Design for Interaction
by Daniel Tunkelang, Chief Scientist of Endeca
An invited presentation at SIGMOD '09 (http://sigmod09.org/)
Research in information retrieval has focused on presenting the most relevant results to a user in response to a free-text search query. Research in database systems assumes a model where the user enters a formal query, and the results are exactly those the user requested. Neither community has emphasized user interaction—a critical concern for practical information access.
As William Goffman noted in the 1960s and Nick Belkin continually reminds us today, the relationship between a document and query, though necessary, is not sufficient to determine relevance—yet ranked retrieval approaches rely heavily or exclusively on this relationship. Meanwhile, recent work on database usability by Jeff Naughton and H.V. Jagadish surfaces the rigidity of database systems that return nothing unless users know how to formulate precise queries.
This talk presents human-computer information retrieval (HCIR) as a general approach that addresses some of the key challenges facing both research communities. A vision first put forward by Gary Marchionini, HCIR expects people and systems to work together to implement information access. Such an approach requires rethinking information access not as a matching or ranking problem, but rather as a communication problem. Specifically, we need interfaces that optimize the bidirectional communication between the user and the system, thus optimizing the symbiotic division of labor between the two.
This talk reviews the history of HCIR efforts and presents ongoing work to implement the HCIR vision. In particular, it presents an interactive set retrieval approach that responds to queries with an overview of the user's current context and an organized set of options for incremental exploration.