Summer 2020


The Spring issue was mainly about conferences, specifically ECIR 2020. This issue is much more about people but first I must highlight the third of the three ECIR 2020 keynotes by Joana Gonçalves de Sá which did not make it into the Spring issue. I am delighted to be able to publish a tribute by Professors Val Gillett and Peter Bath to Professor Peter Willett, who retired from the Information School, University of Sheffield after a lifetime of dedicated service to the School and the University. I held this over from the Spring issue as I did not want to submerge it in ECIR 2020 reports. ECIR2021 is scheduled to be held in Lucca, Tuscany from 28 March to 1 April 2021. Ingo Frommholz has contributed an excellent account of BIRDS, an interdisciplinary workshop for students, practitioners and researchers in Data Science, Information Retrieval and Information Science held at SIGIR 2020.

The lead feature contribution in this issue sets out the outcomes of a benchmark study by IntraTeam of the state of enterprise search satisfaction in Scandinavian organisations. Because it comes from a benchmarking process the reliability of the data is much higher than would be the case with a survey.

The tribute to Peter Willett  started me thinking about others in the UK who have made a distinguished contribution to information retrieval and in And Finally you will find my selection. If you feel you should be included do please let me know. One of the people on the list is Tony Kent, whose contribution is honoured in the Strix Award, and you will find details of the call for nominations for 2020 and the Strix Annual Lecture in London on 26 November. One of the organisations involved in the Award process is ISKO UK and there is a profile of the organisation by its current Chair, David Haynes.

The IRSG Search Solutions Conference will be held digitally on 23 November and papers for this conference, and for the workshops on 24 November, are now being sought. There is also time to nominate a Taxonomy Practitioner and a Taxonomy Success of the Year in association with the London Taxonomy Boot Camp.

In his contribution on ISKO UK David mentions some of the technical issues with delivering virtual learning. I was invited to participate in the Microsoft Research New Future of Work virtual conference in early August. I have set out my experience with the conference technology so that readers can benefit from this as soon as possible. I will summarise the outcomes of the conference in the Autumn issue of Informer as I know that the conference team will be adding content to the web site. Andy Macfarlane has contributed his regular list of search conferences but of course has had to add a warning that these events are subject to change and cancellation.

One of the pleasures of being an Editor is that publishers send you books as gifts. You are of course supposed to read them and as a result there are two book reviews in this issue, both outstanding contributions in their particular fields of systematic searching and A/B testing.

The copy date for the Autumn issue is 25 September 2020.

The state of enterprise search in Scandinavia in 2019

IntraTeam was established in 2000 with a vision of creating and supporting a community of intranet managers in Denmark. There are 23 communities in Sweden and Denmark that meet quarterly to exchange experience and ideas. Every Spring members of these communities come together at the three-day IntraTeam Event in Copenhagen. From the very beginning IntraTeam has carried out surveys among community members to help them understand the opportunities and challenges of intranet management, including search applications. The benchmarking initiative started in 2005 and over recent years has been extended to become a much wider ‘digital workplace’ benchmark. There are 26 categories against which participants can be benchmarked.

At present over 270 organisations participate in the survey including:

  • 80 Danish companies
  • 51 municipalities (local administrations)
  • 23 Government departments
  • A handful of not-for-profit and educational institutions
  • 90 companies from other countries

Because this is a community exercise, we have confidence in the quality of the information that is given by each organisation. On request we can provide benchmarks for specific industries and sectors. In this summary the focus is on the outcomes of the search questions included in the survey. The percentages in the boxes may not add up to 100% as some very low response values have been excluded for clarity.

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Peter Willett – reflections on the occasion of his retirement

Peter Willett retired from the Information School at The University of Sheffield at the end of 2019 after a long and hugely successful career. Peter is well known throughout the world for his contributions to information retrieval, bibliometrics and chemoinformatics. As well as being a hugely influential researcher, Peter is also held in very high personal regard by the many colleagues, collaborators and students he has worked with and supported over his long career.

