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Image needs on social Q&A sites: a comparison of Zhihu and Baidu Zhidao

Shengli Deng (The Center for the Studies of Information Resources of Wuhan University, Wuhan, China)
Anqi Zhao (School of Information Management, Wuhan University, Wuhan, China)
Ruhua Huang (School of Information Management, Wuhan University, Wuhan, China)
Haiping Zhao (School of Information Management, Wuhan University, Wuhan, China)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 3 June 2019

Issue publication date: 14 August 2019




This study aims to examine why users search for images, how users describe their image needs and what the images are used for by analysing questions obtained from two Chinese social Q&A sites, Zhihu and Baidu Zhidao.


A total of 1,402 image questions were collected from Zhihu and Baidu Zhidao. Both quantitative analysis and qualitative content analysis were performed to identify user image needs and the potential differences on the two social Q&A sites.


Question-asker’s intention varies in different platforms. Zhihu users asked questions mainly aiming at a promotion of subsequent discussion, whereas users of Baidu Zhidao often did so to seek information. Syntactic attributes were not frequently used in both two sites. Zhihu users were more likely to express subjective evaluations on images (concept, emotion, theme and style) in their questions than users of Baidu Zhidao. In contrast, questions from Baidu Zhidao showed a tendency to more frequently include descriptive metadata (rights, format, size, quality and authenticity) and semantic attributes (generic activity, specific people, fashion and text) of the images than questions from Zhihu. Learning was an important use on social Q&A sites, especially on Baidu Zhidao. In addition, the images were primarily used to trigger emotion or served a persuasive purpose in Zhihu.

Practical implications

This study contributes to a better understanding of user image search behaviour, and the findings could be used to develop better image services on social Q&A sites. Meanwhile, the image attributes extracted from the questions are conducive to the improvement of image retrieval systems.


This study explored the features of image needs on social Q&A sites, especially considering image use specified in the question. The difference of image needs between two Chinese social Q&A sites (Zhihu and Baidu Zhidao) was identified.



Deng, S., Zhao, A., Huang, R. and Zhao, H. (2019), "Image needs on social Q&A sites: a comparison of Zhihu and Baidu Zhidao", The Electronic Library, Vol. 37 No. 3, pp. 454-473.



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