Distributed Mentor Project: Mentoring Undergraduate Women in Computing Research Katherine Lau
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Path Features to Provide Context of Search Results
Katherine Lau
Distributed Mentor Project with Professor Wanda Pratt
University of Washington, Information School
Seattle, WA 98195, USA
June - August 2003

Search paths that record the context in which a user finds results may be useful components of intelligent interfaces for searching, managing and sharing the scientific literature. The continual development and application of technology improve information access, but as a result also contribute to the problem of information overload. For example, a web search with the Google search engine can yield thousands to millions of web pages for a set of search terms, but a user may have difficulty determining which results are useful or how the results relate to one another. Search paths may help to alleviate information overload by keeping track of usersí steps in searching for information.

Search paths provide context by displaying the interaction between a user and search results through an application. If the user were using Google, the search paths would show the search terms and the order in which the user viewed results. ARIADNE is one application developed by Michael Twidale and David Nichols that displays usersí search paths in an online public-access catalog. ARIADNE, which stands for Annotatable Retrieval of Information and Database Navigation Environment, shows linear or chronologically based paths with three tiers of hierarchy, the search terms, the list of results, and citations for results that were viewed. ARIADNE allows users to add annotations to parts to the path to explain why certain search terms were used or why certain results were viewed. ARIADNE also enables users to fold or unfold sections of the search path, so that the path may be condensed or expanded for display, depending on the userís preferences for amount of detail.

Paths can be integrated with various types of information, search and display. For example paths could record the interaction with specific information sources, or interaction across information sources. For search type, a path can record whether the user entered a search term, browsed using hierarchical selection or categorization, or searched with a structured query. Google uses search terms, while the Yahoo! search engine allows hierarchical selection by displaying categories and subcategories for web pages. A structured query limits the search by providing search options for the user. For example, a structured query might only allow search on risk factors, treatments, and symptoms for heart, liver, or lung disease. The user would choose the type of information and the domain, in this case the type of disease, for the results.

The display of a userís path may depend on the result display. If the results are in a ranked list, the path display could simply be the list of results in the order the user viewed them. If the result display is hierarchical, path display may also be hierarchical and visual, showing the categories and subcategories that a user viewed. Path display for clustered information is more difficult, since it may be challenging to identify clusters by some measure of similarity, and information may be present in more than one cluster. Friendster, an online system for keeping track of friends, has clusters of information that represent the relationships between people.

Paths may also provide context by showing how many results of the total number of results a user viewed. For a ranked list of results, a userís path within the results may be shown through color or markings that indicate the order in which the user viewed the results, or simply that the results were viewed. A similar approach may be used for hierarchical or categorical results, but there may be difficulties when a result appears in two or more categories. Paths may also help by indicating how many times a user returns to view a specific result, potentially revealing some measure of importance or relevance for that result.

By publishing a path, or sharing a path with other users, a user can show another the process of discovering the result, in addition to sharing the results themselves. A user can share both the context and the content of a search. Annotations, which can be text or symbols, can be added onto paths to indicate the purpose of the search, the quality, relevance, uniqueness or innovativeness of results. A path feature to execute the path again, may try the search again based on the original search terms to see if new results are returned. Comparison of search paths to view similarities and differences and summaries of paths that reveal statistics about the paths may be beneficial, especially when sharing search paths with others in a cooperative manner.