Summer 2022

In the Summer issue

NOTICE: The BCS IRSG is seeking new committee members.  If you are interested to find out more please see details on the nomination and election process.  November 3rd 2022 is the deadline for nominations.

Can I start by highlighting the forthcoming vacancy for an Editor for Informer, to take over at the end of 2022. I might also mention that there will be a number of vacancies on the IRSG Committee for 2023, including the position of Chair as Udo Kruschwitz has served his two year term.

This issue contains two superb reports on the LREC 2022 and  SIGIR 2022 conferences contributed by Dennis Aumiller. I’ve also linked to reflections on ECIR 2022 (Stavanger) by Krisztian Balog and his colleagues that was published in the SIGIR Forum newsletter in June. As well has highlighting some of the papers and themes of the conferences there are many insights in all three reports into the challenges of managing hybrid conferences which should be of interest to anyone involved in a conference, no matter what its size and topic. In addition there is a reminder of the Search Solutions 2022 conference on 23/24 November and a list of forthcoming events diligently compiled by Andy Macfarlane. Of course among these events is ECIR 2023 in Dublin in early April.

There are a number of book reviews in this issue covering taxonomy management, the role of digital technologies (including enterprise search) in supporting knowledge management initiatives, the science of reading and a fascinating autobiography from David Hawking.

Two awards are now open for nominations, the Karen Spark Jones Award from IRSG (sponsored by Microsoft Research) and the UKeIG Tony Kent Strix Award. in which IRSG is a partner.  The deadlines for both are by coincidence 9 September.

Also in this issue there are calls for papers for forthcoming special issues in 2023 of JASIS&T on the subject of information retrieval research and also of the ACM TIOS journal on efficiencies in neural information retrieval. Open Source Connections has released a collection of video presentations on a very wide range of relevance topics and a very challenging paper from Professor Justin Zobell on the questionable value of batch-mode IR testing has just been published in the July issue of SIGIR Forum and deserves the widest possibly readership.

And finally I consider the role and future of Informer.

The copy date for the Autumn issue is 31 October and for the Winter issue (my last as Editor) it is 8 January 2023.

Martin White

Vacancy for an Informer Editor from January 2023

I took over the role as the Editor of Informer in 2019 and have enjoyed the challenge of publishing a quarterly newsletter that in each issue has something of interest to the very varied IRSG. Earlier this year I decided that it was time to hand over the Editorial Desktop as I wanted to gently ease out of my consultancy work on enterprise search and in general anything that had a deadline attached to it. My last issue will be the Winter 2023, which is compiled in December 2022 and published in January 2023. As a result there is a vacancy for an Editor, ideally with whom I could gradually involve in the next three issues. If you would like to volunteer then email Udo Kruschwitz, IRSG Chair. If you would like to find out more about what the Editorship involves then please contact me. Informer uses WordPress as the publishing platform but with a template that is of unknown heritage. As incoming Editor you would have the opportunity to work with the Committee on what the upgrade should be. This will need to emerge from a careful consideration of the role of Informer, especially now that we have upgraded the IRSG web site.

I offer my personal view on the role and future of Informer in my And finally column in this issue.

Martin White

BCS/IRSG Search Industry Awards 2022

The BCS Search Industry Awards recognise people, projects, and organisations that have excelled in the design of search and information retrieval products and services. If you know of any people, projects, or products that deserve recognition, let us know by submitting a nomination. Alternatively, if you’re involved with something special yourself, you can submit an application today.


This year we are offering five awards:

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The Microsoft BCS/BCS IRSG Karen Spärck Jones Award 2022 – Call for Nominations deadline is 9 September

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.

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. The Karen Spärck Jones Award is sponsored by Microsoft Research Cambridge

The recipient of the 2022 award will be invited to present a keynote lecture at the European Conference on Information Retrieval (ECIR) in Dublin in April 2023.  This forum provides an excellent venue to present and announce the award as the conference attracts many new and young researchers.

For more details on the criteria for nominations and the nomination schedule go to  Jochen Leidner is the Award Chair and can be contacted at Leidner AT



JASIST special issue on information retrieval research

I was personally delighted to see the announcement from ASIS&T about a Special Issue in September 2023 on the topic of research into information retrieval.

To quote from the announcement

“We are looking for contributions that broaden the respective disciplinary, methodological, or empirical perspectives to identify and explore commercial search engines and their use and role in society from new angles, or that bring together different approaches in original ways. In particular, we would like to encourage information science/information studies, broadly understood, to reposition themselves and contribute the discipline’s expertise to shed light on the ever more powerful role of commercial search engines in almost all areas of society and everyday life, influencing not only how we know and what we know, but increasingly also how knowledge and information are created and communicated, to begin with.

