Blog Archive: 2012

Invited talk at CATCH

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Thanks to Frank Nack and Marc Bron, last week I had the opportunity to give a talk in The Netherlands at a NWO CATCH event organized by BRIDGE. NWO is the Dutch national research organization; BRIDGE is a project that explores access to television archives; and CATCH stands for Continuous Access To Cultural Heritage, which is something like an umbrella organization. The meeting was held at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum, a rather interesting building.

Interior of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum

Although it was a long way to go for a one-day event, I am grateful to Frank and Marc for the invitation, for their efforts as hosts, and for all the great discussion during the talk, in the breaks between sessions, and, of course, over beers in the evening. It’s great to be able to make such connections; hopefully more collaboration will follow.

For those interested, here are the slides of my presentation, which expands a bit on my earlier blog post about using the history of interaction to improve exploratory search.

Suggesting search tactics

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The work honored with the paper award at the ECIR 2010 conference described an experiment that assessed the effectiveness of a case-based reasoning mechanism for suggesting possible actions for users engaged in an exploratory search task. The authors constructed DAFFODIL, a sophisticated interface for issuing queries, for saving documents, and for suggesting potentially useful query expansion terms. They performed a preliminary evaluation of the system on three search tasks, and compared subjects’ performance and behavior patterns with and without system-generated suggestions.

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Google Squared: any sign of progress?

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At Daniel Tunkelang’s suggestion, I revisited Google Squared, having written about it when it was first released. At the time, I tried a couple of queries (not a formal evaluation), and found some useful results, and some bogus ones. This time, I re-ran the same queries as before, and compared the results with my saved queries. For the query ‘airplane accidents’, the new results were considerably worse. For the query ‘acts of terrorism’, there were no initial results, but when I put in some instances (WTC attack, Oklahoma City bombing, Khobar towers, marine barracks) I got back a similar list to the one I had constructed in June.

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In search of data

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Having seen the recent news of gun-toting protesters at health reform meetings, I got into a discussion with my wife about gun control, and you know where that can lead. Yes, that’s right, to exploratory search. I had some hypotheses about the relationship between gun control and crime, and wanted to find some data to test them. I needed to find some crime statistics by state, and to cross-reference it with some aspects of states, including the degree of urbanization, population density, laws, etc. While I thought the odds of finding a canned analysis of my hypotheses was small given the amount of time I was willing to devote to the problem, I did try a few obvious queries. No luck.

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SIGIR09: An aspectual interface for supporting complex search tasks

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Faceted search interfaces for metadata-rich datasets such as product information have been around for a while. e-Bay and Amazon are two obvious examples. Faceted search for textual data is only slowly making its way into the commercial realm (see NewsSift, for example) but have been receiving increasing attention in research. Villa et al. presented an interesting paper at SIGIR09 in which they compared different interface layouts for handling aspects, and compared the effectiveness of aspectual search with a conventional interface for different tasks.

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Query suggestion vs. term suggestion

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Diane Kelly presented an interesting (and much tweeted-about) paper at SIGIR this week. The paper, “A Comparsion of Query and Term Suggestion Features for Interactive Searching,” co-written with Karl Gyllstrom and Earl Bailey, looks at the effects that query and term suggestions have on users’ performance and preferences. These are important topics for interactive information seeking, both for known-item and exploratory search.

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Which future of search?

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Alex Iskold recently wrote on the ReadWriteWeb about potential improvements in search that could be derived from incorporating evidence from one social network to affect the ranking of documents. The idea is that people you know, people with similar interests, friends-of-friends, authorities, and “the crowd” could all contribute to change the ranking on documents that a search engine delivers to you because the opinions or interests of all these people can provide some information to help disambiguate queries.

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Search Pad: a step in the right direction?

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Yahoo! Search Pad was released last week without much ado, certainly not to the kind of media buzz surrounding Google and MS announcements. Search Pad collects documents you click on in search results, and allows you to annotate them with notes. The interface, while simple, is not necessarily easy to figure out. It took me some time to poke around and figure out how it works. It some ways, it is similar to Bing’s history mechanism. It’s more useful than the history mechanism because it allows the user to type notes or copy pieces of documents into the Search Pad to help with document triage and other recall-oriented aspects of exploratory search. On the other hand, the history mechanism works in a more intuitive way, and keeps track of documents you’ve already seen when you re-visit a query.

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When Worlds Collide (pt. 1): search meets virtual worlds

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Arguably the two most common topics on this blog are search, especially collaborative exploratory search, and virtual worlds. Now, the new browser-based 3D platform ExitReality, has piqued my curiosity by bringing these topics together. As part of their 3D platform, they offer a search engine optimized for finding and displaying 3D objects and worlds. You can either enter the found 3D sources as a world entire unto itself, or (my favorite) drag-n-drop it into your current 3D space in the browser window. (If you’d like to see the 3D search via a normal 2D web page, that’s available here.)

Note that this 3D search engine is one that searches for 3D objects, models etc., not something like the SpaceTime browser that displays standard search results in a 3D(ish) format.

So it was this morning I found myself standing with a wizard, a Doberman and a rat on the outskirts of Stonehenge, contemplating several quite nice Moon lander models and a gigantic purple flower (Cattleya – one of the search results for “cat”). This all in the space of ten minutes’ carefree clicking around. Dali would’ve had a ball.

Browser-based 3D with 3D search engine

Browser-based 3D with 3D search engine

ExitReality’s tag line is “the entire Web in 3D.” The idea is you can convert your own website to 3D via a fairly simple process – and it’ll still look the same in 2D; you’ve just added a 3D button. In general the interface is very well thought out – where it falters is most likely due to its beta status (e.g. avatars can’t yet fly or change clothes, though you can change avatars).

My second favorite feature so far: when other people visit the web site you’re viewing, you see them as avatars (if they have ExitReality installed). It’s possible to use in a standalone kiosk mode, or in secure mode behind a firewall. My first favorite feature? Check this space tomorrow for details.

Some impressions about Google Squared

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First, I agree with Daniel Tunkelang and many others that this is an important step for Google, an important departure from the ranked list. Hurray! My sense about this way of performing exploratory search is that Google Squared addresses (at least) two different kinds of activity: filtering through structured data, and collecting different instances of some topic. The former, of interest to the set-oriented retrieval crowd, should make it easier to do feature comparison for a variety of domains, typically with some sort of a shopping angle. In this post, I will focus on the second kind, the less structured exploratory search. Continue Reading