In the Conference Year there are only two seasons. The first runs from March to early May and the second from October to early December. This particular bi-seasonal structure is primarily driven by the time it takes to promote the event and attract reservations. So in this issue I can offer you very good reports of the Taxonomy Bootcamp (October) and BCS-IRSG Search Solutions together with the Strix Award lecture (late November). Forthcoming are a workshop about fairness in information retrieval to be held in Glasgow in March and then ECIR2020 in the sunshine of Lisbon in April. The main feature of this issue is a detailed analysis of the current situation and future development of the search functionality in Microsoft Office 365. The installed base of SharePoint/Office 365 is immense, and for a great many customers O365 offers the most powerful search application they have probably ever come across. However, this application arrives with the rest of Microsoft Office 365. There was no statement of requirements for the search element, so whether it meets the current and future requirements of an organisation is uncertain, especially when Microsoft has a fairly cavalier attitude to version release dates. Agnes Molnar is one of the leading independent consultants on Microsoft search applications (there are very few!) and I invited her to write an overview of the application. Finally there is a short contribution from me on BM25, which for me is where information retrieval meets search, a continuing theme of my curation of Informer. Of course if you have travel and registration budget to use up Andrew MacFarlane provides his comprehensive list of conferences despite being on a sabbatical. That’s real dedication to the IRSG!


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. Continue reading “Editorial”

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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