Winter 2021


This issue has turned into a conference special issue as there were a welcome number of events in November that need to be recorded. In chronological order the month started with the Enterprise Search and Discovery Track at KMWorld, which would normally be held in Washington DC. A feature of the conference was the use of Pheedloop as a conference back-office management application, and it worked quite well. Whether sponsors were satisfied with the traffic to their virtual stands was difficult to judge.

Next up came the BCS IRSG Search Solutions event. Being run virtually enabled us to have speakers from Canada, Hungary, the Netherlands and the USA without needing to pay travel costs. Both the conference and the tutorial workshop on the previous day were very successful.

Finally on 26 November the 2020 Strix Annual Lecture was given by Professor Ingemar Cox. The announcement has also been made of the 2020 Strix Award and the 2020 Karen Sparck Jones Award.

Planning is now well advanced on ECIR 2021 (March 28-1 April), along with the 11th Bibliometric-enhanced Information Retrieval workshop series (BIR) which is held concurrently with ECIR. The locations of ECIR 2022 and ECIR 2023 have been agreed. There is also going to be a one-day workshop on Fairness and Bias in Information Retrieval on 23 March, carried over from March 2020.

As a result of the forward events diary for IRSG the Committee are going to be rather busy over the course of the year under its new Chair Udo Kruschwitz. There are of course many other search community events in the planning stage as diligently listed out by Andy Macfarlane and I’m sure we all hope that many of these will be on-site this year as vaccines and lockdowns start to tame the pandemic.

I have written a review of what I regard as my Book of the Year 2020 from Stephen Robertson, who provides a superb overview of how our current state of information technology (with the emphasis on ‘information’) has emerged over the last 2000 years. The PDF is free to download and is absolutely a must-read for all members of IRSG.

Finally, some reflections from me on the challenges that practitioners face in writing and submitting papers to research-focused conferences.

From Udo Kruschwitz – BCS/IRSG Chairman

In my role as new Chair of the BCS Information Retrieval Specialist Group it gives me great pleasure to wish you — our dear readership — a Happy New Year! This actually sends me back in time recalling those days/nights when I wrote the editorials for Informer, the pressure of writing something sensible, recruiting a few more contributors, getting it all out of the way in time, only to find that, sure enough, the next issue would be lurking around the corner … Therefore I want to first of all thank Martin White for having taken on that role nearly two years ago and doing such a great job.

The new IRSG committee was confirmed at the recent AGM, and I might well be the new Chair, but what would I be without the Committee?

Udo Kruschwitz

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KMWorld Enterprise Search and Discovery 2020 – conference report

The KMWorld conference, managed by Information Today Inc.  is probably the flagship event of the US library and information professional community and for the last few years has been held in Washington DC every November. It has always been a multiple track conference and has included an Enterprise Search and Discovery track. This dates back to the Enterprise Search Summit that was established by Online Inc. before its acquisition by Information Today Inc.

The ESD event started off with a series of workshops from Raytion, Agnes Molnar of Search Explained and me wearing my Intranet Focus hat. The conference itself was a three day event and the programme of presentations and panel sessions is still up on the KMWorld web site. There were a number of search-related presentations in the Taxonomy Bootcamp and Knowledge Management tracks.

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Search Solutions 2020 – Conference report

That Search Solutions 2020 took place at all is a tribute to superb teamwork from Ingo Frommholz, Udo Kruschwitz, Haiming Liu, Tony Russell-Rose, Steven Zimmerman and myself aided by Slack. By the end of the development phase almost 100 Slack messages had arrived in my in-box! Search Solutions is a very important source of revenue for IRSG but clearly that was not going to be the case with a virtual event. The benefit was that we could include speakers from the Netherlands, Hungary, the USA and Canada without incurring any travel costs, making the event probably the most international ever staged.

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Search Solutions 2020 – Tutorial Report

On 24th November 2020, a day before the Search Solutions main event, a Search Solutions tutorial on Reinforcement Learning for Information Retrieval was given by Alexander Kuhnle, Miguel Aroca-Ouellette, John Reid and Dell Zhang from Blue Prism AI Labs. Reinforcement Learning (RL), as a third machine learning paradigm besides supervised and unsupervised learning, is gaining more and more attraction in the Information Retrieval (IR) community, in research as well as industry. Read more…

Strix Lecture 2020 event – 26 November 2020

The 6th Tony Kent Strix Annual Memorial Lecture 2020, hosted by the UK electronic information Group (UKeiG), took place on Thursday, 26th November 2020, and was regarded as a great success by the organisers. It was delivered by the 2019 Strix award winner Professor Ingemar J. Cox, Department of Computer Science at University College London.

