Searching for Goldilocks

Query Interpretation

While some amount of diversity in search results is a good thing, we shouldn’t conflate it with query ambiguity. For example, a search for images of “bows”, could be an attempt to find decorative knots, weapons for shooting arrows, or people bowing. But no reasonable searcher would look for more than one of the above.

Too Much

Let’s now assume that the search results are consistent with a single query interpretation. There may still be too much diversity, even to support exploratory search intents. How much diversity is too much?

Too Little

Let’s turn to the other extreme: what is the risk of having too little diversity?

Just Right

Like Goldilocks, the searcher wants an amount of diversity that’s not too much, not too little, but just right. Enough diversity to make the exploration interesting, but not such much as to bring on the curse of dimensionality and the ensuing cognitive overload.

Finding the Peak

How do we find the peak of the Wundt Curve? We need to quantify the diversity of the result set and then vary it until we find the amount that maximizes users’ effective and enjoyable exploration of the results.

Now What?

As per my earlier disclaimer, I don’t have a silver bullet here, just a framework to offer guidance. Defining diversity, measuring search happiness, and providing just the right of amount of the former to optimize for the latter — these are all hard problems. But I hope I’ve succeeded in calling your attention to some of the unique challenges of exploratory search, and that the framework I’ve offered proves useful to those of you working on search engines.



High-Class Consultant.

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