Next, we present results according to the research questions that tested the subjective project-classification, importance, and context principles.
Testing the Subjective Project Classification Principle
The general research question regarding the subjective project-classification principle was: Do personal computer users tend to work with their information items according to the items' formats (as suggested by current PIM systems design) or according to the projects with which the items are associated (as suggested by the user-subjective approach)? We tested this question using five measures.
1.1 How do personal computer users tend to talk about their information organization—in terms of technological format or in terms of projects?
In the interviews, the participants referred to item format only occasionally. They mostly referred to projects when asked about the way they organize their information: Researchers talked about their research projects, a journalist about articles he wrote, a musician about CDs he composed, illustrators about books they illustrated, a multimedia designer about titles she designed, a movie producer about videos he produced, and so forth. The tendency to refer to projects more than to format was evident in the content analysis; for each interview, two measures were calculated: the percentage of paragraphs in which at least one project was mentioned and the percentage of paragraphs in which a technological format was referred to at least once. An average of 71% of the paragraphs contained references to projects while only 28% of them referred to technological formats (see Table 2, Lines 1 and 2). This huge difference was significant, t (19) = 8.88, p < .01. The following is a typical example of a paragraph containing several references to projects taken from an interview with an artist:
Here I have an archive of things that I downloaded from the Internet that I keep for [visual] references. It keeps on getting bigger and bigger. This is a business card I started making for myself. “‘Comme il faut’ is for a new [art] exhibition I'm making in a café by that name….”
1.2 To what extent do recently used files, e-mail, and Web pages relate to the same projects?
Table 2. Testing the subjective project classification principle.
| ||M (SD)|
|Paragraphs that mentioned:|
|1. projects||71 (16)|
|2. format||28 (15)|
|Project overlap of:|
|3. information items in different formats||56 (33)|
|4. folder in different hierarchy||20 (19)|
|Classification according to:|
|5. project name||80 (12)|
|6. format name||6 (7)|
To answer this question, we used screen captures of participants' documents, e-mail, and Web pages that were used the day before the interviews took place (using Recent Documents, and Web History functions). These were printed and analyzed: Next to each information item (regarding documents, e-mail, and Web pages), participants wrote the project to which it related. We defined an overlapping information item as one that has another information item relating to the same project located in at least one different format collection (e.g., an e-mail and a document that referred to the same project). Overlap was measured by the percentage of overlapping items among all previous-day items for each participant. As can be seen in Table 2, Line 3, there is an average overlap of 56% of the information items. Thus, when working on a project, about half of the time, participants retrieve items from different format hierarchies.
1.3 How much overlap is there in folder names between the three folder hierarchies?
To answer this question, we used folder screen captures of the three folder hierarchies at root level. The printouts showed 968 folders: 544 document folders, 261 e-mail folders, and 163 Web Favorites folders. Overlapping folders were defined as folders of different hierarchies with the same name, or those the user explicitly mentioned as relating to the same project. For example, a Comics artist had a folder with the name of a book (on which he was working at the time), both in his files and in his mailbox directories. The results show that on average, 20% of the folders overlapped (see Table 2, Line 4). In other words, nearly one fifth of the folders had another folder relating to the same project in a different hierarchy.
1.4 Do users tend to classify their information according to format or to projects?
The 968 folders in the three different hierarchies mentioned earlier were classified according to their names (by project, by format, by name of person, and by other names). For each participant, the percentage of the four types of names was calculated in each of the three hierarchies. The average proportion of project folder names was 80%66 while the average proportion of format folder names was only 6% (see Table 2, Lines 5 and 6). This enormous difference was significant, t (19) = 19.12, p < .01.77 Other categories of folder names were names of people (M = 7%, SD = 6%), and other names (M = 7%, SD = 7%). These results indicate that users tend to classify their information according to projects more than to formats.
1.5 To what extent does interface design affect the format heterogeneity of information items classified under the same folder?
