Information acquiring-and-sharing in Internet-based environments: an exploratory study of individual user behaviors

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Rioux, Kevin Sean

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Adoption of Internet-based information resources and dissemination tools is rapidly increasing. Given the far-reaching implications of this trend, researchers in library and information science (LIS) are seeking to better understand individual users’ behaviors in these contexts. A user information behavior that is under-examined in the human information behavior literature is information acquiring-and-sharing (IA&S) in Internet-based environments. This overlooked status is problematic, because we cannot get a complete picture of individuals’ information use behavior if we exclude what may be the relatively common behavior of IA&S in Internet environments. The objectives of this study were to systematically examine information IA&S behaviors among individual Internet users, and to develop theory statements that describe and explain these phenomena. Toward these goals, the following research questions were developed:

  1. What are the behaviors and processes associated with information acquiring and-sharing in Internet-based environments?
  2. What are the motivators and corresponding affective and cognitive states associated with information acquiring-and-sharing in Internet-based environments? Respondents targeted for this study were graduate students who study and/or work at a medium-sized American public university who regularly acquire-and-share information in Internet environments. Given the varied social roles and information needs of these Internet users, they demonstrated a broad array of variables that characterize this behavior.
    An array of techniques that included screening surveys, critical incident logs and grounded theory interview techniques were used to collect data that address the exploratory research questions. Survey data were analyzed using simple descriptive statistics. Interview, field note and critical incident data were analyzed using open, axial, and selective coding processes.
    Findings show that information IA&S in Internet environments is driven by a mix of cognitive, affective, motivational, procedural, and need attributes. An emergent conceptual framework based on grounded substantive theories is proposed that identifies, explains, and integrates these attributes. The intention of this effort is to broaden existing information behavior theories and models, and to inform the practice of information professionals who are tasked with developing and improving information systems.