Blog Category: collaborative search

SearchPanel: supporting exploratory search in regular search engines

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People often use more than one query when searching for information. We revisit search results to re-find information and build an understanding of our search need through iterative explorations of query formulation. Unfortunately, these tasks are not well supported by search interfaces and web browsers. The only indication of our search process we get is a different colored link to pages we already have visited. In our previous research, we found that a simple query preview widget helped people formulate more successful queries and more efficiently explore the search results. However, the query preview widget would not work with regular search engines since it required back-end support. To bring support for exploratory search to common search engines, such as Google, Bing or Yahoo, we designed and built a Chrome browser plug-in, SearchPanel.

SearchPanel collects and visualizes information about the web pages retrieved in small panel next to the search results. With a glance, a searcher can see which web pages have been previously retrieved, visited and bookmarked. If a web page has a favicon, it is included in the bar (2) to help scanning and navigation of the search results. Each search result is represented as a bar in SearchPanel. The color of the bar (3) indicates retrieval status (teal = new, light blue = previously retrieved but not viewed, and dark blue = previously retrieved and viewed web page). The length of the bar (5) indicates how many times a web page has been visited; shorter bar indicates more visits. If a web page in the results list have previously been bookmarked, a yellow star is shown next to the bar (6). Users can easily re-run the same query with a different search engine by selecting one of the search engine buttons (1). When the user navigates to a web page linked in the search results, a white circle (4) is shown next to the bar representing that search result. This circle persists even if the user continues to follow links away from the web page linked in the search results. Complex2_numbers

When moving away from the search page, SearchPanel stays put and provides a short cut for accessing the search results. The search result being explored is indicated in SearchPanel by a circle. Moving the mouse over a bar in SearchPanel when not on the search page, displays the search result snippet.

Snippet

We evaluated SearchPanel in a real world deployment and found that appears to have been primarily used for complex information needs, in search sessions with long durations and high numbers of queries. For search session with single queries, we found very little use of SearchPanel. Based on our evaluation, we conclude that SearchPanel appears to be used in the way it was designed; when it is not needed it is out of the way and not used, but when one simple query does not answer the search need, SearchPanel is used for supporting the information seeking process. More details about SearchPanel can be found in our SIGIR 2014 paper.

Collaborative search on the rise?

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I am seeing an interesting not-quite-yet-a-trend on the emergence of collaborative search tools. I am not talking about research tools such as SearchTogether or Coagmento, but of real companies started for the purpose of putting out a search tool that supports explicit collaboration. The two recent entries in this category of which I am aware are SearchTeam and Searcheeze. While they share some similarities, they are actually quite different tools.

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Looking for volunteers for collaborative search study

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We are about to deploy an experimental system for searching through CiteSeer data. The system, Querium, is designed to support collaborative, session-based search. This means that it will keep track of your searches, help you make sense of what you’ve already seen, and help you to collaborate with your colleagues. The short video shown below (recorded on a slightly older version of the system) will give you a hint about what it’s like to use Querium.

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CFP: 3rd Workshop on Collaborative Information Retrieval

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We are organizing a third workshop on collaborative information retrieval, this time in conjunction with CIKM 2011. The first workshop, held in conjunction with JCDL 2008, focused on definitional issues, models for collaboration, and use cases. The second workshop, held in conjunction with CSCW2010, explored communication and awareness as related to collaborative search. This third workshop will focus on system building, algorithms, and user interfaces for collaboration.

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Looking for an HCIR intern

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It’s intern time again! I am looking for someone to help me run an exploratory study of a collaborative, session-based search tool that I’ve been building over the last few months. Session-based search frames information seeking as an on-going activity, consisting of many queries on a particular topic, with searches conducted over the course of hours, days, or even longer. Collaborative search describes how people can coordinate their information-seeking activities in pursuit of a common goal.

The intern for this project will help frame a set of research questions around collaborative, session-based search, and then take the lead on an experiment to gain insight into this rich space and to help understand how to improve our search tool. The intern will also participate in writing up this work for publication at a major conference such as CHI, CSCW, JCDL, etc.

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Visualizing search progress

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I’ve been re-reading a paper by Joho et al. that explored the effectiveness of a number of strategies with respect to collaborative search. The paper finds that

…looking at the top 20 documents in more queries was more effective than looking at the top, say, 100 documents in one fifth the number of queries.

This finding, supported by some of the observations by Vakkari, suggests that encouraging users (working individually or collaboratively) to issue multiple queries, and supporting them in subsequent sense-making activities should improve overall effectiveness of the search process.

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When to stop searching?

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Frequently, particularly when searching for work related to possibly novel research ideas I or others at FXPAL have had, it is not easy to determine when to stop searching. This dilemma comes up any time anyone is searching for something we are not sure exists.  After doing N searches, and finding nothing, how certain can we be that it isn’t there?

An unusual example of an existence search came up as I was doing background research for my review of N. David Mermin’s book Quantum Computer Science that was recently published in ACM SIGACT News. As part of the review, I wanted to give a sense for the extent that Mermin’s thoughts and writings have influenced scholarly and popular thought on quantum mechanics. I thought I remembered that he was the originator of the “Shut up and calculate” interpretation of quantum mechanics, but I wanted to fact check before putting it in my review. Would this search be a hard or easy one?
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Enterprise Search Summit 2010

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The Enterprise Search Summit is taking place right now, and I am sorry to be missing it. The program looks quite interesting, including keynotes by Marti Hearst and Peter Morville, among others. Marti’s talk this morning, related to her recent book on information retrieval, was summarized by Daniel Tunkelang on his blog. While she did touch on topics covered in her book, including some of the collaborative search work done here at FXPAL, she has shifted her focus somewhat to address the more social issues around information seeking. While I don’t the details of her presentation, she did mention similar topics when she participated at a recent panel on search at the WWW2010 conference. The twitter streams from both events capture her “socialize vs. personalize” comments. (Since Twitter search sunsets quickly, here are the TwapperKeeper archives for #ess10 and the www2010 Search Is Dead panel.)

Peter Morville should be an interesting speaker on information retrieval-related topics, some of which he covers in his books Search Patterns and Ambient Findability. I wrote about some of his ideas earlier, but am curious to hear how he is presenting his work.

I hope that both talks are recorded and made available on the web.

Update: Daniel Tunkelang’s summary of Peter Morville’s talk

Google Goes Explicitly Collaborative

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Yesterday Google announced that their bookmarks can now be shared. So far, so social media. What’s interesting about it is the motivating scenario:

Sharing lists can help you collaborate with your friends on common interests or activities. Let’s say you’re planning a group trip to Paris. With a list, everyone can contribute useful links and resources, such as packing lists, hotel links, flight information and attractions.

The key characteristic that distinguishes this scenario from typical “ask (or mine) your social network” types of search is that here you and your friends have a shared information need, and you are all contributing your efforts and expertise toward that goal. The system doesn’t have to figure out that you all are planning a trip to Paris together — that would be a hard inference to make. Rather, you tell it, explicitly, what you’re doing, and it helps you work on that information need together.

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