Skip to main content


Online and offline search experiences and outcomes

Research Achievements

Online and offline search experiences and outcomes

With the evolution of the Web and development of web-based search engines, online searching has become a common method for obtaining information. Given this popularity, the question arises as to how much time people save by using search engines for their information needs compared to offline sources, as well as how online searching affects both search experiences and search outcomes. Using a random sample of queries from a major search engine and a sample of reference questions from the Internet Public Library (IPL), we conduct a real-effort experiment to compare online and offline search experiences and outcomes. We find that participants are significantly more likely to find an answer on the Web, compared to offline searching. Restricting our analysis to the set of questions in which participants find answers in both treatments, a Web search takes on average 7 (9) minutes, whereas the corresponding offline search takes 22 (19) minutes for a search-engine (IPL) question.