A series of encounters: The information behaviour of participants in a subject-based electronic discussion list

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Journal Article
Journal of Information and Knowledge Management, 2010, 9 (3), pp. 183 - 201
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Most information research devoted to on-line discussion forums involves content analysis of postings, and is thereby skewed to those participants who actively post. The research reported in this paper aims to uncover the information behaviour of people who participate more passively in these discussions-those who never post or do so infrequently. Data was accordingly collected via qualitative interviews with 18 participants of a subject-based e-mail list-the actKM Forum's discussion list, an on-line forum devoted to knowledge management. The research finds that members participate in the actKM list for a general informational purpose which can be summed up as 'keeping abreast of current trends,' specifically by allowing insight into the thoughts and opinions of others. Members engage with subjects in which they have a prior interest-getting confirmation, affirmation or reinforcement of their own thinking and opinions is a significant reason for participation in the list. Burnett's proposition that people participate in on-line forums as 'promising information neighbourhoods' is borne out. However, his contention that hostile behaviours are non-informational is not supported by the current research. The research suggests that Burnett's typology needs to be broadened to include two categories of hostile behaviour-informational and non-informational-such as there are with collaborative behaviours. The assumptions of information behaviour as problem-solving implicit in Dervin's Sense-Making model are found to be problematic. Instead, the study finds that Erdelez's model of Information Encountering is a more useful categorisation of the information behaviour exhibited by list participants. © World Scientific Publishing Co.
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