Blog Author: Pernilla Qvarfordt

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.

Eye tracking on a laptop

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Tobii and Lenovo presented a laptop with a built-in eye tracker at CeBit last week. The eye tracker allows the user to control the laptop, for instance selecting files to open and selecting active window from an expose like view. Engadget have a video of a demonstration of the eye control on the laptop here. I wished I could get my hands on it for some testing. A laptop with a built-in eye tracker certainly has potential, from making eye tracking easier and more flexible for disabled and making usability testing using eye tracking more flexible allowing the usability specialist to move from their labs to the field.

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Guide to reading reviews

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For the upcoming rebuttals of CHI, it might be useful to understand what the reviewers really mean when writing their reviews. This year as I read with interest the reviews of my fellow reviewers, maybe due to my growing experience, or maybe because of the late hour reviewing, I started to see something new in the reviews: the hidden messages. Below is a collection of this years’ CHI, CSCW and past years’ CHI review’s opening remarks with possible interpretations.

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Look Again


Reading images is a quite common task; radiologists looks at X-rays, airport screeners scan suitcases, and astronomers inspect images from telescopes. In many of these visual search tasks, the outcome is important. We don’t want the airport screens to miss a weapon, or the radiologist to miss any lesions. In a paper we presented at the recent Eye Tracking Research and Application Symposium (ETRA 2010), we looked into how information of where people have looked can be used to guide them to parts of images not yet examined.

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