Autumn 2019


At the AGM (held during the TALMIRI conference in September) I set out an editorial policy for Informer.

“My overall aim to balance academic and practitioner interests, and to present developments and achievements in as broad a range as possible of search applications. In doing so I hope that Informer will increase the membership and influence of IRSG”

I hope you will feel that this issue reflects this policy statement. Certainly the TALMIRI conference held at the University of Bedfordshire mirrored this policy, with TALMIRI being an acronym for Talent Meets the Information Retrieval Industry. There are two ‘department profiles’. The first of these summarises the scale of the research being undertaken at The Open University, in particular at the Knowledge Media Institute. This year the OU has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of its foundation. The second profile outlines the themes of the research being undertaken within the Information School at the University of Sheffield. Frank Hopfgartner, a Senior Lecturer at the Information School, reviews a history of information retrieval written by Donna Harman. The  department profiles will continue to a regular feature in 2020. Among other contributions are a very neat approach to identifying the cause of enterprise search failures and a report on the European Summer School for Information Retrieval . I should also highlight the list of search conferences which is diligently compiled for each issue by Andy MacFarlane at City, University of London. Finally I have made a suggestion about how academic research could reach out to the information retrieval industry. Read more…

Search Solutions conference and workshops London 25/26 November

At the time of writing the confirmed speakers are Ryan Mcdonald (Google), Matteo Venanzi (Microsoft), Allan Hanbury (contextflow and TU Wien), Nicolas Fiorini (Doctrine), Andreas Kaltenbrunner (NTENT) and Benjamin Braasch (Raytion). This year the event will be held in the new location of the BCS in Moorgate. There will also be a day of tutorials and workshops on 25 November. Full details (and registration) are available on the Search Solutions web site.

Sheffield Information Retrieval Research Group

The Sheffield Information Retrieval Research Group is one of seven research groups of the Information School of The University of Sheffield. Research on information retrieval in Sheffield goes back as far as the 1960’s. Examples of research themes worked on over the years include the indexing and retrieval ofchemical structures (Michael Lynch), document clustering (Peter Willett), evaluation of interactive IR systems (Micheline Beaulieu & Daniella Petrelli), models on information seeking behaviour (Tom Wilson & David Ellis), cognitive IR (Nigel Ford), human-computer interaction (Steve Whittaker), IR test collections (Mark Sanderson), task-based IR and serendipity (Elaine Toms), multimedia IR (Robert Villa), session-based IR (Evangelos Kanoulas), human computation (Gianluca Demartini), webometrics (Robert Jäschke) and multilingual search (Paul Clough). Readers interested in early IR research in Sheffield are referred to the survey papers written by Lynch & Willett (1987) and Beaulieu (2003).

The IR Group also has a long history of active engagement with the IR community. Besides hosting major conferences such as SIGIR and CLEF in Sheffield, members of the group have played a key role in organising evaluation campaigns at TREC (Session Track),  CLEF (ImageCLEF, iCLEF, GeoCLEF, NewsREEL), NTCIR (Lifelog), MediaEval (NewsREEL Multimedia), and FIRE (PAN@FIRE).

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Book Review: Information Retrieval: The Early Years

It’s time to make space on your book shelf again, as this year, quite a few interesting IR books have been published. This is a brief review on one of them: “Information Retrieval: The Early Years“, written by Donna Harman.

Harman can rightly be described as one of the pioneers of IR who has influenced advances in the field for decades. In this book, she provides an interesting overview of those research works that played a significant role towards the development of modern search engines.

In the introduction chapter, she clarifies why she is the best person to write this monograph: Witnessing the first magic happening in the 1960’s as a member of Gerald Salton’s research lab at Cornell, she got more actively involved with information retrieval in the 1980’s, when she built the renowned TIPSTER test collection. In the 1990’s, she then went on to initiate the TREC conference series. While she summarised the success story of TREC in her 2005 book, this monograph now provides us with a wider picture on advances over the years.

