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).

2 thoughts on “The background story of IR, IS, and CIS

  1. You didn’t approve my previous comment, so you probably won’t approve this one. But take a look at this article by Gary M. on Exploratory Search, from 2006 (which predates 2007, 2008, obviously):

    See Figure 1, and all the things that exploratory search encompasses. Exploratory search about learning and investigating, comprehension, analysis, and discovery, among other things.

    You write: “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”

    No. If I am doing exploratory search, at least according to Marchionini, then I am doing learning, investigating, comprehension, analysis, discovery. Tell me, what is analysis, if not the alteration of the user’s mental state so as to clearly see different patterns and relationships that the user was not able to see before the analysis took place? Tell me, what is discovery, if not the resolution of uncertainty into certainty, of anomalous states of knowledge into a clear vision? (Think about an inventor coming up with the magic formula… discovery isn’t just looking up an existing formula. Discovery is finally figuring out, on a cognitive level, how everything works, so as to be able to clearly express it.) And tell me, what is comprehension, if not the alteration of a user’s cognitive state, a change in the users ability to grasp the nature, significance, or meaning of something?

    You say “seeking” is deeper, and that one doesn’t always “search” for the answer to the meaning of life. That’s true, if you define “search” as the first box in Figure 1, which is fact retrieval, navigation, etc. But that’s not how exploratory search is defined. Exploratory search is defined under the “learn” and “investigate” clouds. When one is seeking the meaning of life, does one just sit there and let it arrive, with no effort? Or does one engage in discovery, comprehension, investigation, learning and analysis?

    In short, an exploratory searcher is one who isn’t just looking up factoids. An exploratory searcher is one who is engaged in an activity in which his or her cognitive state is being changed.. through comprehension, analysis, etc.

    So another way of writing “exploratory search” is not just as an interface with a fancier set of widgets, or searches that go beyond just keywords, or searches in which the user types in two queries rather than one. No, an exploratory search is:

    - information discovery
    - information comprehension
    - information analysis
    - information investigation
    - information learning

    You don’t think an exploratory searcher who is doing information discovery, comprehension, et al is starting from a state of uncertainty?

    If you still see “information seeking” as something that is fundamentally different from all those activities, then I cannot change your mind. But I have to speak up in defense for exploratory search. It’s not what you say it is.

  2. Other relevant passages from Gary’s paper:

    “Figure 1 depicts three kinds of search activities that
    we label lookup, learn, and investigate; and highlights
    exploratory search as especially pertinent to the learn
    and investigate activities. These activities are represented as overlapping clouds because people may
    engage in multiple kinds of search in parallel, and
    some activities may be embedded in others; for example, lookup activities are often embedded in learn or investigate activities”

    This sounds very similar to what you are saying about IR being “embedded” in information seeking, which strongly argues to me that you are calling “information retrieval” and “search” the same thing.. which then strongly suggests that “information seeking” and “exploratory search” are the same thing, especially given all the other evidence around discovering, comprehending, learning, etc.

    Gary also writes (emphasis mine):

    “Learning searches involve multiple iterations and return sets of objects that require cognitive processing and interpretation. These objects may be instantiated in various media (graphs, or maps, texts, videos) and often require the information seeker to spend time scanning/viewing, comparing, and making qualitative judgments. Note that “learning” here is used in its general sense of developing new knowledge and thus includes self-directed
    life-long learning and professional learning as well as
    the usual directed learning in schools.
    Using terminology from Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, searches that support learning aim to achieve: knowledge acquisition, comprehension of concepts or skills, interpretation of ideas, and comparisons or aggregations of data and concepts

    Again, that sounds like more than just fancier non-keyword searches. See phrases like “require cognitive processing” (which definitely changes your cognitive state, non?) and “developing new knowledge” and “life-long learning”. Learning search, which is a kind of Exploratory search, is (according to Marchionini) about comprehension of concepts and interpretation of ideas. Not just fancier interfaces.

    I ask you: If that is not a change in cognitive state, then what is?

    So again, how is exploratory search different from information seeking? If you still think that there is a difference, there has got to me more than just the bit about cognitive states. Exploratory search already has that.