ECIR 2011 Industry day – part 2 of 2

Here’s the second writeup.

We started after lunch with a talk from Flavio Junqueira of Yahoo! on web search engine cacheing. He talked both about the various things that can be cached (query results, term lists and document data) and the pros and cons of dynamic versus static caching. His work has focused on the former, with a decoupled approach – i.e. the cache doesn’t automatically know what’s changed in the index. The approach is to give data in the cache a ‘time to live’ (TTL), after which it is refreshed – an acceptable approach as search engines don’t have a ‘perfect’ view of the web at any one point in time. As he mentioned, this method is less useful for ‘real-time’ data such as news.

Francesco Calabrese followed, talking about his work in the IBM Smarter Cities Technology Centre in Dublin itself. Using data from mobile devices his group has looked at ‘digital footprints’ and how they might be used to better understand such things as public transport provision. An interesting effect they have noticed is that they can predict the type of an event (say a football match) from the points of origin of the attendees. This talk wasn’t really about search, although the data gathered would be useful in search applications with geolocation features.

Gery Ducatel from BT was next, with a description of a search application for their mobile workforce, allowing searches over a job database as well as reference and health & safety information. This had some interesting aspects, not least with the user interface – you can’t type long strings wearing heavy gloves while halfway up a telegraph pole! The system uses various NLP features such as a part-of-speech tagger to break down a query and provide easy-to-use dropdown options for potential results. The user interface, while not the prettiest I’ve seen, also made good use of geolocation to show where other engineers had carried out nearby jobs.

I followed with my talk on Unexpected Search, which I’ll detail in a future blog post. We then moved onto a panel discussion on the IBM Watson project – suffice it to say that although I’ve been asked about this a lot in the last few months, it seems to me that this was a great PR coup for IBM rather than a huge leap forward in the technology (which by the way includes the open source Lucene search engine).

Thanks again to Udo and Tony for organising the day, and for inviting me to speak – there was a fascinating range of speakers and topics, and it was great to catch up with others working in the industry.

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