At the end of April a third edition of Enterprise Search Europe conference took place. The venue was Park Plaza Victoria Hotel in London. Two-day event was dedicated to widely understood search solutions. There were two tracks covering subjects relating to search management, big data, open source technologies, SharePoint and as always – the future of search. According to the organizer’ information, there were 30 experts presenting their knowledge and experience in implementation search systems and making content findable. It was opportunity to get familiar with lots of case studies focused on relevancy, text mining, systems architecture and even matching business requirements. There were also speeches on softer skills, like making decisions or finding good employees.
In a word, ESE 2014 summit was great chance to meet highly skilled professionals with competence in business-driven search solutions. Representatives from both specialized consulting companies and universities were present there. Even second day started from compelling plenary session about the direction of enterprise search. Presentation contained two points of view: Jeff Fried, CTO in BA-Insight and Elaine Toms, Professor of Information Science, University of Sheffield. From industrial aspect analyzing user behavior, applying world knowledge or improving information structure is a real success. On the other hand, although IR systems are currently in mainstream, there are many problems: integration is still a challenge, systems working rules are unclear, organizations neglect investments in search specialists. As Elaine Toms explained, the role of scientists is to restrain an uncertainty by prototyping and forming future researchers. According to her, major search problems are primitive user interfaces and too few systems services. What is more, data and information often become of secondary importance, even though it’s a core of every search engine.
Despite of many interesting presentations, particularly one caught my attention. It was “Collaborative Search” by Martin White, Conference Chair and Managing Director in Intranet Focus. The subject was current condition of enterprise search and requirements which such systems will have to face in the future. Martin White is convinced that limited users satisfaction is mainly fault of poor content quality and insufficient information management. Presentation covered absorbing results of various researches. One of them, described in “Characterizing and Supporting Cross-Device Search Tasks” document, was analysis of commercial search engine logs in order to find behavior patterns associated with cross device searching. Switching between devices can be a hindrance because of device multiplicity. That is why each user needs to remember both what he was searching and what has already been found. Findings show that there are lots of opportunities to handle information seeking more effectively in multi-device world. Saving and re-instating user session, using time between switching devices to get more results or making use of behavioral, geospatial data to predict task resumption are just a few examples of ideas.
Despite everything, the most interesting part of Martin White’s presentation was dedicated to Collaborative Information Seeking (CIS).
Collaborative Information Seeking
It is natural that difficult and complex tasks forced people to work together. Collaboration in information retrieval helps to use systems more effectively. This idea concentrate on situations when people should cooperate to seek information or sense-make. In fact, CIS covers on the one hand elements connected with organizational behavior or making decision, on the other – evolution of user interface and designing systems of immediate data processing. Furthermore, Martin White considers CIS context to be focused around the complex queries, “second phase” queries, results evaluation or ranking algorithms. This concept is able to bring the highest values in the domains like chemistry, medicine and law.
During the CIS exploration some definitions appeared: collaborative information retrieval, social searching, co-browsing, collaborative navigation, collaborative information behavior, collaborative information synthesis. My intention is to introduce some of them.
Collaborative Information Retrieval (CIR) extends traditional IR for the purposes of many users. It supports scenarios when problem is complicated and when seeking common information is a need. To support groups’ actions, it is crucial to know how they work, what are their strengths and weaknesses. In general, it might be said that such system could be an overlay on search engine re-ranking results, based on users community knowledge. In agreement with Chirag Shah, the author of “Collaborative Information Seeking” book, there are some examples of systems where workgroup’s queries and related results are captured and used to filtering more relevant information for particular user. One of the most absorbing case is SearchTogether – interface designed for collaborative web search, described by Meredith R. Morris and Eric Horvitz. It allows to work both synchronously and asynchronously. History of queries, page metadata and annotations serve as information carrier for user. There had been implemented an automatic and manual division of labor. One of its feature was recommending pages to another information seeker. All sessions and past findings were persisted and stored for future collaborative searching.
Despite of many efforts made in developing such systems, probably none of them has been widely adopted. Perhaps it was caused partly by its non-trivial nature, partly by lack of concept how to integrate them with other parts of collaboration in organizations.
Another ideas associated with CIS are Social Search and Collaborative Filtering. First one is about how social interactions could help in searching together. What is interesting, despite of rather weak ties between people in social networks, their enhancement may be already observed in collaborative networks. Second definition referred to provide more relevant search results based on user past behavior, but also community of users displaying similar interests. It is noteworthy that it is an example of asynchronous interaction, because its value is based on past actions – in contrast with CIS where emphasis is laid to active users communication. Collaborative Filtering has been applied in many domains: industry, financial, insurance or web. At present the last one is most common and it’s used in e-commerce business. CF methods make a base for recommender systems predicting users preferences. It is so broad topic, that certainly deserves a separate article.
Regardless of all these researches, CIS is facing many challenges nowadays. One of them is information security in the company. How to struggle out of situation when team members do not have the same security profile or when some person cannot even share with others what has been found? Discussed systems cannot be only created for information seeking, but also they need to provide managing security, support situations when results were not found because of permissions or situations when it is necessary to view a new document created in cooperation process. If it is not enough, there are various organization’s barriers hindering CIS idea. They are divided into categories – organizational, technical, individual, and team. They consist of things such as organization culture and structure, multiple and un-integrated systems, individual person perception or varied conflicts appeared during team work. Barriers and their implications have been described in detail in document “Barriers to Collaborative Information Seeking in Organizations” by Arvind Karunakaran and Madhu Reddy.
Collaborative information seeking is exciting field of research and one of the search trend. Another absorbing topic is gamification adopting in IR systems. This is going to be a subject of my next article.