Blog Archive: 2012

Invited talk at CATCH


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.

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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Session-based search slides

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Here are the slides of the presentation I gave at the IIiX 2010 conference. I presented work done in collaboration with Jeremy Pickens on session-based search. The paper is here; the talk highlights some of the theoretical considerations and gives some examples of the new interface we’re building.

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Session-based search

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Exploratory search often takes place over time. Searchers may run multiple queries to understand the collection, to refine their information needs, or to explore various aspects of the topic of interest. Many web search engines keep a history of a user’s actions: Bing makes that history readily available for backtracking, and all major search engines presumably use the click-through history of search results to affect subsequent searches. Yahoo Search Pad diagnoses exploratory search situations and switches to a more elaborate note-taking mode to help users manage the found information.

But none of these approaches makes it easy for a searcher to manage an on-going exploratory search. So what could be done differently? We explore this topic in a paper we’ll be presenting at the IIiX 2010 conference this August. Our paper reviews the literature on session-based search, and proposes a framework for designing interactions around information seeking. This framework uses the structure of the process of exploratory search to help searchers reflect on their actions and on the retrieved results. It treats queries, terms, metadata, documents, sets of queries, and sets of documents as first-class objects that the user can manipulate, and describes how information seeking context can be preserved across these transitions.

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Search sessions


The information seeking community seems to be experiencing a renewed interest in session-based approaches to information seeking after years of focusing on single-query interaction. Yesterday at CHI2010, Anne Aula, Rehan M. Khan, and Zhiwei Guan reported on a study of searchers’ behavior. Rather than looking at single-query performance, they analyzed searchers’ query reformulation tactics to characterize difficult vs. easy search tasks. They found a variety of indicators that correlate with users’ difficulties in articulating efficient queries. This work is important as it hints at the possibility that web search engines can diagnose user behavior and alter the interaction with users to facilitate their search process.

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