An Eye-Tracking Study of Query Reformulation

Information about a user’s domain knowledge and interest can be important signals for many information retrieval tasks such as query suggestion or result ranking. State-of-the-art user models rely on coarse-grained representations of the user’s previous knowledge about a topic or domain. We study query refinement using eye-tracking in order to gain precise and detailed insight into which terms the user was exposed to in a search session and which ones they showed a particular interest in. We measure fixations on the term level, allowing for a detailed model of user attention. To allow for a wide-spread exploitation of our findings, we generalize from the restrictive eye-gaze tracking to using more accessible signals: mouse cursor traces. Based on the public API of a popular search engine, we demonstrate how query suggestion candidates can be ranked according to traces of user attention and interest, resulting in significantly better performance than achieved by an attention-oblivious industry solution. Our experiments suggest that modelling term-level user attention can be achieved with great reliability and holds significant potential for supporting a range of traditional IR tasks.

The full version of this work has been accepted for presentation at the 38th Annual ACM SIGIR Conference in Santiago, Chile.

 

Modelling Term Dependence with Copulas

Many generative language and relevance models assume conditional independence between the likelihood of observing individual terms. This assumption is obviously naive, but also hard to replace or relax. There are only very few term pairs that actually show significant conditional dependencies while the vast majority of co-located terms has no implications on the document’s topical nature or relevance towards a given topic. It is exactly this situation that we capture in a formal framework: A limited number of meaningful dependencies in a system of largely independent observations. Making use of the formal copula framework, we describe the strength of causal dependency in terms of a number of established term co-occurrence metrics. Our experiments based on the well known ClueWeb’12 corpus and TREC 2013 topics indicate significant performance gains in terms of retrieval performance when we formally account for the dependency structure underlying pieces of natural language text.

The full version of this work has been accepted for presentation at the 38th Annual ACM SIGIR Conference in Santiago, Chile.