Asynchronous social search as a single point of access to information

Publication Date20 Nov 2017
AuthorMarco Buijs,Marco Spruit
SubjectLibrary & information science,Librarianship/library management,Library technology,Information behaviour & retrieval,Information user studies,Metadata,Information & knowledge management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Asynchronous social search
as a single point of access
to information
Marco Buijs and Marco Spruit
Department of Information and Computing Sciences, Utrecht University,
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to present asynchronous social search as a novel and intuitive
approach to search for information in which people collaborate to find the information they are looking for.
Design/methodology/approach A prototype was built to test the feasibility in a business environment.
A case study was performed at an organisation with over 1,000 employees to evaluate the quality of
asynchronous social search as a single point of access to information.
Findings Based on the results, the authors conclude that asynchronous social search has great potential as
a single point of access to organisational information. Key strengths include that the implementation requires
no integration with the existing information technology infrastructure of organisations and participants were
very satisfied with the results provided by the prototype.
Originality/value This work demonstrates that asynchronous social search indeed provides a very good
starting point for a single point of access to information, as integration with existing software systems is not
necessary, and due to the lightweightness of the approach it also performs really well which, in turn,
stimulates the technologys acceptance by its end-users.
Keywords Information retrieval, Information science, Enterprise search, Asynchronous social search,
Bookmarklet prototype, Single point of access, Single case study
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Sharing information and knowledge in a business environment has become an important
topic for organisations. From a business point of view, many of thei r information
resources should only be available internally. Reasons to keep access restricted to
people from the organisation are often related to privacy and competitive advantages.
By using intranets, the barriers to share knowledge have been lowered. However, direct
access to the resources is only available to a small part of the organisation. In many cases,
only specific business units or workgroups have access to information that would
also be valuable to many others in the organisation. In such an environment information is
stored in so called data silos. One major problem that leads to inaccessibility of resources
is information overload. The information infrastructure is often complicated to
understand and the amount of knowledge available is way too high. The right
information at the right time becomes as good as invisible as a needle in a haystack
(Offsey, 1997). There is a need for a solution which does not require extensive change to
the information systems of the organisation. According to Accenture, one of the first steps
that should be taken is to provide the people of the organisation with a single point of
access (Nanterme and Daugherty, 2014), for which we have already proposed a working
solution (Buijs and Spruit, 2015).
Based on work from Evans and Chi (2008) and Golovchinsky et al. (2009), we define
asynchronous social search as Information seeking supported by a network of people
where collaboration takes place in a nonconcurrent way. Important concepts in
asynchronous social search are user-generated content and user feedback (e.g. Wijaya
et al., 2008). In this paper, we describe a prototype that is based on asynchronous social
Library Hi Tech
Vol. 35 No. 4, 2017
pp. 649-664
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/LHT-01-2017-0007
Received 7 January 2017
Revised 29 June 2017
Accepted 29 July 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
social search
search and we evaluate its feasibility with a case study. The main research question during
this case study was:
RQ1. Can asynchronous social search function as a single point of access to information
within an organisation?
2. Related work
According to literature, there is indeed a need for a single point of access to information
within organisations (Nanterme and Daugherty, 2014). Whereas a conventional
business intelligence approach can provide robust access to an organisations historical
body of knowledge (e.g. Vleugel et al., 2010), there is also a need in organisations for
Enterprise Search software, that is more flexible, easy to use and easy to deploy. In total,
60-80 per cent of queries posed on organisational intranets are navigational queries,
in which the user wants to access a known resource of which he does not know how to
reach it directly or he thinks the fastest way to access it is via the Enterprise Search engine
(Mukherjee and Mao, 2004; Broder, 2002).
The concept of a single point of access also emerged from a governmental perspective,
referring to the integration of public services from a citizens point of view. It suggests that
its customersmay request any public service through a single point of access using the
communication channel of their choice (Tambouris and Wimmer, 2008). This perspective
has also been referred to as a strategic perspective of electronic democracy (Watson and
Mundy, 2001).
A recent systems perspective onto the single point of access approach is realised in a
particular data context service called Ground, which is a decoupled architecture of
multiple applications and backend services that together serves as a single point of
access (Hellerstein et al., 2017). The Dédalo middleware has similar functionalities
(Inacio et al., 2016). The strategic objective of a single point of access can furthermore be
found in the health policy domain, where it implies a coordination of healthcare services
design (Methley, 2016), facilitated by an enterprise data warehouse environment
(Smith et al., 2016; Spruit and Sacu, 2015).
A truly personal approach to information retrieval on the WWW has been taken by
Delicious. On Delicious people can create an account, add bookmarks to it and retrieve those
bookmarks later on based on tags that can be assigned to bookmarks. They can also
befriend people and search in the bookmarks of their friends. Several studies were
performed on whether such an approach could improve web search (Heymann et al., 2008;
Yanbe et al., 2007; Noll and Meinel, 2007). Heymann et al. (2008) discovered that a significant
part of bookmarks are tagged with terms that also occur in the title, content or metadata of
the bookmarked source. This suggests that it is unlikely that using bookmarks in web
search would lead to much better results than a full text search. Another problem with
bookmarking they discovered is coverage of the web. Only a small portion of the web is
bookmarked compared to the portion of the web that is indexed by large search engines.
However, they also conclude that pages that are bookmarked are interesting pages and
25 per cent of these pages have not been indexed by search engines. Furthermore, they
conclude that bookmarked webpages are disproportionally common in search results
compared to their coverage.
Bookmarkingon Delicious is a form of collaborative tagging. Golder and Huberman(2006)
performed researchin this field of study and they define collaborative taggingas the p rocess
by which many usersadd metadata in the form of keywordsto shared content.Duringtheir
researchthey observed that people use a great varietyof tags, but also consensus is reachedin
such a way that stable patterns emerge in tag proportions with respect to tagged resources.
They also identifythe main reason behind tagging, whichis personal use. They conclude that

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