In the Summer 2021 issue

I have often wondered if Editors of newspapers ever worry about whether there will be enough news to fill the next edition. I have a basic structure for Informer issues that runs several issues ahead because it is largely shaped by conference announcements and then reports of those conferences. Those items alone would make for a rather boring Informer so I am always pleased when I receive unexpected contributed articles.

I will start this issue by guiding you to a just such a contribution; a report from a SIGIR workshop on IR for Children 2000-2020: Where Are We Now? This is a most important topic if we are to ensure that the next generation of search users can not only gain the skills of searching but also understanding how to assess the information they find. I was very fortunate that my grandfather was the part-time librarian of the village library in Hampshire and that gave me an introduction to the concept of reading and finding at the age of 5.

As I write this introduction the good news is that in the UK Covid infections are decreasing quite rapidly. This opens up the opportunities to return to an office (albeit in hybrid mode) and to run on-site conferences. The next IRSG event will be Search Solutions 2021 on 23/24 November. We hope to be able to host this at the London HQ of the BCS but also have a Plan B! Then next comes a very northerly ECIR 2022 in Stavanger and you should note the dates of the event and the deadlines for submissions. If you want to start using up the travel budget held over from 2020 and 2021 then Andy MacFarlane has a long list of conferences for you to consider.

The Spring issue was full of ECIR 2021 reports so I held over a summary of the Industry Day presentations until this issue.

A sub-theme of this issue is ‘awards’ and you will find details of the nomination process for the Karen Spärk Jones Award, the Strix Award (IRSG participates in the judging) and the Search Industry Awards.

I would also highlight the BCS/CPHC Distinguished Dissertation award for 2020, which has been awarded to Dr. David Maxwell, at the time undertaking post-graduate research at the University of Glasgow. The way in which the thesis is presented is quite outstanding, and the science and art of good information presentation leads me to a review of a new book on this topic by the American statistician Edward Tufte.

Web design also requires careful attention to good practice in presentation and in late August we plan to release a new version of the IRSG web site curated by the web team at the BCS under the direction of Simon Curd.

The web site included a list of journals that publish papers on information retrieval. I am planning to revise and expand this list for the new site. Can you take a look at the draft list and let me know if there are any missing? Thank you.

We are also considering an upgrade to the Informer template but work on this is still in progress and the first issue with the new template will probably be the Winter 2022 issue.

There are also a few items of IR news for you. Professor Emily Bender (University of Washington) gives an excellent presentation on stochastic parrots in the context of language models, there is now an IR Anthology (over 53,000 papers!) that complements the well-established ACL Anthology and there are some signs that paid-for/ad+bias web search may be coming to your desktop in the very near future.

And finally, reflections from me on the topic of inverted file indexes and how they might present a barrier to the implementation of IR innovations captured in the IR Anthology. The concept of an ‘inverted file’ probably dates back to 1947 and the era of punched cards.

About Martin White
Martin White

Martin is an information scientist and the author of Making Search Work and Enterprise Search. He has been involved with optimising search applications since the mid-1970s and has worked on search projects in both Europe and North America. Since 2002 he has been a Visiting Professor at the Information School, University of Sheffield and is currently working on developing new approaches to search evaluation.

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