This was a particularly busy week, and I did not get a chance to post many thoughts. Instead, I’ll do a quick roundup of articles that I enjoyed reading this past week+.
First, a tongue-in-cheek post from Nick Carr entitled For Whom the Google Tolls:
It’s amazing that, before Google came along, any of us was able to survive beyond childhood. At the company’s Zeitgeist conference in London yesterday, cofounder Larry Page warned that privacy-protecting restrictions on Google’s ability to store personal data were hindering the company from tracking the spread of diseases and hence increasing the risk of mankind’s extinction. The less data Google is allowed to store, said Page, the “more likely we all are to die.”
This seemingly cautious statement reveals Google’s narrow focus on precision-oriented search. It is plausible that as systems get better and better at understanding the searcher’s intent, they will be more likely to identify useful documents. Sergey’s take on search is that in his childhood he “could not have imagined that today anyone would be able to research any topic in seconds.” While this may be true for finding specific facts that are part of the fabric of our culture, this model of search breaks down for exploratory search tasks. Not only is the information being sought often distributed across multiple documents and needs to evaluated and synthesized to become useful, but also quite often the searcher cannot articulate the information need in any kind of closed form. This situation is well described in the Library Science literature over the last 30 years, and the advent of the web has not changed human nature.
Finally, a thoughful, discussion-provoking post from Daniel Tunkelang on whether the TREC model is appropriate for Enterprise Search evaluation:
To summarize: the quest to open up TREC may be of great interest to information retrieval researchers, but I’m highly skeptical that it will create a practically useful framework for comparing search technologies. I think it would be more useful to set up public frameworks where applications (both vendor-sponsored and open-source) can compete on how effectively they help users complete information seeking tasks that are representative of practical applications. I’d love to see a framework like Luis Von Ahn’s “games with a purpose” used for such an endeavor. I would happily participate in such an effort myself, and I’m pretty sure I could drag my employer into it.