Exploring Web users' on-line optimal flow experiences
This study explored on-line Web users' optimal flow experience to increase our understanding of positive aspects of Web users' on-line behaviors and the flow phenomenon (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975b). The success of this study will expand the scope of flow theory applications, enhance the coherence of flow theory, increase the understanding of Web users' on-line experience, and acquire knowledge of effective Web designs.
The digital version of the experience sampling method was employed to collect situated data from 405 Web users with a repeatedly pop-up questionnaire on subjects' Web browsers.
The four hypotheses investigating the interactions between flow experience, situational contexts, and flow dimensions are as follows: Hypothesis 1: Is equivalence of perceived challenges and skills associated with flow experience in the Web environment? Hypothesis 2: Can flow dimensions predict overall flow in the Web environment? Hypothesis 3: Is there a relationship between Web users' flow state and their flow symptoms? Hypothesis 4: Is there an underlying structure among flow dimensions?
This study concludes that, first, the relative distance between challenges and skills is likely to be a factor in determining respondents' optimal experience, though the assumption that the equivalence of challenges and skills can facilitate the occurrence of flow cannot be concluded. Second, the flow dimensions, which are highly inter-correlated, make substantial and meaningful contribution in predicting Web users' flow experience. Among the flow dimensions, concentration, telepresence, and loss of self-consciousness are the most powerful predicators. Third, Web users' flow state, which consisted of the three flow quotations, are very good predicators and make equal contribution in predicting Web users' flow symptoms. This verifies the validity of the quotations in eliciting people's flow experience. Fourth, an underlying structure of Web users' flow experience is found. Three important factors were extracted from flow dimensions, representing the points of entry, subsistence, and exit of flow.
Findings in this study provide insights into Web users' internal behaviors and the process of approaching optimal flow experience. Several general but practical recommendations are provided for Web users and Web designers in facilitating the occurrence of flow and increasing the effectiveness of Web use. Besides, several concepts of flow theory were examined, verified, and expanded. Methodologically, the on-line experience sampling method was proven to be a useful and practical data collection tool.