WEB Choice Aid (WEBCA): A research prototype for constructive choice in Web environments

Date of Completion

January 2004


Business Administration, General




In this research, we develop and evaluate a prototype for a WEB Choice Aid (WEBCA) in order to help consumers make choices in web environments. In Chapter 1, we conduct a review of theoretical and empirical decision research and identify reasons why individuals often do not use formal decision theory. We argue that web-based information provides an unprecedented opportunity to make decision theory more practically useful and identify design objectives for an approach that realizes this opportunity. In Chapter 2, we review existing technology and find that none meets all of the identified design objectives. In Chapter 3, we propose the use of means-ends belief networks as a basis for representing consumer knowledge in WEBCA. Means-ends belief networks integrate means-ends theory which defines the semantic content of knowledge with belief network theory which defines the syntactic, probability-based rules for arranging and manipulating this knowledge. This integration reconciles constructive and normative decision paradigms and enables the development of functionality to facilitate consumer learning and decision-making within a seamlessly integrated process. ^ In Chapter 4, we conduct an empirical analysis of three extant learning methods and one new method which are used to automatically construct means-ends belief networks from actual web data. We identify practical issues in applying these methods and motivate the need for specified improvements. In Chapter 5, we describe the WEBCA prototype which provides a concrete implementation of the design described in Chapters 1 through 3 and which depends on the learning methods illustrated in Chapter 4. In Chapter 6, we conduct a preliminary assessment of WEBCA through interactive sessions with twenty-two participants. We identify usability issues and suggest how they might be resolved in order to more fully realize the design objectives. Overall, user perceptions of usefulness and ease-of-use are good and the results indicate that WEBCA helps individuals to develop product knowledge. ^