SNIF-ACT: a cognitive model of user navigation on the World Wide Web


Event Human Computer Interaction


Pirolli, Peter L.
Technical Publications
December 31st 2007
We describe the development of a computational cognitive model that explains navigation behavior on the World Wide Web. The model, called SNIF-ACT (Scent-based Navigation and Information Foraging in the ACT cognitive architecture), is motivated by Information Foraging Theory (IFT), which quantifies the perceived relevance of a Web link to a user's goal by a spreading activation mechanism. The model assumes that users evaluate links on a Web page sequentially and decide to click on a link or to go back to the previous page by a Bayesian satisficing model (BSM) that adaptively evaluates and selects actions based on a combination of previous and current assessments of the relevance of link texts to information goals. SNIF-ACT 1.0 utilizes the measure of utility, called information scent, derived from IFT to predict rankings of links on different Web pages. The model was tested against a detailed set of protocol data collected from 8 participants as they engaged in two information-seeking tasks using the World Wide Web. The model provided a good match to participants' link selections. In SNIF-ACT 2.0, we included the adaptive link selection mechanism from the BSM that sequentially evaluates links on a Web page. The mechanism allowed the model to dynamically build up the aspiration levels of actions in a satisficing process (e.g., to follow a link or leave a Web site) as it sequential assessed link texts on a Web page. The dynamic mechanism provides an integrated account of how and when users decide to click on a link or leave a page based on the sequential, ongoing experiences with the link context on current and previous Web pages. SNIF-ACT 2.0 was validated on a data set obtained from 74 subjects. Monte Carlo simulations of the model showed that SNIF-ACT 2.0 provided better fits to human data than SNIF-ACT 1.0 and a Position model that used position of links on a Web page to decide which link to select. We conclude that the combination of the IFT and the BSM provides a good description of user-Web interaction. Practical implications of the model are discussed.


Fu, W.; Pirolli, P. L. SNIF-ACT: a cognitive model of user navigation on the World Wide Web. Human Computer Interaction. 2007; 22 (4): 355-412.

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