Analogy: User is like hunter looking for his prey
To say that Web users behave like wild beasts in the jungle sounds like a joke, but there’s substantial data to support this claim. Animals make decisions on where, when, and how to eat on the basis of highly optimized formulas. Not that critters run mathematical computations, but rather that suboptimal behaviors result in starvation, and thus fewer offspring that follow those behaviors in subsequent generations. After thousands of generations, optimal food-gathering behavior is all that’s left.
Humans are under less evolutionary pressure to improve their Web use, but basic laziness is a human characteristic that might be survival-related (don’t exert yourself unless you have to). In any case, people like to get maximum benefit for minimum effort . That’s what makes information foraging a useful tool for analyzing online media.
Information Scent: Predicting a Path’s Success
Information foraging’s most famous concept is information scent : users estimate a given hunt’s likely success from the spoor: assessing whether their path exhibits cues related to the desired outcome . Informavores will keep clicking as long as they sense (to mix metaphors) that they’re “getting warmer” — the scent must keep getting stronger and stronger, or people give up. Progress must seem rapid enough to be worth the predicted effort required to reach the destination.
The most obvious design lesson from information scent is to ensure that links and category descriptions explicitly describe what users will find at the destination. Faced with several navigation options, it’s best if users can clearly identify the trail to the prey and see that other trails are devoid of anything edible.
Don’t use made-up words or your own slogans as navigation options, since they don’t have the scent of the sought-after item. Plain language also works best for search engine visibility: searching provides a literal match between the words in the user’s mind and the words on your site.
Secondly, as users drill down the site, each page should clearly indicate that they’re still on the path to the food. In other words, provide feedback about the current location and how it relates to users’ tasks.