Blog Archive: 2014

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.

Looking ahead

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It is reasonably well-known that people who examine search results often don’t go past the first few hits, perhaps stopping at the “fold” or at the end of the first page. It’s a habit we’ve acquired due to high-quality results to precision-oriented information needs. Google has trained us well.

But this habit may not always be useful when confronted with uncommon, recall-oriented, information needs. That is, when doing research. Looking only at the top few documents places too much trust in the ranking algorithm. In our SIGIR 2013 paper, we investigated what happens when a light-weight preview mechanism gives searchers a glimpse at the distribution of documents — new, re-retrieved but not seen, and seen — in the query they are about to execute.

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HCIR 2013 CFP

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It’s that time of the year again, time to solicit your latest and greatest HCIR ideas in written and poster form. We are happy to announce that this year’s Human-Computer Information Retrieval Symposium (HCIR 2013) will be held on October 3 and 4 in Vancouver, BC. Building on last year’s meeting, we will have both short and full papers, as well as plenty of opportunity for discussion and interaction. Short papers will be presented at the poster session, while full papers will be peer-reviewed to first-tier conference standards, will get an regular oral presentation slot and will be archived in the ACM Digital Library, as were last year’s papers. The deadline for submission is June 30th. For more details, please see the CFP.

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HCIR site gets publication page

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Over the past six years of the HCIR series of meetings, we’ve accumulated a number of publications. We’ve had a series of reports about the meetings, papers published in the ACM Digital Library, and an up-coming Special Issue of IP&M. In the run-up to this year’s event (stay tuned!), I decided it might be useful to consolidate these publications in one place. Hence, we now have the HCIR Publications page.

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HCIR 2012 keynote

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Last week we held the HCIR 2012 Symposium in Cambridge, Mass. This is the sixth in a series that we have organized. We expanded the format of this year’s meeting to a day and a half, and in addition to the posters, search challenge reports, and short talks, we introduced full papers reviewed to first-tier conference standards. I will write more about these later, and for details on other events at the Symposium, I refer you to the excellent blog post by one of the other co-orgranizers, Daniel Tunkelang.

In this post, I wanted to record my impressions of the keynote talk by Marti Hearst from UC Berkeley.

Opening slide from Marti Hearst's keynote address

 

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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

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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.

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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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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