In this issue

The 2023 AGM will take place on the evening of the Tutorial Day (21 November) at Search Solutions. There are a number of vacancies on the Committee going forward into 2024 and IRSG Chairman Udo Kruschwitz encourages candidates to contribute to the development of IRSG over the year ahead.

Search Solutions 2023 takes place in the BCS London HQ on 21 and 22 November. The Tutorial Day is 21 November and there are currently two tutorials. The Conference Day is 22 November and the programme has now been finalized. The overall theme is how to manage the convergence of information retrieval, search and AI technology.

The European Conference on Information Retrieval takes place in Glasgow on 24-28 March – do read about the exciting plans for the Conference. The most prestigious Award of the IRSG is the Karen Spärck Jones Award. Now is the time to nominate candidates for this Award. The winner is invited to give a presentation at ECIR 2024

There is an initial announcement of Search Insights 2024, a conference developed for IRSG by The Search Network. The programme will be announced at SS2023.

This is my final issue as Editor of Informer. My career in search dates back to the late 1970s.  I’ve taken the opportunity to consider what I feel was the first search revolution with the use of minicomputers for information retrieval inside organisations. 1978 was also the year in which the Information Retrieval Specialist Group was established. As always Andy MacFarlane has contributed a list of forthcoming conferences. This is also Andy’s final Events contribution and I thank him for the diligence of his work and for always meeting the issue deadline.

Martin White

2023 AGM and Committee nominations

The BCS Information Retrieval Specialist Group invites nominations for the following positions:

– Vice Chair
– Secretary
– Inclusion Officer
– Early Careers Advocate
– Events Coordinator
– 1 ordinary member of the committee

Those elected will serve a two-year term commencing from the 2023 AGM which will be held on 21 November 2023 at 1800 London time after the Search Solutions Tutorials.

Continue reading “2023 AGM and Committee nominations”

From the BCS IRSG Chair

Hard to believe, but there is more to life than ECIR.

Welcome back to a new issue of Informer! There is quite a lot happening in our community as you can see when browsing the contents. So let me try to be brief which gives you more time to study the other articles …

ECIR is over, ECIR is coming up … the usual cycle. The good news is that we received a fair number of strong bids to host ECIR 2025, and we will soon let you know who will host the conference, and I am sure there will be some great teaser in the closing session in Glasgow at ECIR 2024.

Speaking of ECIR, the big news is that we managed to maintain our A class label  in the CORE Conference Ranking. Just to give you the perspective: this puts us on par with CIKM, WSDM and EACL among other top conferences. At this point I would like to thank our committee member Sean, who managed the entire application process as we had been informed that a reclassification was due. Note that Sean only joined the committee less than a year ago and what an impact that has made for the community! Cheers again!

Well on that note, it’s time to point out that elections are coming up again. Want to put your hat in the ring? Well, details of what positions are up for election can be found in the announcement our Secretary has put out (Secretary? Up for election … just like many other vacancies!). I hope to see your name as the sender of an email (by the closing date) indicating that you are willing to serve for two years on the committee … and if all goes well, we can celebrate your election success at our AGM in November.

So much more to read in this issue, CIKM, Search Solutions etc. … so I better stop.




Search Solutions 2023 – Tutorials London 21 November 2023

Innovations in Search & Information Retrieval.

Search Solutions is the BCS Information Retrieval Specialist Group’s annual event focused on practitioner issues in the arena of search and information retrieval. It is a unique opportunity to bring together academic research and practitioner experience.

The Search Solutions event consists of a Tutorial day and a Conference day, each of which has a separate registration. Information on the Conference day can be found here.

Search Solutions 2023 Tutorials 21 November

This year there are two tutorials, a half-day tutorial on how Large Language Models can Improve Your Search Project and a full day tutorial on Uncertainty Quantification for Text Classification

Registration form on Eventbrite

Continue reading “Search Solutions 2023 – Tutorials London 21 November 2023”

Search Solutions 2023 – Conference. London, 22 November 2023

Innovations in Search & Information Retrieval.

Search Solutions is the BCS Information Retrieval Specialist Group’s annual event focused on practitioner issues in the arena of search and information retrieval. It is a unique opportunity to bring together academic research and practitioner experience.

The Search Solutions event consists of a Tutorial day and a Conference day, each of which has a separate registration. Information on the Tutorial day can be found here.


Both the Tutorials and the Conference take place at the BCS London Headquarters, Ground Floor, 25 Copthall Avenue EC2R 7BP. This is a 10 minute walk from Liverpool Street Station (Elizabeth Line and London Underground) and a 20 minute walk from London Bridge Station.

