Blog Archive: 2012

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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Visualizing search progress

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I’ve been re-reading a paper by Joho et al. that explored the effectiveness of a number of strategies with respect to collaborative search. The paper finds that

…looking at the top 20 documents in more queries was more effective than looking at the top, say, 100 documents in one fifth the number of queries.

This finding, supported by some of the observations by Vakkari, suggests that encouraging users (working individually or collaboratively) to issue multiple queries, and supporting them in subsequent sense-making activities should improve overall effectiveness of the search process.

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