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Clustering Information Retrieval Search Outputs

Kural, S. (1999). Clustering Information Retrieval Search Outputs. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Users are known to have difficulties in dealing with information retrieval search outputs especially if the outputs are above a certain size. It has been argued by several researchers that search output clustering can help users in their interaction with IR systems. Clustering may provide users an overview of the output by exploiting the topicality information that resides in the output but has not been used in the retrieval stage. It can enable them to find the relevant documents more easily and also help them to form an understanding of the different facets of the query that have been provided for their Inspection. This project aimed to investigate the viability of using clustering as a way of mediating users’ interaction with search outputs and attempted to identify its possible benefits.

Can&Ozkarahan’s(90) C3M algorithm was used to test the effectiveness of clustering as a way of search output presentation. C3M is a relatively simple, non-hierarchical method that has been shown to give compatible or superior results to best-known hierarchical methods.

The method was implemented in TCL and linked to the department’s experimental IR system Okapi. Implementation included a procedure of term selection for document representation which preceded the clustering process and a procedure involving cluster representation for users’ viewing following the clustering process. After some tuning of the implementation parameters for the databases used, several experiments were designed and conducted to assess whether clusters could group documents in useful ways.

One group of experiments aimed to assess the ability of the implementation to bring together topically related documents. It was quite difficult to gather data for such an assessment, but the existence of a set of data generated for TREC Interactive track(1996) enabled us to design experiments that at least approximately satisfied our objective. TREC provided a set of queries, and groups of relevant documents with facet assignments made by expert users. It was thus possible to make an Inference by measuring the correlation between the clusters relevant documents were assigned to and the facet assignments made for the documents by TREC experts.

The utility of this data set was limited for various reasons discussed in the related chapters, however, it can be concluded that clusters cannot be relied on to bring together relevant documents assigned to a certain facet. While there was some correlation between the cluster and facet assignments of the documents when the clustering was done only on relevant documents, no correlation could be found when the clustering was based on results of queries defined by City participants to the Interactive track.

Another group of experiments was conducted to compare output clustering with relevance ranking as a search output representation method. This comparison was necessary as an immediate consequence of clustering search output would be the loss of relevance ranking. It had to be assessed whether clustering could help users to find the relevant documents more easily than by relevance ranking, before any clustering solution could be proposed as an alternative to relevance ranked output.

For this purpose, two sets of user experiments(n=20 and n=57) were conducted based on the users’ own information needs. While changes have been made to the implementation between the first and the second set of experiments, the experimental design was almost the same in both runs. Users were first asked to rank clusters formed from the search output(top 50 documents) and then make relevance judgements for the individual documents for the same output. The precision of cluster(s) marked best by the users were then compared to precision values that would be attained by relevance ranking at comparable thresholds.

The results from the 1st group of user experiments were not conclusive(in some part due to the smallness of the data set), but they drew our attention to the importance of representation of clusters and documents for users’ viewing. After some changes to the implementation, mainly related to representation issues, and an intermediate set of 10 experiments to assess two new representation formats, a set of 57 user experiments were conducted to measure and compare precision values attainable by clustering versus relevance ranking.

These experiments revealed no significant precision difference between clustered outputs and ranked lists. The number of cases where one method achieved better than the other was slightly higher for the ranked lists at the top cluster level and slightly higher for the clustered representation at the top two clusters level. However the overall average precision values were higher for the ranked list at both levels.

As such, clustering did not appear to be preferable to ranked lists especially as It also represented overheads in both computing time and resources involved in creation of the clusters, and the time and effort taken by the users to inspect them.

An interesting outcome of the user experiments was the ability of the users to identify clusters that do not include relevant information. There were less relevant documents among the clusters marked last by the users as compared to the documents ranked last at similar threshold levels. This brought out the possibility of using clusters as an exclusion tool to improve the precision of ranked lists. After exclusion of documents from the last cluster, ranked lists performed significantly better than the clusters at the top cluster level.

There was also some evidence (consisting of observation of users during the experiments and a few user comments) that clusters could be used to provide the users with a glimpse of the search results, in order to decide whether to inspect the search results or initiate a new query straight away.

In summary, cumulative experiment results imply that clustering cannot outperform relevance ranking, and seems to deserve only a secondary role in users’ interaction with IR systems. However, it should also be noted that the experiment results are not representative of the whole set of possible user types and search situations and it may be possible to Identify search situations where clustering can be more beneficial than relevance ranking.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: Z Bibliography. Library Science. Information Resources > ZA Information resources > ZA4050 Electronic information resources
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Media, Culture & Creative Industries > Library & Information Science
School of Communication & Creativity > School of Communication & Creativity Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
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