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Search strategies of Wikipedia readers
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PLOS ONE 12 (2): 1-15 (February 2017)

The quest for information is one of the most common activity of human beings. Despite the the impressive progress of search engines, not to miss the needed piece of information could be still very tough, as well as to acquire specific competences and knowledge by shaping and following the proper learning paths. Indeed, the need to find sensible paths in information networks is one of the biggest challenges of our societies and, to effectively address it, it is important to investigate the strategies adopted by human users to cope with the cognitive bottleneck of finding their way in a growing sea of information. Here we focus on the case of Wikipedia and investigate a recently released dataset about users’ click on the English Wikipedia, namely the English Wikipedia Clickstream. We perform a semantically charged analysis to uncover the general patterns followed by information seekers in the multi-dimensional space of Wikipedia topics/categories. We discover the existence of well defined strategies in which users tend to start from very general, i.e., semantically broad, pages and progressively narrow down the scope of their navigation, while keeping a growing semantic coherence. This is unlike strategies associated to tasks with predefined search goals, namely the case of the Wikispeedia game. In this case users first move from the ‘particular’ to the ‘universal’ before focusing down again to the required target. The clear picture offered here represents a very important stepping stone towards a better design of information networks and recommendation strategies, as well as the construction of radically new learning paths.
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