Human Speed-Accuracy Tradeoffs in Search

10 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2010 Last revised: 28 Jun 2010

See all articles by Christina Aperjis

Christina Aperjis

Hewlett-Packard Enterprise - Social Computing Lab

Bernardo A. Huberman

Stanford University

Fang Wu

HP Labs

Date Written: January 11, 2010


When foraging for information, users face a tradeoff between the accuracy and value of the acquired information and the time spent collecting it, a problem which also surfaces when seeking answers to a question posed to a large community. We empirically study how people behave when facing these conflicting objectives using data from Yahoo Answers, a community driven question-and-answer site. We first study how users behave when trying to maximize the amount of acquired information while minimizing the waiting time. We find that users are willing to wait longer for an additional answer if they have received a small number of answers. We then assume that users make a sequence of decisions, deciding to wait for an additional answer as long as the quality of the current answer exceeds some threshold. The resulting probability distribution for the number of answers that a question gets is an inverse Gaussian, a fact that is validated by our data.

Suggested Citation

Aperjis, Christina and Huberman, Bernardo A. and Wu, Fang, Human Speed-Accuracy Tradeoffs in Search (January 11, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Christina Aperjis

Hewlett-Packard Enterprise - Social Computing Lab ( email )

1501 Page Mill Road
Palo Alto, CA 9434
United States

Bernardo A. Huberman (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Palo Alto, CA 94305
United States

Fang Wu

HP Labs ( email )

Palo Alto, CA 94304
United States

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