Exploratory Search

As search technologies become more pervasive, they will be used for a wide range of activities. We initially started using search for looking up information about people, products, companies, locations, resources etc. As we grow more comfortable using search, we expand its use to learn, investigate and explore. As our usage patterns of search change, search tools need to keep up with new interfaces, better presentation of search results and better ways of locating information. That is the theme of CACM April issue – "Supporting Exploratory Search".

In some respects, exploratory search can be seen as a specialization of information exploration – where a broader class of activities where new information is sought in a defined conceptual area.

In exploratory search, users generally combine querying and browsing strategies to foster learning and investigation.

Specific aspects of Exploratory Search covered in this issue:

  • Information Retrieval (how information is found)
  • Information Studies (how needs are described), and
  • Information Visualization (how information is presented)

Search Topics

This issue also includes, uses, interactions (between users and search tools) and presentation of results.

  • Browsing strategies for learning and exploration
  • Active involvement of users in the search process
  • Importance of visualization interfaces for navigation and hypothesis generation
  • Role of exploratory search in intelligence analysis process
  • Use of rich information collections to understand coherent explanation of world events
  • Analysis of information represented by complex graphs such as social networks
  • Interaction models to improve information access by supporting multiple ways of exploring information

Evolution of Search

Search will evolve in several different directions. From a look-up (to find specific information) search to more exploratory search. Here are a few different paths of evolution.

Contextual Search

Where the searching tool will obtain (implicitly) more and more contextual information about the user and tailor results.

Semantic Search
Will improve the capabilities of search tools to obtain better semantics (meaning) of user requirements as well as better sematics from the content through better meta-data (using perhaps xml/rdf encoding, tagging)

Interactive Search
Will infer user needs through interaction based on the links you click on (from the results), how many pages or results did you browse through, how many times did you repeat the search slightly differently to obtain better results.

Domain Specific Search
A programmer searching for a piece of code or open-source package and a music lover looking for specific song lyrics and a business user trying to obtain specific information operate in very different domains.

Search is only a partially solved problem. The directions proposed in this issue represent a subset of the grand challenges that await those interested in enhancing the search experience of users. Supporting exploratory search is an exciting multi-disciplinary area that will have a profound effect on how information is gathered, used, and shared.