Telling how to narrow it down: Effect of Browsing Path Recommendation on Exploratory Search

Our paper "Telling how to narrow it down: Effect of Browsing Path Recommendation on Exploratory Search", with Glorianna Jagfeld, Hosein Azarbonyad, Alex Olieman, Jaap Kamps, Maarten Marx, has been accepted as a short paper at The ACM SIGIR Conference on Human Information Interaction & Retrieval (CHIIR'17). \o/

There are several information needs requiring sophisticated human-computer interactions that currently remain unsolved or poorly supported by major search applications. One of these cases is exploratory search, which refers to search tasks that are open-ended, multi-faceted, and iterative, like learning or topic investigation. This type of search often occurs in a domain unknown or poorly known to the searchers which can make it hard for them to formulate proper queries for retrieving useful documents.

Exploratory search is composed of two main activities, exploratory browsing and focused searching . Exploratory browsing refers to activities that aim at better defining the information need and raising the understanding of the information space. Focused searching corresponds to activities like query refining and results’ comparisons after the information need has been shaped more clearly. Based on this composition, an exploratory search system needs to provide its users a connected space of information to browse and investigate, as well as facilities to adjust the focus of their search towards useful documents.

Using structured data to organize unstructured information is one of the promising approaches for supporting complex search tasks, including exploratory search. Structure in the data provides overviews at different levels of abstraction and empowers the users to explore the data from different points of view. However, it may still be difficult to find useful paths of exploration and clues can help the users.

The main aim of this research is to investigate the user behavior in exploratory search when a recommendation engine for browsing paths is provided along with the browsing system.To do so, we have employed the ExPoSe-Browser (Exploratory Political Search Browser) as the baseline system and built a recommendation engine as a supplementary feature for the system. We have conducted a user study involving exploratory search tasks which revealed general differences of the browsing behavior of the subjects using the two different systems.

We break down the main goal of the paper into two concrete research questions:

  • RQ1. What is the effect of providing browsing path recommendations on user browsing behavior in exploratory search?
  • RQ2. Does browsing path recommendation assist users in exploratory search?

We demonstrate that in general, providing suggestions for paths for browsing and exploring the data helps the users to not only discover more promising regions of the search space and be more satisfied, but also to quickly narrow down their search, leading to shorter search sessions.

For more details on the results of experiments, please take a look at our paper:

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