Automated gathering of Web information: An in-depth examination of agents interacting with search engines

Bernard J. Jansen, Tracy Mullen, Amanda Spink, Jan Pedersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The Web has become a worldwide repository of information which individuals, companies, and organizations utilize to solve or address various information problems. Many of these Web users utilize automated agents to gather this information for them. Some assume that this approach represents a more sophisticated method of searching. However, there is little research investigating how Web agents search for online information. In this research, we first provide a classification for information agent using stages of information gathering, gathering approaches, and agent architecture. We then examine an implementation of one of the resulting classifications in detail, investigating how agents search for information on Web search engines, including the session, query, term, duration and frequency of interactions. For this temporal study, we analyzed three data sets of queries and page views from agents interacting with the Excite and AltaVista search engines from 1997 to 2002, examining approximately 900,000 queries submitted by over 3,000 agents. Findings include: (1) agent sessions are extremely interactive, with sometimes hundreds of interactions per second (2) agent queries are comparable to human searchers, with little use of query operators, (3) Web agents are searching for a relatively limited variety of information, wherein only 18% of the terms used are unique, and (4) the duration of agent-Web search engine interaction typically spans several hours. We discuss the implications for Web information agents and search engines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)442-464
Number of pages23
JournalACM Transactions on Internet Technology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Networks and Communications


Dive into the research topics of 'Automated gathering of Web information: An in-depth examination of agents interacting with search engines'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this