Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hector Garcia-Molina at WSDM 2008

Stanford Professor and search guru Hector Garcia-Molina gave a keynote talk yesterday at WSDM 2008 titled "Web Information Management: Past, Present and Future".

I would post a summary of the talk, but Erik Selberg already did a good write-up, so let me just point people there.

I particularly enjoyed the part of the talk where Hector listed several topics and ranked ordered them in terms of importance and difficulty. The topics were Beyond Search (meaning better understanding of documents and searcher intent), Information Integration (meaning combining and summarizing information extracted from multiple documents), Monetization, Data Mining, Personalization, Mobile, Privacy, and Scaling.

After explicitly saying he was trying to be controversial and incite debate with this ranking, Hector placed Beyond Search and Information Integration as #1 and #2 respectively for importance and #2 and #1 for difficulty.

A few people took the bait and argued for different orderings, but a strong point made by two people was that several of the topics only exist to serve other goals. Specifically, Data mining, Scaling, and Personalization support Beyond Search and Information Integration by helping us better understand documents and ferret out the subtleties in user intent. As one of the two put it, "Data Mining is Beyond Search."

I also want to note that Hector used an unusually narrow definition of personalization, focusing exclusively on personalized navigation and expressing annoyance at changing navigational links because it makes it learning an interface more difficult. While I agree that personalized navigation can be annoying, personalization has much more useful applications, such as focusing your attention on products or information that are likely to be particularly useful. Personalization and recommendations can be part of Beyond Search by helping people find and discover when user intent is unclear or unknown.

Finally, one minor point. Hector at one point said the "low hanging fruit has been taken" in search and advertising. I am not sure this is true. As our tools change, what is low hanging fruit also changes. As Tjalling Koopmans once said:
Your perception of a thing that is a viable problem to think about is shaped by the tool you can use.

Sometimes the solution to important problems ... [is] just waiting for the tool. Once this tool comes, everyone just flips in their head.
As we can more and more easily process massive data sets, as our tools improve, new low hanging fruit will appear.

Update: Hector's talk is now available online.

1 comment:

jeremy said...

So, where there any good talks on the value of personalization? Do tell! ;-)