The background story of IR, IS, and CIS

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of my dissertation: A Framework to Support User-Centered Collaborative Information Seeking. While it was published in 2010, this part (introduction) was written long before (late 2007 or early 2008).

“Since the focus here is on exploring such processes in the information seeking domain, it is important to lay out this understanding of collaborative information seeking (CIS) in the context of collaboration and information seeking. Such a depiction is given in Figure 1.1. As shown in this scheme, for the purpose of this dissertation, information retrieval (IR) is seen as a subset of information seeking (IS). While IR typically assumes that there exists some information that could satisfy the given information need, IS does not have such an assumption.

On the other hand, a typical collaboration includes several parts, some of which may be related to information seeking. Thus, in this dissertation, CIS process is seen as a part of a larger context of collaboration. In addition, this CIS is seen as a user-driven (intentional), interactive, and mutually beneficial process.

Keeping in mind this refined definition of CIS, the next chapter will review related domains, such as collaboration, information seeking, information filtering, user and system interaction, and social networking.”

And here’s something from chapter-2 (p.29-30), once again, written in 2008 while doing my literature review.

“Marchionini (1995) defines information seeking as a process in which humans purposefully engage to change their state of knowledge. This process of information seeking goes beyond simply retrieving information; it is usually associated with higher level cognitive processes such as learning and problem solving (Marchionini, 1989). Dervin and Nilan (1986) presented a view of information seeking that emphasized communication and the needs, characteristics, and actions of the information seeker rather than mere representation, storage, and retrieval of information.”

In summary, I have always (or since late 2007) viewed information seeking as something that’s not just information searching. Exploratory search is often perceived as information seeking, but I see it more as a subarea within the broader “search” field, as in some searches are exploratory and some are not. I can also see it as a connecting concept between “traditional search” (keywords, rank-list, single session), and broader “information seeking”. To me, what makes information seeking special is the state of uncertainty in the seeker (see Belkin or Kuhlthau). Seeking may involve searching. I seek the meaning of life, but I don’t really search for it! I don’t even know how to search or the kind of questions to ask for meaningful answer. Neither do I know if there is an answer for it.

Exploratory search focuses on the process of search that is more complex than just forming a keyword-base query and retrieving results, whereas information seeking focuses on the cognitive states that one goes through in the process, starting with the anomalous state of knowledge (Belkin) or noumenal cloud (Marchionini).

Seeking is not just searching

I think it’s about time we stop using “seeking” and “searching” interchangeably. This is especially relevant to those working in information retrieval/seeking/behavior fields, and even to those in HCI. But the main reason I’m posting this topic here is to bring attention to those studying collaboration in search and related processes. Let me be very clear. The following phrases are NOT all same: “collaborative search”, “collaborative information retrieval”, “collaborative information seeking”, “collaborative exploratory search”.

I believe information seeking is a part of information behavior, and information retrieval is a part of information seeking. Information retrieval (IR) assumes that there is some information that is out there for the given information need (one may not able to retrieve it, or it may not exist in reality), whereas information seeking doesn’t make that assumption. Personally, I use collaborative information seeking (CIS). See the following publications:

  • Shah, C., and Gonzalez-Ibanez, R. (2011). Evaluating the Synergic Effect of Collaboration in Information Seeking. In Proceedings of ACM SIGIR 2011. Beijing, China. July 24-28, 2011. [PDF]
  • Gonzalez-Ibanez, R., Shah, C., & Cardova, N. R. (2011). Smile! Studying Expressivity of Happiness as a Synergic Factor in Collaborative Information Seeking. Proceedings of American Society of Information Science & Technology (ASIST) Annual Meeting. New Orleans, Lousiana.
  • Shah, C (2010). Collaborative Information Seeking: A Literature Review, in Anne Woodsworth (ed.) Advances in Librarianship (Advances in Librarianship, Volume 32), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.3-33. [DOI]
  • Shah, C, and Marchionini, Gary (2010). Awareness in Collaborative Information Seeking. Journal of American Society of Information Science and Technology (JASIST) 61(10), 1970-1986.
  • Shah, C (2010). Working in Collaboration – What, Why, and How? Proceedings of Collaborative Information Retrieval workshop at CSCW 2010. Savannah, GA: February 7, 2010.
  • Shah, C. Lessons and Challenges for Collaborative Information Seeking (CIS) Systems Developers. In the Proceedings of Collaborative Information Behavior Workshop at GROUP 2009. May 10, 2009. Sanibel Island, Florida. [PDF]
  • Shah, C (2010). Coagmento – A Collaborative Information Seeking, Synthesis and Sense-Making Framework. Integrated demo at CSCW 2010. Savannah, GA: February 6-10, 2010.
  • Shah, C, Marchionini, Gary, and Kelly, Diane. Learning Design Principles for a Collaborative Information Seeking System. In the Proceedings of CHI 2009. April 4-9, 2009. Boston, MA. [PDF]
  • Shah, C. Understanding System Implementation and User Behavior in a Collaborative Information Seeking Environment. In Bulletin of IEEE Technical Committee on Digital Libraries, 4(2), Fall 2008. [Online]

And, of course, there’s my PhD dissertation – “A Framework to Support User-Centered Collaborative Information Seeking” [PDF].

And so here’s a request to those using CIR, CIS, collaborative search, etc. interchangeably – please reconsider.