Search Solutions is managed by the Information Retrieval Specialist Group of the British Computer Society and is the only broad-spectrum search event outside of the USA. The conference was held at the BCS London office on 23 November, preceded by a day of Tutorials. This was the first on-site Search Solutions event since 2019.
My perspectives on the morning sessions of the Conference are here in Part 1, with the afternoon sessions and the Search Industry Awards in Part 2. There is a summary of each presentation, a link to the author and also links to research papers and web sites mentioned by the authors in the course of their presentation. IRSG is not making the slides of the presentations available – if a particular presentation is of interest to you then please contact the author.
The conference opened with a presentation by Natasha den Dekker on the approach being taken by LexisNexis to understand the expectations of users and the extent to which the search applications meet them. In the process Natasha gave a very good introduction to user research, describing the differences between behavioural and attitudinal techniques. with an emphasis on the benefits and challenges of A/B testing. She also highlighted the importance of diary studies, which take a lot of effort to set up and execute but bring substantial rewards in understanding the day-by-day use of a search application. (See also https://www.nngroup.com/articles/guide-ux-research-methods/)
The next paper was presented by Amy Walduck over a Zoom link from Brisbane, Australia. Amy started with a moving acknowledgement of the debt that Queensland owed to its antecendents. Amy described a topographical approach to understanding large-scale user logs of over 8 million searches a year on the Library Catalogue, all based on open source software and open data that had been redacted to remove any personal information. Amy remarked that there had been a steady trend over the last few years of queries being framed as questions, in particular ‘How’ and ‘What’ question formats. The software application was constructed with open source software.
After a break Brammert Ottens (Spotify) outlined the search strategy that had been adopted by the company, supporting both text and voice search. He framed his presentation around Mindsets (Focused, Open and Exploratory) and Intents (Listen, Organise, Share and Fact Check). Spotify are fortunate in being able to follow the history of a search as it has data on what the user then listened to and for how long, making it easier (but still very challenging at scale) to optimize the search experience. (See also https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3290605.3300529)
Another large scale search implementation was described by Mohamed Yahya from Bloomberg. He focused on recent efforts to develop question answering functionality, with the criterion that the outcome has to be correct at the time of presentation and explainable. The target was high precision rather than high recall. The system took a view on whether the question was answerable, given the scope of the repository, and if there was not adequate confidence the response was presented as a display of results rather than a narrative text response.
Of course, when it comes to scale Google takes the accolade. Filip Radinski talked about the increasingly blurred boundary between search and recommendation, focusing on the challenges of searching for film information based on soft attributes, such as scary, uplifting and boring. This comes down to the issue of subjectivity, which Filip discussed in terms of degree, semantic and compositional. Filip reflected on a number of overarching issues in his paper, including transparency (data, model and algorithm) and the lack of an adequate range of corpora to work on natural language search. (See also https://arxiv.org/abs/2205.09403 )
See here for Part 2