Improved search engines and navigation preference in personal information management

Ofer Bergman, Ruth Beyth-Marom, Rafi Nachmias, Noa Gradovitch, Steve Whittaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Traditionally users access their personal files mainly by using folder navigation. We evaluate whether recent improvements in desktop search have changed this fundamental aspect of Personal Information Management (PIM). We tested this in two studies using the same questionnaire: (a) The Windows Study-a longitudinal comparison of Google Desktop and Windows XP Search Companion, and (b) The Mac Study-a large scale comparison of Mac Spotlight and Sherlock. There were few effects for improved search. First, regardless of search engine, there was a strong navigation preference: on average, users estimated that they used navigation for 56 - 68% of file retrieval events but searched for only 4 - 15% of events. Second, the effect of improving the quality of the search engine on search usage was limited and inconsistent. Third, search was used mainly as a last resort when users could not remember file location. Finally, there was no evidence that using improved desktop search engines leads people to change their filing habits to become less reliant on hierarchical file organization. We conclude by offering theoretical explanations for navigation preference, relating to differences between PIM and Internet retrieval, and suggest alternative design directions for PIM systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20
JournalACM Transactions on Information Systems
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2008


  • Files retrieval
  • Navigation preference
  • Personal information management
  • Personal search engines
  • Search preference
  • User study


Dive into the research topics of 'Improved search engines and navigation preference in personal information management'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this