Improving Proactive Information Systems

Abstract

Proactive contextual information systems help people locate information by automatically suggesting potentially relevant resources based on their current tasks or interests. Such systems are becoming increasingly popular, but designing user interfaces that effectively communicate recommended information is a challenge: the interface must be unobtrusive, yet communicate enough information at the right time to provide value to the user. In this paper we describe our experience with the FXPAL Bar, a proactive information system designed to provide contextual access to corporate and personal resources. In particular, we present three features designed to communicate proactive recommendations more effectively: translucent recommendation windows increase the user’s awareness of particularly highly-ranked recommendations, query term highlighting communicates the relationship between a recommended document and the user’s current context, and a novel recommendation digest function allows users to return to the most relevant previously recommended resources. We present empirical evidence supporting our design decisions and relate lessons learned for other designers of contextual recommendation systems.