Registration form on Eventbrite

Continue reading “Search Solutions 2023 – Conference. London, 22 November 2023”

ECIR 2024 Glasgow – a status report

The 46th European Conference on Information Retrieval (ECIR 2024) will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, 24th-28th March 2024. ECIR is the annual premier European forum for the presentation of new research results in Information Retrieval.

ECIR will be held in central Glasgow at the excellent Radisson Blu hotel (actually, Radisson Blu was also the venue for the very successful ECIR 2023 in Dublin). The venue is surrounded by bistros, restaurants, pubs and other amenities and within 5 minutes walking distance to all the main Glasgow city landmarks.

Continue reading “ECIR 2024 Glasgow – a status report”

KSJ Awards 2023 nominations

A pioneer of information retrieval, the computer science sub-discipline that also underpins the technology of modern Web search engines, Karen Spärck Jones was a British professor of Computers and Information at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge. Her contributions to the fields of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Information Retrieval (IR), especially with regard to experimentation, have been outstanding, highly influential and lasting, and include the introduction of Inverse Document Frequency for relevance ranking. Her achievements resulted in her receiving a number of prestigious accolades such as the BCS Lovelace medal for her advancement in Information Systems, and the ACM Salton Award for her significant, sustained and continuing contributions to research in information retrieval. Karen was also an outspoken advocate for women in computing, and we encourage former advisors of talented scientists to provide the judges with a rich and diverse candidate pool to select from.

In order to honour Karen’s achievements, the BCS Information Retrieval Specialist Group (BCS IRSG) in conjunction with the BCS has established an annual award to encourage and promote talented researchers who have endeavoured to advance our understanding of Natural Language Processing or Information Retrieval with significant experimental contributions.

Continue reading “KSJ Awards 2023 nominations”

Search Insights 2024 London 22 February 2024

The IRSG Committee has accepted a proposal from The Search Network to run a one-day event focused on providing advice for IT managers and search managers seeking to optimise the value of search in their organisations and for customers. The event will be held at the BCS London HQ on 22 February. The programme will be announced at Search Solutions 2023 on 22 November

1978 and the first search revolution

We are currently struggling to cope with the rapid deployment of new search technologies as though nothing like this has happened before. I get a sense of déjà vu because something quite similar started to take place in 1978 with the arrival of search software on mini-computers. To be sure it took some time for there to be significant adoption but it was a colossal shift in the opportunities that it created for software developers, IT managers and information scientists.

I’ve chosen 1978 as the starting point as this was the year that the Information Retrieval Specialist Group was established.

Continue reading “1978 and the first search revolution”

Events listing

One Day Events 

Search Solutions 2023: The groups annual industry focused event, includes a tutorial day. 21-22 November 2023. https://www.bcs.org/membership-and-registrations/member-communities/information-retrieval-specialist-group/conferences-and-events/search-solutions/

Continue reading “Events listing”

FDIA 2023

The Future Directions in Information Access (FDIA) 2023 symposium
was held on Friday 1 September 2023 in Vienna, Austria in conjunction with ESSIR 2023
. The purpose of FDIA is to provide Master and PhD students as well as early-
career researchers a platform to discuss their research and project ideas with experts in the field.

35 people attended the event with 9 mentors and 26 students. Six students presented their work,
which was peer-reviewed by the FDIA program committee. The presentations were very well
received and attracted lots of discussions and questions for each paper, from the mentors and peer
students. From the feedback of the attendees, we have learnt that people enjoyed the talks and the
discussion very much. People also liked the panel discussion session on career development, where
all mentors shared their career path and advice, and on future research directions of information
access, where both mentors and mentees discussed their views of current and future research
challenges and opportunities. The talks and discussion complemented the ESSIR schedule, where
established research is presented, with novel and fresh ideas, particularly in times when rapid
developments in generative AI are providing new opportunities and challenges. The half day event
seems to be short to many students. They suggested in their feedback to have a longer sessions with
more group discussions and a poster session, which we hope to implement in the future FDIAs.

The FDIA proceedings will be published at CEUR.

We, the three organisers Haiming Liu, Ingo Frommholz and Yashar Moshfeghi, would like to thank all
the students and mentors for their participation and contribution and would like to thank the ESSIR
2023 organisers Florina Piroi and Allan Hanbury for hosting the successful FDIA.

