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IBM R&D Labs in Israel News

Social search takes center stage

Haifa seminar makes sense of all the blogging, tagging, and twittering

As social networking and Web 2.0 tools become increasingly pervasive, the need to make sense of all the blogging, tagging, and twittering is becoming increasingly important. The recent Haifa Information Retrieval seminar studied the tools and methods of the emerging discipline of social search.

Over 150 Israeli scientists from leading local universities and industry gathered recently in the IBM Haifa auditorium to discuss the social aspects of information retrieval, including social network analysis and social search. The full-day annual seminar provided a chance for the Israeli IR research and development communities to share their work, exchange ideas, and discuss future research directions and trends.

According to Haifa researcher David Carmel, who co-organized the seminar with fellow researchers Iris Eiron, Shila Ofek-Koifman, and Aya Soffer, the event is just as much about community building as it is about information retrieval research.

"We see a lot of the same people at the conference from year to year," he explained, "especially for the IT community in northern Israel, with representatives from both Yahoo! and the Google research centers located here in Haifa. The conference is a real win-win event, placing us at the top of the IR field in Israel, and the great feedback we get from participants attests to that."

Focused on feedback

According to Carmel, seminar talks focused on tools and methods that enable the use of information from Web 2.0 tools to improve the search experience and results.

"Social search focuses on collaborative bookmarking sites, social networking tools, blogs, and any system that gets feedback from users," Carmel explained. "Some talks at the seminar focused on such issues as search personalization, while others investigated the use of information from social networking tools on the web, such as Facebook and Linkedin. The seminar also featured presentations about Unified Search and SONAR, social search tools developed in HRL."

Ben Schneiderman from the University of Maryland delivered the keynote address. A global expert on the use of visualization for data mining, Schneiderman discussed his vision for a new science, which he refers to as "Science 2.0", and explained that systems must put users in the center and allow them to control the systems they use. Those systems must also constantly enable feedback from users, allowing them to express what they want, how to improve, etc. He also demonstrated an advanced visualization tool that provides overviews and helps make sense of data mining.

Hot topics and demos

One of the hottest topics within the social search domain – user input and recommendations – was also addressed by several talks at the conference. In particular, Daphne Raban's talk, "How to get a good answer online", examined several studies that looked at the efficiency of various Q&A web sites.

Israeli IR experts living abroad also gave several talks at the seminar. Both Ron Bekkerman of the HP Business Optimization Lab in Palo Alto and Mor Naaman from the Rutgers University School of Communication, Information and Library Studies in New Jersey "came home" to deliver talks at the HRL event.

The end of the day featured a special demo and presentation session in the Haifa site lobby. Presenters included representatives of many Israeli start-ups who exhibited several works-in-progress, and the session offered them a chance to get feedback on their projects.