My Documents is the default storage location for most documents regardless of their file format (e.g., Word, Excel). This interface encourages the user to classify documents of heterogeneous formats under the same project. In contrast, e-mail and Web Favorites are each stored, by default, in separate designated locations. While the system enables storing e-mail and Web Favorites together with documents, the system interface discourages such activity (E-mail stored as documents cannot be replied to, and most participants did not know that Web Favorites could be stored with files.)
To what extent does this difference in interface design affect users' behavior? In the questionnaire, participants were asked about their storage habits. Specifically, they were asked about the extent to which they saved documents of different formats but relating to the same project in one project folder (an activity which is encouraged by the system design), and about the extent to which they saved e-mail, Web Favorites, and Web pages with documents that related to the same project (an activity which is not encouraged by the system design). Participants indicated, on a Likert-type response scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (to a very large extent), that they often mix documents of different formats in the same folders (M = 3.35, SD = 2.32), but they seldom store e-mail, Web Favorites, and Web pages outside their default locations (e.g., storing them in file folders) (M = 1.67, SD = 1.63). A paired t test showed a significant difference between results, t (83) = 11.48, p < .01, indicating that users' tendency to store information items of different formats in the same folders may be determined by interface design.
Testing the Subjective Importance Principle
The general research question testing the subjective importance principle was: Do personal computer users relate to the importance of information items while storing and/or retrieving them? We explored this question using two measures.
2.1 Do users tend to talk about their information organization in terms of its subjective importance?
In the interviews, participants tended to talk about their personal information organization both in terms of high importance (e.g., “Come to think of it, I made shortcuts [pointing at his desktop shortcuts] to most of the folders that are important for me”) and in terms of low subjective importance (e.g., “These are sketches, they are not really important, just drafts” and “Once every 2–3 days I go through [unimportant] email to send it to the trash bin”). Occasionally, during the interviews, participants also deleted information items saying that they “no longer needed them.” The percentages of paragraphs containing spontaneous references to high subjective importance as well as to low subjective importance were calculated for each participant, as part of the content analysis. On average, 22% of the paragraphs contained high-importance references (SD = 17%), and 29% contained low-importance references (SD = 14%).
2.2 To what extent do users report using importance attributes while working with their PIM systems?
To explore whether participants make highly important items more visible, the questionnaire asked about their retrieval habits. Concerning files, they were asked to divide 100% of their document retrieval activity between five options: direct navigation to the relevant folder and file, search, desktop shortcuts, recently used documents lists, and “others.” On average, participants answered that they retrieved 18% of their files by using desktop shortcuts and 12% by using recently used documents lists (see Table 3, Lines 1 and 2). In addition, participants were asked: “When you are looking for a file inside a folder, you can sort the files in chronological order so that the files you used recently would appear at the top of the list. To what extent do you use this option?” The participants' average response, on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (to a very large extent), was 1.81 (SD = 2.3). When asked about refinding Web pages that they had seen before, participants estimated that they used the Web Favorites option for 32% of the retrievals, on average, and the History option for 13% of their retrievals (see Table 3, Lines 3 and 4). The remaining 55% included writing the address, using the search engine, or links from other Web sites. Thus, results indicate that participants used the tools that the current design offers them to make highly important items more visible and accessible.
Table 3. Options chosen by users to increase or diminish item visibility.
|Increase item visibility by using:||M (SD)|
|1. Desktop shortcuts||18 (24)|
|2. Recently used documents lists||12 (19)|
|3. Web favorites option||32 (29)|
|4. Web history option||13 (18)|
|Diminish item visibility by using:||% who chose each option|
|5. Ageneral archive folder||40|
|6. An external memory||61|
|7. An old folder as an archive||32|
|8. Archive folder within the original folder||24|
As current design does not offer a designated option to make files of low subjective importance less visible, the questionnaire asked participants about various alternative ways of doing this. The results show that 40% of the participants indicated that they transferred at least some of such items to a general archive folder, 61% moved them to an external memory such as a CD, 32% created a new folder for the same purpose and used the old one as an archive, and 24% of the participants indicated that they created an archive folder within the original folder (see Table 3, Lines 5–8). Altogether, 79% of the participants used one or more of these alternative ways to make at least some of their low subjective importance files less visible.