And very finally….from the Editor

This is my final issue of Informer. I’ve been the curator since taking over from Udo in 2019 and have enjoyed creating and editing the issues, supported by Steve Zimmerman and Tony Russell-Rose who have uploaded the text into a readable format. I’ve already written a substantial article in this issue on what I regard as the first search revolution so I’ll keep this short.  As I gradually exit from 25 years of enterprise search consultancy and 45 years of working with computer-based retrieval applications I do so with some reluctance as I see that ‘search’ is now coming centre stage for both individuals and organisations. The rate of evolution is staggering – it is less than a year since ChatGPT was announced. The rate of adoption inside organisations is going to be slower as we cope with a combination of inconsistent information quality and the challenges of training employees how to get the best from the technical revolution in search. Never has it been so important for practitioners and academic researchers to work together to deliver excellent search solutions, and the opportunities and challenges of doing so are the primary focus of Search Solutions 2023 on 22 November. From now on I will be focusing on achieving excellence in a totally different area of activity, one that I have been involved with for over 60 years. Take a look at https://martinwhite.substack.com/ for further information.

May you always find what you are searching for.

Martin White

In the April issue

To start with IRSG affairs, our Chairman Udo Kruschwitz comments on some aspects of the very successful ECIR 2023 conference  and our Secretary, Steven Zimmerman has an update on Committee Membership following the 2022 AGM held in November following the Search Solutions 2022 event. The ECIR 2023 conference was a great success, and there are excellent reviews of the Conference itself and the Industry Day which is a popular feature of ECIR. ECIR is also the venue for the presentation of the Karen Spark Jones Award, and I am grateful to William Wang for allowing me to interview him (sadly remotely!) about the way that his career has developed. Clearly a very worthy recipient of the Award. The role of managing the Awards process for the KSJ Award 2023 has now passed from Professor Jochen Leidner to Dr Haiming Liu.

Another Award that IRSG is associated with is the Tony Kent Strix Award, managed by the UKeiG. In 2022 there were, exceptionally, two winners, Professor Iadh Ounis and Dr Ryen White, and Graham McDonald has written a report on their lectures.

On the subject of conferences, IRSG has published an invitation to run one-day events for the Group, details of which can be found on the IRSG web site.

Andy MacFarlane provides a list of forthcoming events (with my thanks for meeting a difficult deadline). Among them are Search Solutions 2023 and (though not an IRSG event) CIKM 2023 in Birmingham in October.

The last few months have seen a torrent of announcements and pontifications about the evolution of LLMs and associated applications. I’ve included a report of an Alan Turing Institute conference I attended in late February as a way of demonstrating the rate of evolution of these technologies. In my tail-end slot I offer some reflections on the speed of development of AIGC applications against the speed of research and research publication. Editors always have an in-tray and I’ve included a few items from mine that you might find of interest.

As a demonstration of ChatGPT in operation, I had invited Steve Zimmerman to write about his transition from academic to practitioner and in this issue you will find both Steve’s original text and the ChatGPT summary version.

Another perspective on the work of search practitioners is a fascinating account by Christoffer Stjernlöf  of IR software development for e-commerce search, where high relevance is absolutely essential and yet very challenging to achieve. To complement a feature on e-commerce search I have written a review of the first English edition of Understanding Search Engines by Professor Dirk Lewandowski, amazingly the first book on this topic to be published, 28 years after the launch of Alta Vista. But well worth waiting for!!

In the October issue…

The next issue of Informer will close for copy contributions on 13 October and be published towards the end of the month with full details of the Search Solutions 2023 programme

It will also definitely and absolutely be my last issue!  So if you have always looked at Informer and thought you could do a better job than me (very likely!) this is your opportunity to demonstrate your skills. As regular readers are aware, my take on IR life is very much from a practitioner perspective, so perhaps it might be a good time to pass the baton to someone with an alternative perspective.

We had hoped to introduce a new web platform for Informer this year but for a range of reasons this has not happened. It would be ideal to have the 2024 Editor in place by early September at the latest so that we could jointly work on the options for the future based on how the October issue is put together even if there is not time to make a change for the October issue itself.   If you would like to chat about what the Editorship entails then contact me on martin.white@intranetfocus.com

The Editor’s in-tray

A small miscellany of search-related items that have arrived in my in-tray recently that you might be interested in

Microsoft Search Hero Mastermind Group

This is a new and very enterprising training course for Microsoft search managers that has a mix of tuition and mentoring spread out over a three month period. The course has been developed by Agnes Molnar, Search Explained. The course is spread out over a three month period.

Continue reading “The Editor’s in-tray”

CIKM 2023 Birmingham 21-25 October 2023

The 31st ACM International Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (CIKM) will be held in Birmingham on 21-25 October. The last time this conference was held in Europe was 2018!  It is not a BCS event but many members of IRSG are involved in the event.

