LING LIU and M. TAMER ÖZSUEncyclopedia of Database Systems10.1007/978-0-387-39940-9_41
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009
Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories, Inc., Cambridge, MA, USA
“Browsing” has two definitions in the context of visual interfaces for database systems:
Definition (1) implies something about the mental intent of the user performing the act of information processing. The intent can be to learn the gist of “what is there.” It may be to take in information in order to be entertained or informed. Or it may simply be a part of involuntary visual scanning within an environment. In the physical world, examples include flipping through the pages of a book, scanning quickly through a menu, or glancing down a store aisle.
The human activity of visual perception and interpretation of electronic content when there is no specific target object being sought.
The human activity of clicking or tapping on a sequence of elements in an information display that results in a sequence of screens of information state.
Definition (2) is used in the context of contrasting the human-computer interaction paradigm of link-following in World Wide Web applications versus searching, which entails forming queries. “Browsing” in this context refers to a sequence of clicking or tapping behaviors on highlighted elements (hyperlinks) in order to go directly to a subsequent state of the information display. In contrast, “searching” entails specifying and then executing a query. The interaction paradigms of browsing and searching are independent of the intentional state of the user – the individual may or may not be looking for something specific in either case.
A branch of research in visual interfaces for browsing in the first sense is Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) [2, Sect. 4.2]. The human psychology of visual perception, specifically models of short-term visual memory, can inform the design of visual interfaces for browsing. Visual information can be presented in space or in time or in some combination thereof. For image presentation specifically, is it better to utilize screen real estate to present multiple images concurrently or to present them over time? If over time, should images move in some specified path or remain motionless? What are the best controls to give to the user in order to support the tasks of rapid perusal in order to get a gist of the content within that information space or to help in making a selection for further detailed investigation? These are some of the questions being asked by researchers and designers in the context of RSVP interfaces.
An important aspect of browsing as link-following has to do with information “scent.” Just as animals’ scent can be used as an indicator of their territory or former presence, the presentation of information links provides hints of what a user would find were he or she to follow the link. The theory of information foraging  provides insight into human behavior in information seeking that can help inform the design for interfaces and electronic documents. According to Pirolli, humans tend to make decisions about what links to follow and how long to continue along certain paths based on resource-limited assessments of the costs of such activities relative to a judgment of payoff.
Pirolli P. Information Foraging Theory: Adaptive Interaction with Information. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2007.
Spence R. Information Visualization: Design for Interaction (2nd edn.). Pearson/Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2007.