So the ASIS&T schedulers knew what they were doing all along, of course, by saving the best till last. In a session on the “Use of classification in information seeking” jointly sponsored by SIG/CR and SIG/USE, Barbara Kwaśnik (Syracuse University) described the variety of ways in which the effectiveness of information retrieval systems can be improved by the partitioning of collections of resources into meaningful clusters. Barbara enumerated the challenges faced by the user of retrieval systems, such as the formulation of queries in the absence of domain knowledge and the interpretation of large, undifferentiated sets of search results, and showed how the classified organization of resources can help the searcher meet each of those challenges. Barbara allowed that no single classification scheme is appropriate for all purposes, but her characterization of a “good” scheme as one that is elegant, parsimonious, expressive, complete, memorable, usable, flexible, and hospitable reminded Team Dewey of one scheme in particular. (Clue: Not Zastrau.)
Joseph Busch (Taxonomy Strategies) then treated us to an excellent overview of the role of classification in search systems that support organizational goals such as e-commerce and e-government. Joseph argued that search engine users typically only think they prefer “type-and-go”/“feeling-lucky” interfaces over those that allow browsing of faceted hierarchies of classes, mainly because designers are not being as creative as we might expect them to be in the development of browsing-based systems. Joseph referred to research by Hearst, Dumais, and others that quantifies not only the extent of user preference for faceted interfaces but also the magnitude of the benefits (in terms of cost and time) to be obtained by organizations implementing such systems. Joseph demonstrated a number of existing, web-accessible systems that offer browsing-based access to information about products, services, and documents (see, for instance, a British supermarket’s faceted interface to its database of wines), before describing a case study of the opinions of users of a system in the domain of agricultural economics which showed that users found it easier to search by non-topical facets (i.e., geographical area and commodity type) than by topic. Joseph’s conclusion that the best search interface is the one that offers faceted navigation in combination with keyword searching serves as a ringing endorsement of the approach taken by DeweyBrowser.