographs, videos, music, video games, maps, and data visualisations (Rasmussen Neal, 2012). Online environments incorporate a range of textual and non-textual elements that work together to create a complementary new form of “document” (Neal, 2010). These artefacts present rich opportunities for studies of information seeking and use. Using a social science lens, information scientists can learn about people’s information needs through the items they share and discuss (Banks and Zeitlyn, 2015). For example, analysing the hashtags used to describe non-textual cultural products in different forms could help information scientists understand the terms people naturally use when searching for them (Rasmussen Neal, 2012; Desrochers et al., 2016). Performing qualitative analysis on user-created videos can provide insight into the communities and the information practices that form around topics (Werner, 2012; Rasmussen Pennington, 2016). Social network analyses can help researchers understand how information sharing takes place around communities’ photographs (Stvilia and Jörgensen, 2009; Thelwall and Buckley, 2013). As noted in Rasmussen Pennington (2017), the potential for utilising non-textual data in virtual environments offers opportunities and challenges. Most information science research has been rooted in the assumption that a “document” is text-based (Buckland, 1997); therefore, the discipline is not entirely prepared methodologically for including non-textual data (Wyatt and O’Connor, 2004; Rasmussen Pennington, 2017). Additionally, the traditional conceptualisation of information is a strictly defined notion: it is text to be searched and retrieved. Alternatively, Bates (2006) advocated for a broader definition: “the pattern of organization of matter and energy” (Parker, 1974, p. 10). Today’s virtual environments afford a plethora of information types, which calls for investigation into how people interact with non-textual documents as well as the text that accompanies them.