The amount of information available in electronic information spaces, such as Usenet or the World Wide Web, exceeds by far what a person could look at in a reasonable amount of time. Having access to this amount of information offers opportunities that were unimaginable a few decades ago. However, the sheer quantity involves the practical problem to find the most interesting information without spending too much time investigating information that is less interesting (see also Miller et al., this volume).
In this chapter, we look at ways to support users seeking information in electronic information spaces. By information seeking we mean all activities that a person may engage in to find and use information. This resembles what scholars in information science would call information behaviour (Wilson, 1999). An important difference is that we view information seeking as a situated activity, i.e., an activity that involves in a fundamental way interaction and participation. Following Clancey (1997) we argue that "[...] every human thought and action is adapted to the environment, that is, situated, because what people perceive, how they conceive of their activity, and what they physically do develop together."
In the context of this chapter, we use the term "interaction" to stress that people have to interact with tools, such as an information retrieval system, a Web browser, or an Usenet news client, in order to access representations of information. Such representations would be text documents, Web pages, or Usenet articles, respectively. We use the term "participation" to denote that information seeking is an intrinsically social activity. The course of information seeking is not only affected by explicit events, arising from activities such as using tools or communicating with others (e.g., Twidale et al., 1997; Ehrlich & Cash, 1999) but is also influenced by a person's culture and background knowledge. Moreover, information seeking is a generative activity by which we mean that the activity itself generates new interests and thus activities (see below).
In what follows, we explore support for interaction and participation as a way of allowing for the situated nature of human information seeking. We illustrate the issues by example of tools we developed in order to support information seeking in the global conferencing system Usenet news. This work is related to traditional information seeking support (e.g., Marchionini, 1995), information retrieval research (e.g., Korfhage, 1997), and work on social navigation (e.g., Munro et al., 1999) but addresses issues in a different way due to the distinct point of view.revised 23 May 2002