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BCS IRSG Search Solutions 2020 goes virtual and CfP

Search Solutions is the BCS Information Retrieval Specialist Group’s annual forum focused on practitioner issues and latest innovations in the area of Search and Information Retrieval.  Search Solutions 2020 will be an online event taking place on November 23, 2020.

Search Solutions will consist of invited talks, but we also invite proposals for 30-minute presentations  (20-minute talk plus 10-minute Q&A) from practitioners and industry leaders. Your talk should focus on any area of the practical application of search technologies to real-world problems or on novel and emerging applications and topics in Search and Information Retrieval.  If you want to discuss the challenges you tackle as well as their solutions or present your latest innovation, Search Solutions is the venue for you. Search Solutions is attended by students and practitioners from academia and industry alike. 

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Call for Online Tutorials: Search Solutions 2020

Search Solutions is the BCS Information Retrieval Specialist Group’s annual event focused on practitioner issues in the area of Search and Information Retrieval. We invite proposals which focus on any area of the practical application of search technologies to real world problems, for the tutorial day due to take place the day after Search Solutions 2020. Tutorials in previous years have included: Designing Usability for Search, Multimedia Information Retrieval, Pattern Search, City Search in SmartCities and Text Analysis. Examples of previous tutorials can be found here:


Proposals for both full day (5-6 hours including breaks) and half day (2-3 hours including breaks) tutorials are invited.  Due to the COVID-19 situation, tutorials will take place online, preferably on Tuesday 24th November 2020. We welcome tutorials broadcast from anywhere on Earth but the schedule should be convenient for a UK or European audience (i.e., GMT time zone).

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Meeting in a time of lock-down – ISKO UK’s experience

Many of us have been adapting to life in lock-down, including groups such as ISKO UK, which I have the honour of chairing.  We are a small, specialist and very active group that promotes the science of knowledge organization.  As part of an international network of societies, the UK chapter is particularly interested in the interface between research and practice.  The opportunity to work with IRSG and others on the UKeiG Tony Kent Strix Award has been beneficial to members of both groups.

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Microsoft Research New Future of Work Conference 3-5 August 2020 – Part 1 The conference technology platform

Microsoft Research was able to set up its New Future of Work conference (August 3-5) as a virtual conference right from the start. This meant that it was probably one of the first to be designed at the outset to be virtual rather than adopting and adapting an existing one-site conference agenda.  The conference was excellent in terms of content, and all the papers (67 of them) and themes can be found on the conference web site. Given that Microsoft started with a clean slate I thought you might be interested in the approach that it took with the delivery platform. I’ll summarise the outcomes of the conference in Part 2 in the Autumn issue as it will take me some time to work through many pages of notes.

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Free as the BIRDS — Bridging the Gap between Information Science, Information Retrieval and Data Science

BIRDS is an interdisciplinary workshop for students, practitioners and researchers in Data Science, Information Retrieval and Information Science held at SIGIR 2020. The aim of BIRDS was to foster the cross-fertilization of Information Science (IS), Information Retrieval (IR) and Data Science (DS). The idea behind BIRDS was the observation that all disciplines operate in the well-known Data–Information–Knowledge continuum, with commonalities and differences. Simply put, DS is data-driven while IS is user-driven. Inbetween is IR, combining ideas from both worlds. With IR as a kind of bridge, some of the questions BIRDS tried to address were: how can we make Data Science more user-oriented, learning from IS and also IR (e.g., by introducing the intrinsic notion of best match vs exact match to general DS or by extending cognitive IR models to DS), and how can Information Science learn or benefit from the rapid developments in Data Science?

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ECIR 2020 Keynote Joana Gonçalves de Sá

[Note from the Editor – this is the third of the three ECIR 2020 keynotes.  Summaries of the keynotes given by Chirag Shah and Jamie Callum can be found in the Spring 2020 issue of Informer]

Joana Gonçalves de Sá is an Associate Professor at Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa and the leader of the Data Science and Policy research group.  Her current research uses data analytics and machine learning to study complex problems at the interface between Biomedicine, Computation, Policy, Social Sciences, and Mathematics. These include epidemiology, critical thinking, network dynamics, political discourse, and their applications to human-behavior, with a large ethical and societal focus.

