SIGIR’12: Exploratory Search

Google earns most of its 20+ billion dollars of revenue from a small percentage of queries which are commercial in nature and where it can leverage its position to influence user’s decision about purchasing a product or selecting a service. The best chance of success in dislodging Google from its piedestal as a gatekeeper to the information on the web has therefore a service which will provide users with better ways how to conduct commercial queries. Anybody who has used Google recently for product research before purchase can testify that Google has anyway become quite useless for such task.

Many commercial queries are exploratory in nature, since users do not want only more of what they already have, but they want also to try new and unknown things. Existing web search engines are particularly bad at supporting such exploratory search where user is unfamiliar with the domain, unsure about the ways to achieve his goals, or even unsure about his goals in the first place. The second day of SIGIR has brought us a great talk by Brent Hecht how to map information on the web to cognitive models that already exist in user’s mind thus greatly improving user’s capability to comprehend information. I think the approach presented in this talk also validates the claim in my yesterday’s post that the greatest opportunities in information retrieval lie in novel user interfaces not in algorithms hidden in the background.

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