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Large Scale Log Analysis of Individuals’ Domain Preferences in Web Search

June 12, 2015 Comments off

Large Scale Log Analysis of Individuals’ Domain Preferences in Web Search
Source: Microsoft Research

Information on almost any given topic can be found on the Web, often accessible via many different websites. But even when the topical content is similar across websites, the websites can have different characteristics that appeal to different people. As a result, individuals can develop preferred websites to visit for certain topics. While it has long been speculated that such preferences exist, little is understood about how prevalent, clear, and stable these preferences actually are. We characterize website preference in search by looking at repeat domain use in two months of large-scale query and webpage visitation logs. We show that while people sometimes provide explicit cues in their queries to indicate their domain preferences, there is a significant opportunity to identify implicit preferences expressed via user behavior. Although domain preferences vary across users, within a user they are consistent and stable over time, even during events that typically disrupt normal search behavior. People’s preferences do, however, vary given the topic of their search. We observe that people exhibit stronger domain preferences while searching than browsing, but that search-based preferences often extend to pages browsed to after the initial search result click. Since domain preferences are common for search and stable over time, the rich understanding of them that we present here will be valuable for personalizing search.

Categories: Microsoft Research, search

Questions vs. Queries in Informational Search Tasks

May 29, 2015 Comments off

Questions vs. Queries in Informational Search Tasks
Source: Microsoft Research

Search systems traditionally require searchers to formulate information needs as keywords rather than in a more natural form, such as questions. Recent studies have found that Web search engines are observing an increase in the fraction of queries phrased as natural language. As part of building better search engines, it is important to understand the nature and prevalence of these intentions, and the impact of this increase on search engine performance. In this work, we show that while 10.3% of queries issued to a search engine have direct question intent, only 3.2% of them are formulated as natural language questions. We investigate whether search engines perform better when search intent is stated as queries or questions, and we find that they perform equally well to both.

Categories: Microsoft Research, search

Information Retrieval with Verbose Queries

May 23, 2015 Comments off

Information Retrieval with Verbose Queries
Source: Microsoft Research

Recently, the focus of many novel search applications shifted from short keyword queries to verbose natural language queries. Examples include question answering systems and dialogue systems, voice search on mobile devices and entity search engines like Facebook’s Graph Search or Google’s Knowledge Graph. However the performance of textbook information retrieval techniques for such verbose queries is not as good as that for their shorter counterparts. Thus, effective handling of verbose queries has become a critical factor for adoption of information retrieval techniques in this new breed of search applications. Over the past decade, the information retrieval community has deeply explored the problem of transforming natural language verbose queries using operations like reduction, weighting, expansion, reformulation and segmentation into more effective structural representations. However, thus far, there was not a coherent and organized tutorial on this topic. In this tutorial, we aim to put together various research pieces of the puzzle, provide a comprehensive and structured overview of various proposed methods, and also list various application scenarios where effective verbose query processing can make a significant difference.

The Emerging Role of Data Scientists on Software Development Teams

April 20, 2015 Comments off

The Emerging Role of Data Scientists on Software Development Teams
Source: Microsoft Research

Creating and running software produces large amounts of raw data about the development process and the customer usage, which can be turned into actionable insight with the help of skilled data scientists. Unfortunately, data scientists with the analytical and software engineering skills to analyze these large data sets have been hard to come by; only recently have software companies started to develop competencies in software-oriented data analytics. To understand this emerging role, we interviewed data scientists across several product groups at Microsoft. In this paper, we describe their education and training background, their raison d’être in software engineering contexts, and the type of problems on which they work. We identify five distinct working styles of data scientists and describe a set of strategies that they employ to increase the impact and actionability of their work.

Navigating Controversy as a Complex Search Task

March 31, 2015 Comments off

Navigating Controversy as a Complex Search Task
Source: Microsoft Research

Seeking information on a controversial topic is often a complex task, for both the user and the search engine. There are multiple subtleties involved with information seeking on controversial topics. Here we discuss some of the challenges in addressing these complex tasks, describing the spectrum between cases where there is a clear right answer, through fact disputes and moral debates, and discuss cases where search queries have a measurable effect on the well-being of people. We briefly survey the current state of the art, and the many open questions remaining, including both technical challenges and the possible ethical implications for search engine algorithms.

Learning about health and medicine from Internet data

March 18, 2015 Comments off

Learning about health and medicine from Internet data
Source: Microsoft Research

Surveys show that around 70% of US Internet users consult the Internet when they require medical information. People seek this information using both traditional search engines and via social media. The information created using the search process offers an unprecedented opportunity for applications to monitor and improve the quality of life of people with a variety of medical conditions. In recent years, research in this area has addressed public-health questions such as the effect of media on development of anorexia, developed tools for measuring influenza rates and assessing drug safety, and examined the effects of health information on individual wellbeing. This tutorial will show how Internet data can facilitate medical research, providing an overview of the state-of-the-art in this area. During the tutorial we will discuss the information which can be gleaned from a variety of Internet data sources, including social media, search engines, and specialized medical websites. We will provide an overview of analysis methods used in recent literature, and show how results can be evaluated using publicly-available health information and online experimentation. Finally, we will discuss ethical and privacy issues and possible technological solutions. This tutorial is intended for researchers of user generated content who are interested in applying their knowledge to improve health and medicine.

Accessible Crowdwork? Understanding the Value in and Challenge of Microtask Employment for People with Disabilities

March 2, 2015 Comments off

Accessible Crowdwork? Understanding the Value in and Challenge of Microtask Employment for People with Disabilities
Source: Microsoft Research

We present the first formal study of crowdworkers who have disabilities via in-depth open-ended interviews of 17 people (disabled crowdworkers and job coaches for people with disabilities) and a survey of 631 adults with disabilities. Our findings establish that people with a variety of disabilities currently participate in the crowd labor marketplace, despite challenges such as crowdsourcing workflow designs that inadvertently prohibit participation by, and may negatively affect the worker reputations of, people with disabilities. Despite such challenges, we find that crowdwork potentially offers different opportunities for people with disabilities relative to the normative office environment, such as job flexibility and lack of a need to rely on public transit. We close by identifying several ways in which crowd labor platform operators and/or individual task requestors could improve the accessibility of this increasingly important form of employment.

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