Friday, 27 February 2009

Concert for the deaf?

One of the most amazing people I ever had the pleasure of working with, is putting on a multi-sensory concert for the deaf. Her work on modelling the human cochlea is being tested as part of a audio-responsive chair in a live concert designed for the hearing impaired.

I'm sure it will be an amazing experience for both the gig-goers, the bands, and the researchers seeing their creative work in action!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Is Web-based Exploratory search on the increase?

I read an interesting paper by Vakkari's team, on the different queries submitted to libraries via an online form, between 1999 and 2006. The trends are quite interesting, and one of the conclusions is that topic-related searches have reduced in libraries because they are, instead, being performed more on the web. This creates two questions about topic-searching on the web:

1) many HCIR style papers assume that this is hard to do on the web, but this research suggests its happening more anyway. This is perhaps because its more convenient to access the web now, than it is to drive across town. The service they analysed, however, was an online library query service (in Finland).

2) This is surely motivation for providing better exploratory search interfaces on the web, to help people explore and learn topics - why has it only dropped from 57% to 47%? Why not further?

They also conclude that people still turn to librarians for difficult searching problems. This really is motivation for providing better exploratory search interfaces, so that a) the number of topical searches to libraries goes down even more and b) so that the number of difficult questions goes down instead of up!

Monday, 16 February 2009

search interaction is short

*warning - read the comments below before you read the article discussed here*

I came across an interesting article which is, to some extent, both a challenge for interactive information retrieval, and a blow to idea that search should be like a conversation (rather than guessing a searcher's intentions). One of their notable findings is that the average search session is 2.9 interactions long. Nice to see that its not considering search session length in terms of time (a common metric, but not always applicable during information seeking), but instead in the number of interactions. This is something in the vein of my own research.

This finding really only allows 1) an initial search, 2) an interactive refinement and/or a scroll, and 3) a selection. This also assumes, since the 2.9 is less than 3, that one of these is optional. and its unlikely to be the searching or the selecting. I want to go over the paper in some more detail, but its certainly interesting.

ambiguous query terms

Since my last entry, on what to do with more generic query terms, I have come across a few sources about this. First, I happened to review a paper on the topic, which I of course can't say more about. Second, I have happened upon an interesting journal article looking at identifying ambiguous terms. It's by no means the only research to try and do this, but their recent work has found only around 16% of online queries are what they define as ambiguous.

Finally, an interesting blogger, has mentioned an alternative search engine called DuckDuckGo, which, I'm pleased to say, does almost exactly as I discussed in my previous entry. As you can see with the standard ambiguous example of apple, it breaks down results into groups that cover a range of its different domain relations, which can be used for interactive query expansion. Give it a try. They have a nice list of their defining features. I'm currently using it as my default search engine now too.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

generality of query terms

An excellent blogger, named Daniel Tunkelang, recently brought up a discussion, within a discussion, on determining the exploratory nature of a query. He questions whether this is worth it. This is a very interesting focus. Ryen White has published a number of papers on determining exploratory style queries, and the effect of expertese on search style, which are very interesting and certainly related to this challenge.

The excerpt that daniel refers to, from another blog, is on how search engines should react to the terms 'vietnam travel' in comparison to 'vietnam population'. For the former, Yahoo, Google, and Live all bring up different top results, but all based around travel guides. For the latter, Google and Live try to answer the question directly. All three link to the wikipedia page on vietnamese demographics.

Term generality is an interesting case in this example. The term 'travel' has a broader network in wordnet, than population. Naturally, the more generic a term, like travel, the more broadly it will be used on the web, and so naturally generic terms bring out less specific web results, or greater variation in the highest ranked pages. Live search provides 'related queries' for both, where the travel query has many query expansions, the population query provides a series of sibling queries, like korean population.

Instead, however, determining the generality of a term, or its breadth of use on the web, calls for a good opportunity to directly and intentionally provide diversity in search results. That is, instead of letter the breadth of use on the web naturally lead to varience in results, to specifically expose the varience in results, and aim to cover them.

From an exploratory serach perspective, its interesting because it would be different to interactive query expansion, in that the search engine would be providing key results from each of the recommended query expansions, and so the interaction would be different. It, instead, may convert to exploratory behaviour, rather than directed re-querying.