I is for Implicit

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An e-mail exchange with an old friend caused me to reflect on research in HCIR a decade ago: in the Hypertext conference series there was a lot of churn and innovation around ways to represent structure, about literary hypertext, and about novel interaction techniques that allow people to express information seeking intent in interesting ways. Much of that cottage garden research was swept away by the steam engine of the web, for better of for worse. The demands of scalability led to the abandonment of all sorts of niceties (such as link integrity, for example), including a rich model of interaction. SIGLINK, ACM’s SIG on hypertext, renamed itself SIGWEB in an attempt to stay relevant. The main impact of all that research seemed to be the idea that you could click on blue-underlined text to do something.

Times are changing (slowly), and the web-based interface is now much more interactive, given enough creativity with JavaScript or Flash, but the question still lingers: can we be more inventive (while showing some respect for user expectations) with interaction techniques for information seeking, particularly for implicit information needs characteristic of “embedded” or contextualized information seeking, the kind of micro-IR that Miles Efron wrote about.

In an earlier post, I had described a model that attempts to capture the mechanics of interaction with respect to information seeking. One of the dimensions of the model is whether the interaction is implicit or explicit, whether the user’s action is deliberately intended to seek out information, or whether search is a side-effect of some other activity, such as reading, for example. What other tasks can we revisit with an eye toward implicit interaction? What  techniques other than clicking on links can we invent or rediscover for allowing people to express their intent? It is probably a useful exercise to mine some of the older research in search of inspiration for pushing the HCIR field forward, as we slowly recover from the hangover of impoverished interaction of the typical web browser. I expect there will be some discussion of this topic at HCIR’09, coming up in a few weeks.

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  2. One thing I’ve said before is that I look forward to the day that the world outgrows the HCIR workshops. I’ll be the guy holding the “Mission Accomplished” banner. No fear of that happening any time soon!

  3. …as we slowly recover from the hangover of impoverished interaction of the typical web browser.

    It’s like poetry! :-)

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