Blog Archive: 2014

SearchPanel: supporting exploratory search in regular search engines


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.


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.

New look for FXPAL web sites


Our Home Page and this Blog have a new look. It is less blue, more orange, and doesn’t have a picture of our old building on it. In theory, it also works much better on mobile devices. The home page seems to behave quite nicely. Webmaster is still working on the blog here – searching, author and category links, and the like will get better soon. But you can see posts, and our brilliant researchers can create posts. Thanks for your patience.

AirAuth: Authentication through In-Air Gestures Instead of Passwords


At the CHI 2014 conference, we demonstrated a new prototype authentication system, AirAuth, that explores the use of in-air gestures for authentication purposes as an alternative to password-based entry.

Previous work has shown that passwords or PINs as an authentication mechanism have usability issues that ultimately lead to a compromise in security. For instance, as the number of services to authenticate to grows, users use variations of basic passwords, which are easier to remember, thus making their accounts susceptible to attack if one is compromised.

On mobile devices, smudge attacks and shoulder surfing attacks pose a threat to authentication, as finger movements on a touch screen are easy to record visually and to replicate.

AirAuth addresses these issues by replacing password entry with a gesture. Motor memory makes it a simple task for most users to remember their gesture. Furthermore, since we track multiple points on the user’s hands, we do obtain tracking information that is unique to the physical appearance of the legitimate user, so there is an implicit biometric built into AirAuth. Smudge attacks are averted due to the touchless gesture entry and a user study we conducted shows that AirAuth is also quite resistant towards camera-based shoulder surfing attacks.

Our demo at CHI showed the enrollment and authentication phases of our system. We gave attendees the opportunity to enroll in our system and check AirAuth’s capabilities to recognize their gestures. We got great responses from the attendees and obtained enrollment gestures from a number of them. We plan to use these enrollment gestures to evaluate AirAuth’s accuracy in field conditions.