Tag-based interfaces and Aging

I was recently interviewed by our campus news service about receiving a Google Research Award to study information retrieval and aging. The research involves designing information retrieval interfaces around the capabilities and limitations of older adults (those age 60 and above). Here is a snippet from the press release:

Richard Pak, an assistant professor of psychology, has received a $50,000 gift from Google to study how older adults navigate the Web and what Web site design features make searches easier. The grant will fund an extension of his research on aging and technology.

“The findings are that when you take a Web site and organize it hierarchically — like how you might organize your documents on your computer with folders within folders — older adults are much slower and make more errors when they are searching for information compared to younger adults,” Pak said. “We think that this is the case because the situation does not allow older adults to use their greater knowledge toward the situation. However, when you take that same Web site and organize it around keywords or concepts instead of folders, older adults are able to bring their wealth of general knowledge to the situation and perform almost equivalently to younger adults in the task.”

That is, older adults seem to perform better using so-called “tag-based sites,” which are Web sites that organize their information around frequently used keywords. Pak said that while tag-based sites are still relatively new, several popular sites use tags. These include Amazon.com, Gmail.com, and the photo sharing Web site Flickr.com.

The recently published paper, “Designing an information search interface for younger and older adults” appears in the latest issue of the journal Human Factors.