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Exploring the use of subjective attributes in PIM systems design

Final Report Summary - PIM (Exploring the use of subjective attributes in PIM systems design)

Personal information management (PIM) is an activity in which an individual stores his\her personal information items in order to retrieve them later on. PIM is performed in a physical environment (e.g. in an office), with mobile devices, such as mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) and by using personal computers. The information items used in personal computers include documents, emails, web favourites, tasks and contacts. Despite the fact that PIM is a fundamental aspect of computer-based activity and millions of computer users manage their personal information on a daily basis, there has been little research on the subject.

The PIM project had four objectives:

1. to explore the relationship between personal folder organisation and retrieval
2. study the effect of tag versus folder organisational structures on retrieval
3. improving organisation and retrieval by using user-subjective design and
4. community service and network building.

Objective one: Explore the relationship between personal folder organisation and retrieval (naturalistic study):

Folder navigation is the main way that personal computer users retrieve their own files. People dedicate considerable time to creating systematic structures to facilitate such retrieval. Despite the prevalence of both manual organisation and navigation, there is very little systematic data about how people actually carry out navigation, or about the relation between organisation structure and retrieval parameters. The aims of our research were therefore to study users' folder structure, personal file navigation and the relations between them. We asked 296 participants to retrieve 1 131 of their active files and analysed each of the 5 035 navigation steps in these retrievals. Folder structures were found to be shallow (files were retrieved from mean depth of 2.86 folders), with small folders (a mean of 11.82 files per folder) containing many subfolders (M =10.64). Navigation was largely successful and efficient with participants successfully accessing 94% of their files and taking 14.76 seconds to do this on average. Retrieval time and success depended on folder size and depth. We therefore found the users' decision to avoid both deep structure and large folders to be adaptive. Finally, we used a predictive model to formulate the effect of folder depth and folder size on retrieval time and suggested an optimisation point in this trade-off. This work was published in Bergman, O., Whittaker, S., Sanderson, M., Nachmias, R. and Ramamoorthy, A. (2010). The effect of folder structure on personal file navigation. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 61(12): pp 2426-2441.

Other aspects of the research was published in Bergman, O., Whittaker, S., Sanderson, M., Nachmias, R. and Ramamoorthy, A. (2012). How Do We Find Personal Files?: The Effect of OS, Presentation and Depth on File Navigation. Proceeding of CHI 2012 Conference on Human Factors and Computing Systems (pp. 2977-2980).

Objective two: Study the effect of tag versus folder organisational structures on retrieval: Users' preference for folders versus tags was studied in two working environments where both options were available to them.

In the Gmail study we informed 75 participants about both folder-labelling and tag-labelling, observed their storage behaviour after a month and asked them to estimate the proportions of different retrieval options in their behaviour. In the Windows 7 study, we informed 23 participants about tags and asked them to tag all their files for two weeks, followed by a period of five weeks of free choice between the two methods. Their storage and retrieval habits were tested prior to the learning session and after seven weeks, using a designated classification recording software and a retrieval habits questionnaire. A controlled retrieval task and an in-depth interview were conducted. Results of both studies show a strong preference for folders over tags for both storage and retrieval. In the minority of cases where tags were used for storage, participants typically used a single tag per information item. Moreover, when multiple classification was used for storage, it was only marginal used for retrieval. The controlled retrieval task showed lower success rates and slower retrieval speeds for tag use. Possible reasons for participants' preferences are discussed in our paper. This work is to be published in Bergman, O., Gradovitch, N. (student), Bar-Ilan, J., Beyth-Marom, R., (in print); Folder versus tag preference in personal information management; Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

Objective three - Improving organisation and retrieval by using user-subjective design:

Throughout their lives, people gather contacts on their mobile phones. Some of these are unused contacts - contacts that have not been used for a long time and are less likely to be used in future calls. These contacts compete for the users' attention and the mobile phone's limited screen capacity. To address this problem, we developed a prototype contact list interface called DMTR, which automatically demotes unused contacts by presenting them in a smaller font at the bottom of the contact list. In phase I of this research, we asked 18 participants to assess for how long they had not used each of their mobile phone contacts. Results show that 47% of all their contacts had not been used for over six months, or had never been used at all. In phase II, we demoted these unused contacts using DMTR and asked our participants to locate contacts that they had recently used, with and without the prototype. Results indicate that the use of DMTR reduced both the number of key strokes and the retrieval time significantly. The majority of participants indicated that it was easier for them to access their contacts using DMTR and that they would like to use it in their next mobile phone. The results provide strong evidence for the demotion principle suggested by the user-subjective approach. This work was published in Bergman, O., Komninos, A., Liarokapis, D. and Clarke, J. (2012). 'You never call': Demoting unused contacts on mobile phones using DMTR. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 16(6): pp 757-766.

Objective four: Community service and network building: Since 2010 Dr Bergman had served as a reviewer for four journal papers, participated in the program committee of four conferences and workshops, reviewed papers of seven other conferences, reviewed an international grant proposal as well as several Master theses. He teaches two PIM related seminars, supervises eight Master students (one of them was accepted magna cum laude) and a PhD student with Prof. Bar-Ilan (thesis submitted) on PIM related subjects.

Reintegration: Dr Bergman was accepted for a tenure-track position as a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University. We expect that the evaluation procedure for a promotion to a fully tenured senior lecturer position will start in 2014.