Joana’s keynote could not have been more topical. The title of her paper was Focusing the Macroscope – How We Use Data to Understand Behaviour. The reference to Macroscope was because she wanted to provide a perspective on how assessing information created by and used by networks could be used to understand behaviours. There has been a great deal of research in this area, especially around using Twitter as a way of identifying changes in behaviour.

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Book Review – Trustworthy Online Controlled Experiments: A Practical Guide to A/B Testing

One of the benefits of web technology is that it is relatively easy to make design changes to a web site or intranet both at the development stage and even when in production. The same is true of course of open source enterprise applications, such as e-commerce and enterprise search. In principle it seems so easy. Measure the performance of Version A, make some changes and then measure the performance of Version B. All you then have to do is compare and implement. Easy!

Not according to this recently published book on A/B testing by Ron Kohavi, Diane Tang and Ya Xu. The very fact that the book runs to almost 300 pages is an initial indication that A/B testing is not as easy as many might think. The authors have extensive experience from working at Microsoft, Google and LinkedIn and this experience is very visible throughout the book but is coupled with references to around 300 research papers. The blend between authors, and between practice and research, is exemplary in all regards.

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Book Review – Systematic Searching

The first of my fourteen books was published in 1981 and was entitled ‘Profit from Information’. It was one of the first in a series of monographs published by the Institute of Information Scientists and was about how to set up and run an information broking business. Information broking companies started to spring up in the late 1970s in the USA. They were often one person (usually one women) home businesses undertaking online searches for business and academic customers. In 1978 the British Library Research and Development Department kindly paid for me to visit information brokers in New York, Washington and San Francisco. Those were the days! The main customers of these companies were in the healthcare sector (where the objective was to achieve excellence in health care) or high technology companies checking there was no prior art. Recall was everything. I came back to the UK and set up an information research business in London, and for three years spent much of my time hunched over computer terminals working at 300 baud. Ever since that time my interest in search has been in the recall end of the spectrum, sustained by a determination to prove that I had found all the relevant information. Of course the reality was that I had to balance recall and precision, and that is very subjective.

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Taxonomy Boot Camp 2020 Awards

There’s still time to make a nomination for London’s Taxonomy Boot Camp 2020 Awards which highlight practitioners and organisations working with taxonomies today. In a year that has presented everyone with new challenges, the organisers are keen to showcase the great work being done by those in the taxonomy community, particularly examples of creativity, determination and resilience.

Nominate yourself, your own team or project, or others you believe deserve recognition for their work in the field. There are two categories:

·       Taxonomy Success of the Year

·       Taxonomy Practitioner of the Year

Nominate here:

The Tony Kent Strix Award 2020: a call for nominations

The UK e-information Group (UKeiG), is pleased to announce a call for nominations for the prestigious Tony Kent Strix Award 2020.

Nominations should be received by 6 pm GMT on Friday 25th September 2020.

The Tony Kent Strix Award was inaugurated in 1998 by the Institute of Information Scientists. It is now presented by UKeiG in partnership with the International Society for Knowledge Organisation 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. This could take the form of an application or service, or an overall appreciation of past achievements that have led to significant advances. The award is open to individuals or groups from anywhere in the world.

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Strix Annual Memorial Lecture 26 November 2020

The Strix Memorial Lecture will be given by Professor  Ingemar Cox, Head of Media Futures Research Group at University College London  and a Professor at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Copenhagen. His current research interests include information retrieval and data analytics of online social media, twitter and query logs. The Lecture is scheduled to be given in Library of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London on 26 November. However as with all ‘future events’ the Lecture may have to be delivered virtually. The time slot is 14.00 to 16.30. Prior to the Lecture Martin White (aka Informer Editor!) will be talking about Defining the Enterprise Search Experience.


And finally

The biography of Peter Willett in this issue started me thinking about other distinguished UK-based contributors who had made a significant contribution to information retrieval. The list below is a personal one, and if you feel that I have missed anyone please do respond.

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