A Roadmap to User-Controllable Social Exploratory Search

Cecilia di Sciascio, Peter Brusilovsky, Christoph Trattner, Eduardo Veas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Information-seeking tasks with learning or investigative purposes are usually referred to as exploratory search. Exploratory search unfolds as a dynamic process where the user, amidst navigation, trial and error, and on-the-fly selections, gathers and organizes information (resources). A range of innovative interfaces with increased user control has been developed to support the exploratory search process. In this work, we present our attempt to increase the power of exploratory search interfaces by using ideas of social search—for instance, leveraging information left by past users of information systems. Social search technologies are highly popular today, especially for improving ranking. However, current approaches to social ranking do not allow users to decide to what extent social information should be taken into account for result ranking. This article presents an interface that integrates social search functionality into an exploratory search system in a user-controlled way that is consistent with the nature of exploratory search. The interface incorporates control features that allow the user to (i) express information needs by selecting keywords and (ii) to express preferences for incorporating social wisdom based on tag matching and user similarity. The interface promotes search transparency through color-coded stacked bars and rich tooltips. This work presents the full series of evaluations conducted to, first, assess the value of the social models in contexts independent to the user interface, in terms of objective and perceived accuracy. Then, in a study with the full-fledged system, we investigated system accuracy and subjective aspects with a structural model revealing that when users actively interacted with all of its control features, the hybrid system outperformed a baseline content-based–only tool and users were more satisfied.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Number of pages38
JournalACM Transactions on Interactive Intelligent Systems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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