SIGIR 2012 Recap 4

SIGIR 2012 was held in Portland, Oregon last week. I attended the conference and found it very interesting and delightful. Let me recap the conference and interesting papers in this short post.

This year, one of the main themes in SIGIR mentioned many times by different people is how to evaluate IR models effectively. Two tutorials dedicated to evaluation method and many more papers are talking about this topic. The one presented by Don Metzler and Oren Kurland in the morning is more towards basic research methods and how to design a reasonable experimental method to validate any ideas. The slides are here. Although the tutorial is basic stuff, it remains valuable as it is the most important part in any research paper and it can go wrong easily. The afternoon tutorial presented by Emine YilmazEvangelos Kanoulas and Ben Carterette are more advanced as it dealt with user models and evaluation metrics. More specifically, the tutorial gave a clear explanation of nearly all evaluation methods and their corresponding user models and sought more depth on the topic. One thing I felt disappointing is that all tutorials focus on static analysis of evaluation methods and off-line evaluations. It would be nice that more on-line evaluation methods can be mentioned and the bridge between two paradigms can be discussed.

I really enjoy the first keynote from this year’s Salton Award winner Norbert Fuhr, entitled “Information Retrieval as Engineering Science”. The basic argument Norbert wanted to make is that IR should base on provable and constructive theories where current IR research seems ignore them at all. He had an provoking example to compare building bridges and building search engines. For bridges, given a certain knowledge of the span and the location and maybe other factors (e.g., budget), engineers can build one single bridge that has nice engineering properties such as beauty and endurance. While on the search engine part, the story is quite different. You probably need to build several search engines or prototypes to have a good feeling of which architecture should be used and what features might be relevant. You even run several systems simultaneously and do A/B testing to determine which one should remain. There’s no theory behind it. However, Norbert didn’t provide any clue on how to obtain such theories.

In regular paper sessions, here’re an incomplete take of what I think is interesting:

The best paper award goes to: Time-Based Calibration of Effectiveness Measuresby Mark D Smucker (University of Waterloo), Charles L. A. Clarke (University of Waterloo) and best student paper award goes to: Top-k Learning to Rank: Labeling, Ranking and Evaluation by Shuzi Niu (Institute of Computing Technology, CAS) Jiafeng Guo Yanyan Lan (Chinese Academy of Sciences) Xueqi Cheng (Institute of Computing Technology, CAS)

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