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Karen Spärk Jones Lecture and Award – a clarification

I have to admit that I was very confused about the relationship between the Lecture and the Award before realizing that there was no relationship other than the name of the honouree.

This year the 2019 Karen Spärk Jones Lecture will be given by Professor Mirella Lapata, University of Edinburgh on Wednesday 23 October 2019 at Imperial College, London. This Lecture is sponsored by IBM and is the responsibility of The BCS Academy of Computing. The Award honours women in computing research.

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TALMIRI Conference 18 September 2019 – conference report

The 2019 TALMIRI Conference took place at the Putterbury campus of the University of Bedfordshire. The acronym stands for Talent Meets the Information Retrieval Industry. The conference was conceived and organized by Ingo Frommholz and Haiming Liu with support from the University of Bedfordshire that enabled the conference to be free to attendees in a setting that was very conducive to thinking outside of the box.

The common theme of the opening papers was the management of the long tail of search results. Dyaa Albakour (Signal A.I.) highlighted highlight cases where IR research (notably from TREC ) has focused efforts on performing well on the head of the distribution and ignored ‘difficult’ long-tail cases. Dyaa then moved from academia to industry to give examples of problems and challenges he and his colleagues at Signal AI face in dealing with news stories where it is crucial to put effort into improving and evaluating performance of cases on the long tail.

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Strix Memorial Lecture London 29 November 2019

The Strix Award is presented by the UK electronic information Group (UKeiG), in partnership with the International Society for Knowledge Organization UK (ISKO UK), the Royal Society of Chemistry Chemical Information and Computer Applications Group (RSC CICAG) and the British Computer Society Information Retrieval Specialist Group (BCS IRSG). The Award is given in recognition of an outstanding practical innovation or achievement in the field of information retrieval in its widest sense, including search and data mining, for example. This could take the form of an application or service, or an overall appreciation of past achievements from which significant advances have emanated. The award is open to individuals or groups from anywhere in the world.

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SIGIR Forum July 2019 issue

The July issue of SIGIR Forum is now available, and you do not have to be a member of ACM to read it. SIGIR Forum is published twice a year and usually has good summaries of recent ACM meetings. This issue contains, amongst other items, a report on the CHIIR 2019 Second Workshop on Evaluation of Personalisation in Information Retrieval (WEPIR 2019) which is well worth reading.

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ECIR 2020 Lisbon 14-17 April 2020

The 42nd European Conference on Information Retrieval will be held in Lisbon on 14-17 April 2020. Lisbon is one of my favourite European capitals; if you have not visited the city ECIR 2020 would be a very good justification for doing so! There is still time to offer a contribution in many of the categories of papers.

ESSIR 2019 & FDIA Student Review

In its 12th edition, the European Summer School in Information Retrieval (ESSIR) returned to its Italian roots in beautiful Milan, where it took place at the University of Milano-Bicocca between July 15th to July 19th, 2019. Maristella Agosti (University of Padua), who was organizer of the first summer school back in 1990, again co-organized the event, together with Nicola Ferro (University of Padua) and Gabriella Pasi (University of Milan-Bicocca).

Over 40 students from as far as Chile and China attended the event, which is primarily geared towards early-stage researchers. During the week, attendees could enjoy talks on a wide variety of topics held by established members of the IR community. For many attendees, especially more senior ones, the schedule of the summer school also fit neatly with further travel plans to attend SIGIR 2019, which started on the subsequent Sunday in Paris. Co-located with ESSIR was the 9th PhD Symposium on Future Directions in Information Access (FDIA), this year with PCs Ingo Frommholz (University of Bedfordshire), Haiming Liu (University of Bedfordshire) and Yashar Moshfeghi (University of Strathclyde). In total the event received 25 submissions, out of which 7 were chosen for oral presentation, and 12 displayed during a poster session.

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And finally….

The seminal paper on the double-helix structure for DNA by Crick and Watson ends up with the statement “It has not escaped our attention that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material”. A masterpiece of understatement. At the end of a research paper there is always a very helpful section that indicates where additional research could usefully be carried out.

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