Searching for Tasks: Operationalising Webfaring as an Online Search Practice


Although online search practices are the subject of much social scientific enquiry (Brand-Gruwel et al., 2005; Monchaux et al., 2015; Hinostroza, et al., 2018), these investigations too frequently conceptualise search as a rational, even instrumental, practice for the acquisition of digitally-mediated information. The danger with these approaches is that it disembeds search practices from the everyday situations in which they are enacted, in turn reinforcing longstanding yet problematic theoretical and methodological divisions between the offline and the online. Our starting point for investigating search was to instead conceptualise it as a mode of ‘understanding in practice’ whereby knowledge is ‘embedded in the context of a practical engagement in the world’ (Ingold, 2000, p. 416).

We investigate digital search as an embodied and situated practice analogous to Tim Ingold’s wayfaring (Ingold, 2011, p. 143; Moores’s 2017, pp. 62-65). A webfaring conception of search therefore requires a more flexible understanding of how online and offline are co-constitutive of the environment in which the practice takes place; coffee shops, offices, and bedrooms, but also laptops, mobile devices, search engines and discussion forums. Like wayfaring (Ingold, 2011, p. 148), webfaring is not “place-bound” but rather, “place-binding.”

This approach to search raised important methodological challenges. Our presentation  focuses on how our research design operationalised webfaring and how we incorporated it into our analytical framework .

Our project took place in February 2020 and the data is currently being analyzed. The research design involved 11 female participants between the ages of 18 and 59 in Vancouver, Canada. Each participant chose from one of three unfamiliar tasks and conducted a self-directed online search to complete the chosen task. With the help of screencasting software, we captured both the bodily and digital movements of the participants. Combining a range of qualitative research techniques, we analyzed the videos for behavioural patterns and supplemented our examination using the walkthrough method (Light & Burgess, 2018).


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Hinostroza, J., Ibieta, A., Labbé, C., & Soto, M. (2018). Browsing the internet to solve information problems: A study of students’ search actions and behaviours using a ‘think aloud’ protocol. Education and Information Technologies, 23(5), 1933–1953.

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Ingold, T. (2011). Being alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description. London: Routledge.

Light, B., Burgess, J., & Duguay, S. (2018). The walkthrough method: An approach to the study of apps. New Media & Society, 20(3), 881-900.

Monchaux, S., Amadieu, F., Chevalier, A., & Mariné, C. (2015). Query strategies during information searching: Effects of prior domain knowledge and complexity of the information problems to be solved. Information Processing & Management, 51(5), 557–569.

Moores, S. (2017). Digital Orientations: Movement, Dwelling, and Media Use. In T. Markham & S. Rodgers (Eds.), Conditions of mediation: Phenomenological perspectives on media (pp. 59–66). New York: Peter Lang.