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BIR2021 1 April 2021

The Bibliometric-enhanced Information Retrieval workshop series (BIR) at ECIR goes into its 11th iteration. This workshop held online in conjunction with the 43rd European Conference on Information Retrieval (ECIR 2021), and will tackle issues related to academic search, at the intersection between Information Retrieval and Bibliometrics. The organisers strive to get the ‘retrievalists’ and ‘citationists’ active in both academia and the industry together, who are developing search engines and recommender systems for scholarly search.

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ECIR 2022 and ECIR 2023 – locations confirmed

So that you can start to plan your travel arrangements in 2022 and 2023 ECIR 2022 will be held in Stavanger, Norway, under the direction of Kristian Balog. The web site is ECIR2022 but no content has yet been posted. The Twitter address is @ecir2022

The venue for ECIR 2023 will be Dublin.

Fairness and Bias in Information Retrieval 23 March 2021

A one-day online workshop on Fairness and Bias in Information Retrieval will take place on  23 March 2021.The workshop will bring together practitioners from academia and industry to discuss the challenges relating to fairness in information retrieval (IR) that are faced by industry, and the recent advances in fair IR research. The workshop should have taken place in March last year but just failed to beat the lock down. The benefit is that, in my view, the topics have become even more important to discuss.

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ECIR 2021 March 28 to April 1

ECIR 2021, the 43rd edition of the annual BCS-IRSG European Conference on Information Retrieval will be held in Lucca from March 28 to April 1, 2021. ECIR  is the premier European forum for the presentation of new research results in the broadly conceived area of Information Retrieval (IR), and has a strong focus on the active participation of early-career researchers.

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B C, Before Computers: On Information Technology from Writing to the Age of Digital Data – Stephen Robertson

From an information technology perspective my career has seen some remarkable developments. I started out using 80-column cards at university in 1967 and then 10,000 hole optical coincidence cards at the start of my career in 1970. But did you know that the size of an 80-column card was the same size as US bank notes at the time that Hollerith invented his tabulator? This was because he had access to high-quality paper of his chosen format. Just one of the many fascinating insights into the world ‘before computers’ in an immensely readable book by Stephen Robertson of Okapi/BM25 fame. Not only has Stephen written the book he also produced the typescript!

Entitled BC Before Computers the strap line is On Information Technology from Writing to the Digital Age and is published by Open Book Publishers. I always have a pile of books waiting to be read but having started to read the first paragraph I was totally hooked and spent the rest of the afternoon reading through 150 pages of history, insight and quite a lot of quiet humour.

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Announcement of the Karen Sparck Jones Award for 2020

The winner of the 2020 Microsoft-BCS/BCS IRSG Karen Spärck Jones Award (to be presented at ECIR 2021 next year) is Dr. Ahmed Hassan Awadallah, Principal Research Manager at Microsoft AI Research in Redmond, WA, USA. Dr Jochen Liedner is the IRSG representative on the Awards Committee if you have any recommendations for the 2021 Award.

Note from the Editor – This BCS/IRSG Award is not the same as the BCS Karen Sparck Jones Lecture which honours women in computing research. Confusing, at least to me!

Announcement of Strix Award for 2020

The UK electronic information Group (UKeiG) has announced that the winner of the 2020 Tony Kent Strix Memorial Award is Ian Ruthven, Professor of Information Seeking and Retrieval at the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde.

Professor Ruthven leads the Strathclyde Information School Research Group (SISRG). SISRG operates across the boundaries between information and computer sciences and has established an international reputation for research excellence.

Note from the Editor – The first time I came across Ian Ruthven was as the Editor, with Diane Kelly, of a collection of papers published in 2011 by Facet Publishing under the title of Interactive Information Seeking, Behaviour and Retrieval. It remains an excellent introduction to these topics.

And finally from the Editor….

The dramatic growth in scientific publishing during 2020 has lead to a number of discussions about open access publishing and open access to research services. A recent paper in Science provides a good introduction to the topic of open access if you are not entirely familiar with it. In my view there is a barrier to publication that is not discussed at all, and that is the requirement to submit a manuscript in a standard format for eventual publication in the proceedings of the conference or in a research journal.  The guidance provided by Springer (just as an example) runs to 10 pages and there is a strong (though not compulsory) requirement to use LaTeX2e, the handbook [download] for which is 30 pages long.

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