The General Chairs are

Ingo Frommholz, University of Wolverhampton, UK

Frank Hopfgartner, University of Koblenz, Germany

Mark Lee, University of Birmingham, UK

Michael Oakes, Independent Researcher, UK

The Informer Editor is acting as Chair of the Sponsorship Committee. Rumours that I get a percentage from the income I generate are sadly a hallucination.

Search Solutions 2023 London, 21/22 November

A mark-your-diary item for the annual Search Solutions 2023 conference. It will be held at the BCS London office in Moorgate and will be on-site only. Tuesday 21 will be Tutorials Day and Wednesday 22 will be Conference Day. There will be call for papers and tutorials in early May and this will be posted on the BCS IRSG web site . In association with the Conference there will also be the Search Industry Awards.

Karen Spärck Jones (KSJ) Award – 2023 timeline for nominations

Professor Jochen Leidner, the current chair of Karen Spärck Jones (KSJ) Award, presented the trophy to the 2022 KSJ award winner, Professor William Wang, who delivered his keynote presentation at ECIR 2023.

Since Jochen has chaired three years of the KSJ Award, and 2022 is the last year of his term I am now the Chair of the Awards Committee for the 2023-2025 period.  You can contact me at h.liu@soton.ac.uk

The call for nominations of KSJ Award 2023 will be out soon. Detailed information about the award and the nomination can also be found on the BCS IRSG KSJ Award page: https://www.bcs.org/membership-and-registrations/member-communities/information-retrieval-specialist-group/awards/karen-spaerck-jones-award/

Continue reading “Karen Spärck Jones (KSJ) Award – 2023 timeline for nominations”

IRSG 2022-2023 AGM and Committee Elections

The IRSG Annual General Meeting (AGM) took place immediately after Search Solutions 2022, where the committee election results were announced.  The draft 2021 minutes can be found here, with 2021 AGM confirmed minutes found here.  The full list of current committee members is now available on the IRSG governance page.  All committee positions were filled unopposed.

Newly appointed ordinary committee members include Monica Paramita (Sheffield University), Sean MacAvaney (Glasgow University), and David Rau (University of Amsterdam).  Reappointed committee members are Udo Kruschwitz (Chair), Ingo Frommholz (Treasurer), and Haiming Liu (Membership Secretary).  We wish to thank outgoing committee member Krisztian Balog (ECIR 2022 Committee Member) for their service.  Full details of the BCS IRSG committee are provided on our governance page.

A reminder our elections take place every Autumn, so please watch our governance page and the IR listserv to which you can subscribe to for future election announcements.  We are very keen to have new members on our committee.

Steve Zimmerman (IRSG Secretary)

Academia and the Enterprise – Steve Zimmerman

Academia and the Enterprise

It is an honour to be asked by a highly respected contributor to the enterprise search community to share my journey from academia into the enterprise.   Admittedly, it has been an unusual journey, so perhaps it’s best to say a bit about where things are at the exact moment before diving into the details.  


Currently, I am a Senior Data Scientist in the NLP team at a large multinational, and there has never been a more interesting time to work in search and NLP.   This is a strong statement given my journey into search and NLP, which began 10 years ago,  has always been fascinating.   So what makes this journey even more fascinating now?    Probably not surprising to you, the latest generation of large language models (LLMs) is what has made the work even more interesting.  A former colleague told me about ChatGPT on December 1st and said it will be as big as Google.   

Continue reading “Academia and the Enterprise – Steve Zimmerman”

Alan Turing Institute Conference on LLMs February 2023 – a historical perspective?

This symposium, organized by the Alan Turing Institute,  was held at the IET, Savoy Place on 23 February and attracted around 350 delegates, including what seemed to be the entire UK machine learning research community. There were seven presentations and a panel session that I was not able to stay for.

(Note from the Editor. Two months  seems to be a lifetime in LLM world and I thought twice about including this! However it does highlight the very proactive role that the Alan Turing Institute is taking on behalf of the UK AI community)

I came away with pages of notes made at the symposium but as I have worked through them I have decided not to report on a paper-by-paper basis but instead to synthesize what to me were some (certainly not all!) of the take-aways of the day.

Continue reading “Alan Turing Institute Conference on LLMs February 2023 – a historical perspective?”

ECIR 2023 Industry Day

The European Conference on Information Retrieval (ECIR) seems to have emerged from the pandemic stronger than ever. This year, in Dublin, saw the highest number of attendees ever, I’m told, at over 380 in-person and virtual attendees. I’m not a computing academic, so I don’t sit through the academic presentations, but the last day of the conference is termed the Industry Day, and is designed to straddle the divide between the academy and the real world. This year, there were around 60 stalwarts who stayed the course for a very full day of no fewer than 13 presentations. What makes the industry day exceptional is the range and number of questions asked by the audience: there is an informal air to the event that, I think, encourages discussion. This was a conference where the questions were not to display the questioner’s knowledge, but to provide a vital reality check. Have you tried this with users? What do you do about fake news? Is there a feedback loop once it goes live?

