Sunday, August 19, 2007

Searching in Context

I certainly hope to see more and more subject specific search engines coming up which would hem a context (pertaining to the subject) for the user. Still, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ search engines can help the user to avoid getting flooded by a higher proportion of irrelevant search results.

Currently there are models which adopt a method of profiling user interests based on what websites they browse and what links they follow. But this becomes complex because the user searches in various contexts based on the task at hand. May be at one point the user is looking for some business proposal and later during the day is looking to buy a gift for someone.

A model adopted by, form clusters of similar search results. A user can pick from the relevant cluster to drill down to the information needed. Though this approach is certainly helpful, it imposes the site-generated clusters on users, which again may not be something that the user is interested in.

Instead of putting the load on the system to identify the context, I was wondering whether the generalist search engines would allow the user to provide a context of their search.

For example if the user is looking for research papers on neural networks, then ‘research paper’ become the search word and ‘neural networks’ becomes the context to look into. In popular search engines there is a provision of only one input field to enter information one is looking for. If the user enters ‘research papers on neural networks’ in the input field, the engine will treat ‘research’, ‘papers’, ‘neural’ and ‘network’ as independent search words. The initial few results may contain all the keywords, but later results may be obtained by making combinations of some of these search words.

May be I am trivializing the issue a bit too much, but can we not have two input boxes – one to enter the search word and the other for providing the context?

Note that this is not similar to ‘search with all of the words’. In the above example, we are searching only the search word. The search engines should map the user-provided context by parsing web pages and construing a context from the web page metadata.

To give a context while user searches for music, Google has a music search feature. Users have to enter their query after ‘music:’ in the input field and they get search results relevant to music. I hope search engines add such system-generated contexts by identifying popular searches from their search logs to do the least.

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