Blog Category: human-computer interaction

History matters

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Exploratory search is an uncertain endeavor. Quite often, people don’t know exactly how to express their information need, and that need may evolve over time as information is discovered and understood. This is not news.

When people search for information, they often run multiple queries to get at different aspects of the information need, to gain a better understanding of the collection, or to incorporate newly-found information into their searches. This too is not news.

The multiple queries that people run may well retrieve some of the same documents. In some cases, there may be little or no overlap between query results; at other times, the overlap may be considerable. Yet most search engines treat each query as an independent event, and leave it to the searcher to make sense of the results. This, to me, is an opportunity.

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CFP: HCIR 2012 Symposium

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We are happy to announce that the 2012 Human-Computer Information Retrieval Symposium (HCIR 2012) will be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts October 4 – 5, 2012. The HCIR series of workshops has provided a venue for discussion of ongoing research on a range of topics related to interactive information retrieval, including interaction techniques, evaluation, models and algorithms for information retrieval, visual design, user modeling, etc. The focus of these meetings has been to bring together people from industry and academia for short presentations and in-depth discussion. Attendance has grown steadily since the first meeting, and as a result this year we have decided to modify the structure of the meeting to accommodate the increasing demand for participation.

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HCIR intern, 2012 edition


Update: This intern slot has been filled.

It’s intern season again! I am looking for a PhD student well-versed in persuasive/affective computing/captology literature to participate in a research project related to improving the quality of interaction in information seeking environments. The goal of the project is to explore how to increase people’s engagement with systems while performing exploratory search. We would like to improve our current system to make it more usable and to explore some novel interaction techniques.

Applicants should be familiar with basic tactics of designing affective and engaging interfaces in a web-based environment. The internship will last three months, and will be structured to produce and evaluate research systems. As a further incentive, we expect to publish the results of this work at CHI 2013, which will be held in Paris. For more information on the intern process, please see the FXPAL web site, or contact me directly. I would like to fill this internship slot as soon as possible.

A quick study of Scholar-ly Citation

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Google recently unveiled Citations, its extension to Google Scholar that helps people to organize the papers and patents they wrote and to keep track of citations to them. You can edit metadata that wasn’t parsed correctly, merge or split references, connect to co-authors’ citation pages, etc. Cool stuff. When it comes to using this tool for information seeking, however, we’re back to that ol’ Google command line. Sigh.

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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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Obviously wrong

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So Microsoft is suing Barnes & Noble for patent infringement. Well, that’s what patents are for: the right to sue. And that’s what licenses are for: the right to avoid getting sued. The only thing is, if you’re going to sue someone with half a brain, you should at least make sure your patent is reasonably solid.

With that said, one of the patents that Microsoft claims that Nook is violating deals with annotating documents, an area I know a bit about. The patent, filed in December 1999, claims a system and method to associate annotations with a non-modifiable document. The idea is that file positions in the document associated with user-selected objects are used to retrieve annotations from some other location, and to display these annotations for the user.

Sounds obvious, no? So obvious, in fact, that when we built such a system in 1997, we didn’t bother patenting this.

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Eye tracking on a laptop

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Tobii and Lenovo presented a laptop with a built-in eye tracker at CeBit last week. The eye tracker allows the user to control the laptop, for instance selecting files to open and selecting active window from an expose like view. Engadget have a video of a demonstration of the eye control on the laptop here. I wished I could get my hands on it for some testing. A laptop with a built-in eye tracker certainly has potential, from making eye tracking easier and more flexible for disabled and making usability testing using eye tracking more flexible allowing the usability specialist to move from their labs to the field.

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Revealing details

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Thanks to Mor Namaan, I came across an interesting blog post by Justin O’Beirne that analyzed the graphic design of several different maps — Google, Bing, and Yahoo — to show why Google maps tend appear easier to read and to use. The gist of the analysis is that legibility is improved through a number of graphical techniques that in combination produce a significant visual effect.

And of course knowing Google, this stuff was tested and tested and tested to get the right margins around text, the right gray scale for the labels, the right label density, etc.

So why did Justin have to reverse-engineer this work to understand it?

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An exploration of cross-media interaction

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One of FXPAL’s papers at the ACM Multimedia conference this year describes FACT, an interactive paper system for fine-grained interaction with documents. The FACT system consists of a small camera-projector unit, a laptop, and ordinary paper documents. The system works as follows: a user makes pen gestures on a paper document in the view a of a camera-projector unit. FACT processes these gestures to select fine-grained content and to apply various digital functions. For example, the user can choose individual words, symbols, figures, and arbitrary regions for keyword search, copy and paste, web search, and remote sharing. FACT thus enables a computer-like user experience on paper. This paper interaction can be integrated with laptop interaction for cross-media manipulations on multiple documents and views. FACT can be used in the application areas such as document manipulation, map navigation and remote collaboration.

Data structures are for programmers

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I just read an interesting post by David Karger about PIM, end-user programming, data publishing, and lots of other interesting HCI ideas. The premise is that purpose-built applications for PIM impose strict schemas on their users, making it difficult to adapt, repurpose, or integrate the data with other applications. The alternative is something like Evernote, that lumps everything into one bucket, access to which is mediated largely by search. The tradeoff, then, is between a relatively undifferentiated interface backed by search on one hand, and a large number of siloed applications with dedicated interfaces.

David describes several systems (interfaces) his students built that leverage the Haystack framework for storing arbitrary data, and suggests that it’s possible to structure these data management tasks as authoring problems rather than as programming, thereby making flexible, extensible, customized interfaces more widely accessible.

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