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Relevance management – tips, tricks, techniques and tools

When OpenSource Connections started the Haystack conference in 2018, our intention was to bring the search and relevance community together to share tips, tricks, techniques and tools. Although the talks that year weren’t recorded we swiftly realised that we could share them much more widely on video and we made sure to record all the subsequent Haystack events.  Once the pandemic began our events moved online and with the advent of Zoom, recording talks became even easier. Fast forward a few years and our search events are now hybrid events with both in-person attendance and remote audiences watching live from across the globe – video has become an essential, not a nice-to-have. Many other events that our team speak at are also providing recordings of their talks.

We now have nearly 100 videos of talks linked from our Youtube channel at , covering many different search engine platforms, sectors including enterprise search, media search and e-commerce search, techniques from TF/IDF to vector search and practices including building search teams and search measurement. We’re working on curating these into subject-based playlists to make them even more accessible. Speakers include industry luminaries such as Peter Morville and Ellen Vorhees, startup founders from new search engine companies like Weaviate and Tantivy, search experts from companies including LexisNexis, HomeDepot, Otto Group and EBSCO and of course OpenSource Connections. This collection is building into a fantastic knowledge resource for anyone working in the search and relevance space and we’re very proud to host it as part of our mission to Empower Search Teams.

Charlie Hull UK Director OSC

Taxonomies – Practical Approaches to Developing and Managing Vocabularies for Digital Information – Book review

There is probably no more difficult task in information management in being the Editor of a multi-author on any topic, and the level of difficulty goes up by an order of magnitude when the topic is taxonomy management. Taxonomies (and the strap line Practical Approaches to Developing and Managing Vocabularies for Digital Information) has been edited by Helen Lippell, who brings not only many years of experience to the role but also a very strong commitment to ‘getting the message across’. In this she succeeds brilliantly.

Helen has brought together eighteen experienced taxonomy managers with the objective of offering a range of insights and perspectives on taxonomy management. The scope is so broad, and yet so deep in specific topics, as to demand a careful balance of the viewpoints of authors coming from an equally wide range of backgrounds and project experience. This book deliberately focuses on presenting case studies which can be of value in specific situations but also add to a more generic knowledge base about good practice on taxonomy development and implementation. These include Associated Press, Cancer Research, UK Department of Education, Electronic Arts, Getty Images, the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales, and the National Health Service.

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The Limits of Batch Assessment of Retrieval Systems – Justin Zobell

I had the very good fortune to get to know Cyril Cleverdon towards the end of his distinguished career as Librarian at the Cranfield Institute of Technology and his invaluable work in creating and promoting the Cranfield Projects on information retrieval performance. These Projects formed the basis for the TREC events in the USA. At the time we first met in the early 1970s computers were still somewhat on the distant horizon (especially in the UK) but his insights into the fundamental aspects of information retrieval performance most certainly catalysed my move towards information science and away from chemistry and metallurgy.

I was therefore especially interested to read a paper by Professor Justin Zobell (University of Melbourne) in the Summer issue of SIGIR Forum entitled When Measurement Misleads: The Limits of Batch Assessment of Retrieval Systems

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The Science of Reading – Book review

You may be somewhat surprised to see a review of a book on the science of reading in Informer. It seems to be implicit in information retrieval research that ‘users’ have such a competence in reading that a consideration of reading ability can be discounted from the research analysis. If only that was the case! The reality is that perhaps one in ten employees is on the dyslexia spectrum and in global businesses many employees are writing text and submitting search queries in a second language. I am especially interested in the issue of perceptual speed on the evaluation of search results. Even something as basic as line length needs careful consideration of how people read digital content.It may therefore come as surprise that the scope and depth of research into reading can occupy a book of almost 600 pages with contributions from 52 authors. I have found my journey through the 2nd Edition of The Science of Reading one of many significant discoveries, shining light onto issues that I had not even considered before reading the book.

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Call for nominations for the UKeiG Tony Kent Strix Award 2022 – Deadline 9 September

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. There are profiles of the award winners since 2009 on the CILIP web site.

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Making knowledge management clickable – Book review

There are many books about knowledge management but very few about what I might refer to as IKM (Information and Knowledge Management) technologies. What is distinctive about this book is that it spans the crevasse between KM and IT and does so with considerable flair. The authors, Zach Wahl and  Joseph Hilger established Enterprise Knowledge (based in Arlington VA) close to decade ago and since then have built a company with a very high reputation for innovative approaches to solving KM challenges. To quote from the Preface of Making Knowledge Management Clickable, their book “bridges the gap between knowledge management and technology. It embraces the complete lifecycle of knowledge, information, and data from how knowledge flows through an organization to how end users want to handle it and experience it”. The strap line is an excellent summary of the intention of the book – Knowledge Management Systems Strategy, Design and Implementation.