Continue reading “ECIR 2023 Industry Day”

Call for proposals for IRSG one-day events in 2023

The Information Retrieval Specialist Group (IRSG) of the BCS invites proposals for the organisation of one day events supported by BCS. Proposals will be evaluated based on the organisational and financial plans and benefits to the Information Retrieval community.

Important dates

* Submission deadline for this round: 19-May-2023

* Notification: 02-Jun-2023

Continue reading “Call for proposals for IRSG one-day events in 2023”

Relevance under uncertainty – the commercial realities of IR development

Relevance Under Uncertainty – How Loop54 does software engineering to advance relevance

Loop54 (on the market under the name FactFinder Infinity) is a technology that integrates with e-commerce stores and determines based on visitor interactions, in real time, which the most relevant products are for each individual user at every moment. It attempts to perform the function a really good salesperson would if you step into a brick-and-mortar store: figure out as quickly as possible exactly what you are interested in and guide you directly to that. Just as with a really good salesperson, the visitor is not meant to notice that anything out of the ordinary happened. This is not the business of definitive rights and wrongs, but ever so many shades of roughly correct.

John Carmack put it fairly well when he said about neural networks that “It is interesting that things still train even when various parts are pretty wrong — as long as the sign is right most of the time, progress is often made.”

Continue reading “Relevance under uncertainty – the commercial realities of IR development”

Tony Kent Strix Award 2022 lectures

The 2022 annual memorial lecture for the International Tony Kent Strix Award  hosted by the UK electronic information Group (UKeiG) in partnership with the International Society for Knowledge Organisation UK (ISKO UK) , the Royal Society of Chemical Information and Computer Applications Group (RSC CICAG)  and the British Computer Society Information Retrieval Specialist Group (BCS IRSG), was held on Thursday February 23rd 2023, hosted by Dion Lindsay

The award is given in recognition of outstanding practical innovation or achievements in the field of information retrieval. This year, in a break from tradition and accounting for the fact that there was no award given in 2021, there were two recipients of the award: Professor Iadh Ounis (Professor of Information Retrieval at the University of Glasgow) and Dr Ryen White  (General Manager and Partner Research Director at Microsoft Research), who is also an alumni of the University of Glasgow Information Retrieval Group. The online event was very well attended and regarded as a great success by the organisers.

Professor Ounis’ talk, titled ‘Perspectives on Experimentation and Reproducibility in Information Retrieval: Then and Now’, discussed the challenges of (and the real need for) reproducing experimental findings in the modern neural information retrieval era. The talk provided great insights into the complex information retrieval pipelines and the long dependency chains that exist between artifacts of modern information retrieval systems. Professor Ounis particularly noted the need, in this modern age, for more granular reproduction methods that can fully replicate all of the ingredients that contribute to the core advancements in information retrieval systems. The talk also provided an overview of how the PyTerrier information retrieval platform, developed at the University of Glasgow, can simplify the process of constructing and replicating modern neural retrieval architectures, by simplifying the process of constructing complex IR pipelines and combining modular system components using standard Python operators and expressions.

Dr White’s talk, titled ‘Intelligent Futures in Task Assistance’, provided an overview of Dr White’s contributions to understanding user interactions in search systems and his goal of providing a better experience for search engine users. In particular, Dr White discussed the importance of productivity assistance and task driven information retrieval in today’s modern era of digital assistants. Dr white provided insights into the necessity of systems to be able to decompose complex tasks to automatically identify and prioritise microtasks, and schedule activities through task duration estimation. The talk discussed the main lessons that have been learned from research on task intelligence and provided numerous insights into the potential future directions of artificially intelligent digital assistants.

Both of the talks were packed with many insights and interesting reflections on the developments that have led to today’s intelligent information age, and what is in store for the future. The slides from the talks are available from Professor Ounis’  and Dr White’s  websites (links above) and the video recording of the talks will be made available from UKeiG . I highly recommend checking them out. .

[Graham McDonald is a lecturer in Information Retrieval at the School of Computing Science, University of Glasgow. His research interests include responsible and fair information retrieval, sensitivity-aware search, and active-leaning strategies in decision support systems for document review tasks]

Editor – The UK e-information Group (UKeiG) has  announced that it plans to launch a call for nominations for the 2023 Tony Kent Strix and Jason Farradane Awards at its 29 June Zoom Members’ Afternoon. There will also be a special announcement about a third international award.