How do you make relevance ranking better? Lukas Koster argues, at the CommonPlace.net blog that:

You want the results that are the most relevant for your search, with your specific objectives, at that specific point in time time, for your specific circumstances, and you want them immediately.

The concept isn’t new; use as much information as possible about users and their search experience to target more relevant results. That’s search personalization. What I appreciate about this article is that it provides a nice introduction to the various aspects of personalization.

I particularly enjoyed this example of temporal context:

… ‘the search for “Charlie Brown” in October should result in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” at number 1, and in December in “A Charlie Brown Christmas“‘.

In addition to temporal context, the article argues that search systems need to take into account personal (your interests, job, and field of study), situational, functional (your role), and physical contexts as well.

Koster concludes his article with his views on what a federated search system should do:

Contextual searching and ranking should always be a combination of all possible conditions, personal, situational and internal system ones.

Of course it goes without saying that it would be great if metasearch tools were able to convey the search context to the remote databases and get contextual results back, using some kind of universal serach context API!

Last but not least, each search system should show the context of the search, and explain how it got to the results in the presented order. Something like: based on your personal preferences, the time of day and day of the week, and your location, the search was done in these databases, with this subject area, and the physical copies of the nearest location are shown on top.
This context area on the results screen could then be used as a kind of inverted faceted search, drilling “up” to a broader level or “sideways” to another context.

I recommend the article; it calls federated search providers on the carpet for not doing enough for our users.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 11th, 2009 at 6:41 am and is filed under viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or TrackBack URI from your own site.

One Response to "On contextual searching"

  1. 1 Lukas Koster
    August 11th, 2009 at 8:09 am  

    Sol, thanks for the compliments. I must give credits to Till Kinstler for the Charlie Brown example in his German post http://blog.nationallizenz.de/2009/02/07/wo-ist-denn-die-information/

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