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SIGIR 2022 Annual Conference – a report from Dennis Aumiller

Another month, another conference back in person! The ACM SIGIR 2022 conference – the special interest group’s premier event – was back in person for the first time since 2019, and for the first time ever made its stop in beautiful and sunny Spain. Hosted by general chairs Enrique Amigó, Pablo Castells and Julio Gonzalo, the weather certainly left nothing to be desired in sunny Madrid in the period from 11-15 July. With record temperatures of over 40°C (104°F) reached during the conference week, it was certainly a blessing to enjoy some climatized breezes in the conference venue, Madrid’s historic Círculo de Bellas Artes. Impressing with majestic statues watching over the marble staircase, participants got to feel some of Madrid’s vivid history.

But aside from the hot weather, the organizers had a series of issues to worry about, quipped organizer Pablo Castells during his opening remarks: Record summer temperatures, re-emerging Covid waves, nearby construction sites, as well as overloaded airlines were all too real concerns that made them originally question whether physical attendance would even make up a significant portion in the first hybrid SIGIR event.

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Language Resources and Evaluation Conference (LREC 2020) – a report from Dennis Aumiller

With a delay of over two years, attendees of the bi-annual Language Resources and Evaluation Conference 2022 (LREC) finally arrived in sunny Marseille. After originally scheduled for May 2020, but then being canceled due to travel restrictions and nation-wide lockdowns, the organizers decided to revive the original conference location and agreed on the currently predominant setting of a hybrid conference with both physical and virtual attendance. As conference venue, the pompous Palais du Pharo was chosen, overlooking the charming ‘vieux port’ of Marseille, which made for an impressive backdrop during the numerous coffee breaks. Its central location also made it easy to move post-conference discussions to nearby restaurants and bars in the close-by port area.

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Reflections on ECIR 2022 by Krisztian Balog, Kjetil Nørvag and Vinay Setty

Krisztian Balog, Kjetil Nørvag and Vinay Setty have authored a detailed review of the very successful ECIR 2022 event held in Stavanger, Norway, in April. The review, which is published in the June 2022 issue of SIGIR Forum, runs to 12 pages.

To quote from the Conclusion

“One of the biggest organizational challenges was dealing with uncertainty—first, whether the conference can be held in a physical format at all, then, whether there would be enough attendees to break even, and finally, to scale up everything on short notice in order to accommodate all the late registrants. Another set of challenges has to do with the hybrid format, where many open issues remain. It is critical to realize and accept that there are differences between in-person and remote participation, and that it is simply not possible to provide the same experience for those that are attending online. Most importantly, and quite understandably, in-person participants much prefer interacting with each other than to go on Zoom calls to talk to remote attendees. Therefore, we should perhaps accept that there are clear advantages to in-person participation, while at the same time strive at our best to ensure the best remote experience. We hope that our experience report can help future conference organizers with the planning of hybrid events”

This is perhaps a good point to slot in a very concise overview of conference structures from Associate Professor Max Wilson at the University of Nottingham.

Martin White



ACM Transactions on Information Systems – call for papers on neural information retrieval

The ACM TOIS journal is planning a special issue in 2023 on efficiency on neural information retrieval. The deadline for submissions is 31 December 2022

To quote from the ACM announcement

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Funnelback and Me: Celebrating 30 Years of Funnelback Technology 1991-2021 – Book review

I expect that most readers of Informer will have read the 2011 edition of Modern Information Retrieval edited by Ricardo Baeza-Yates and Berthier Riberio-Neto. It runs to almost 900 pages. Chapter 15 is a brilliant essay by David Hawking which sums up everything you should know about enterprise search in 40 pages.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is the national research organisation in Australia. David joined CSIRO in 1998 as a research scientist but had been working on the technical issues of ‘enterprise search’ since 1991.  When Google arrived on the search scene CSIRO saw an opportunity to address the problems of enterprise search by commercializing some ongoing research into text retrieval and from it created P@ANOPTIC. This very capable search application had a number of very neat technical elements (read the book and you will be amazed) and quite quickly gained a collection of highly satisfied users from operations in Australia, the USA, the UK and Poland. The company was spun off in 2005 as Funnelback Pty Ltd and was sold to Squiz in 2009.

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Search Solutions 2022 London 23/24 November

Search Solutions 2022 returns to being on on-site conference this year at the BCS HQ in London (25 Copthall Avenue London, EC2R 7BP) though there could be some remote contributions from speakers facing challenges of predictable flight schedules and sensible fares. The Conference will be held on Thursday 24 November, with a day of Tutorials on Wednesday 23 November. Details of both events will be posted on the IRSG web site in due course.

And finally….from the Editor

The quarterly Informer newsletter has been published by IRSG for almost 30 years, initially as a PDF and since 2012 as a web journal using a WordPress platform. Throughout its history it has been a channel of record for conferences and other events and a means of alerting members to forthcoming events, constantly trying to keep a balance between content for the academic and research community of IRSG and the practitioner/search manager community. IRSG has always seen its role as being a means of bringing these two communities together, exemplified by the Search Solutions conference each year.

If you look at other BCS Specialist Groups, notably the Groups with IT interests, they maintain contact with their members through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. There is an IRSG Twitter account @bcs_irsg but we have not had any Group-specific Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.

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