Thursday, June 09, 2005

Yahoo! with a research MindSet

Yahoo! is testing a new search interface called MindSet ( By scoring websites (via a machine algorithm) into commercial and non-commercial categories, MindSet allows you to choose between selling-oriented "Shopping" and information-oriented "Research" results, depending on the intent of your search. A slider bar controls the focus.

I did a search for autism and teaching strategies. The slider is in the center, and the first result is an ad for a book, the second a FindArticles record for a research article from the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. Many of the first page of results are for the first book (including a "Find in a Library" result from WorldCat. Yay!)

When I move the slider all the way to the Research side, the results change. I get studies from university websites, bibliographies and articles from school and teacher organization sites, and a page from the Center for the Study of Autism. Unfortunately, the WorldCat result has disappeared from the first page. The WorldCat result is #64 (and the FindArticles article is #55). This will be my first comment to them!

As the FAQ explains, this is a demo project using the classification techniques with which they are experimenting. This started with a "seed set" of pages classified by humans, and the computers take it from there. There is probably a lot of tweaking going on, so if you try the same search you may not see the same results next week, or even later this afternoon.

I like the way this is going. Vivissimo and Clusty results clusters, Mindset's "search intent", Google's Personalized Search, these are all working to make searching work the way people think--I don't necessarily want to search the same way when I'm looking for a product to buy and writing a paper. For instance, I don't need to know every parent's complaints about the way their child's autism is handled by their school (unless that is the exact subject of my research, of course). But if I'm considering buying a new microwave, reading lots of individual complaints gives me a series of questions to ask the salesperson. ("I've seen 20 complaints that this model explodes if you set the timer for more than 15 minutes. Has the manufacturer fixed this?") I'd also like to see lots of advertising, to check the price range. When I'm looking for scholarly opinions about autism, I don't need to see 15 ads for the same book. I like the clustering and intent options better than Google's profile, however. I want to be able to change the "personalization" on the fly related to the search I'm doing right now.

If you have the chance, it's worth trying a search or two while you're doing your Internet research. You may find useful stuff a little bit easier, and you'll get a taste of the future.

Other discussions of Yahoo! Mindset and search personalization:
SearchEngineWatch: Yahoo Mindset Demo Allows "Intent Driven" Search Refinement
ResearchBuzz: Slider Searches, Yahoo Style
Geeking with Greg: Yahoo MindSet from Yahoo Research
Yahoo!Next: Yahoo!Mindset forum

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