Marti Hearst’s Book on Search User Interfaces

June 22, 2009
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Those of you who know Marti Hearst or follow her work may have heard that she’s been writing a book on Search User Interfaces to follow up on her chapter in Ricardo Baeza-Yates and Berthier Ribiero-Neto’s textbook on Modern Information Retrieval. Well, the wait is over: her book will be available later this week! Moreover, it will be available (and searchable!) for free online.

In the mean time, I’ve had a chance to preview the text, and I’m impressed. She introduces the book by saying:

Many books on information retrieval describe the algorithms behind search engines and information retrieval systems. By contrast, this book focuses on the human users of search systems and the tool they use to interact with them: the search  user interface. Because of their global reach, search user interfaces must be understandable by and appealing to a wide variety of people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds, and for an enormous variety of information needs.

She then proceeds to elaborate on the design and evaluation of search interfaces. Not surprisingly, she reserves whole chapters for query reformulation and for integrating navigation and search – she is, after all, one of the

Those of you who know Marti Hearst or follow her work may have heard that she’s been writing a book on Search User Interfaces to follow up on her chapter in Ricardo Baeza-Yates and Berthier Ribiero-Neto’s textbook on Modern Information Retrieval. Well, the wait is over: her book will be available later this week! Moreover, it will be available (and searchable!) for free online.

In the mean time, I’ve had a chance to preview the text, and I’m impressed. She introduces the book by saying:

Many books on information retrieval describe the algorithms behind search engines and information retrieval systems. By contrast, this book focuses on the human users of search systems and the tool they use to interact with them: the search  user interface. Because of their global reach, search user interfaces must be understandable by and appealing to a wide variety of people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds, and for an enormous variety of information needs.

She then proceeds to elaborate on the design and evaluation of search interfaces. Not surprisingly, she reserves whole chapters for query reformulation and for integrating navigation and search – she is, after all, one of the pioneers of faceted search and one of the leading HCIR researchers. She also includes a chapter on theoretical models of the information seeking process – a nice review that includes the highlights from the decades of library and information science work on this topic.

Of course, the wide scope of the book requires some trade-offs. Each chapter is surely worthy of a book in its own right. But where breadth has to take precedence over depth, she makes up for it by citing hundreds of references so that readers can follow up to their hearts’ content. Also, the focus is academic, so most of the references are to academic rather than commercial work – though she does sneak in a reference to WebMD as an example of faceted search. That said, it’s great to see so much of the academic work on search interfaces brought together in one place. Some may find her thorough bibliography to be almost as useful as the book itself!

All in all, this is an excellent book, and I’m sure it will find its way into many course syllabi. The book is aimed primarily at academic audiences – in fact, she points out that, while there are some books for practicitioners (e.g., Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld’s Information Architecture for the World Wide Web), there have been no academic books that focus primarily on search user interfaces (the closest, in her view, have been books about theoretical models of information seeking behavior). Hopefully, this new book will incite more academic interest in this area. For those of us who would like to advance beyond the status quo of search interfaces, this book is a welcome contribution.

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