Perspectives on learning at Search Meetup Cambridge

Last night was the second Cambridge search meetup, held in a (rather noisy as it turned out) pub close to the river. It was great to see so many new faces from a wide range of backgrounds including bioinformatics, rare books and academic publishing.

First of the talks was from Tyler Tate of TwigKit, who described the typical search process as a ‘funnel’, narrowing the available options to an eventual conclusion. He told us how the original definition of search removed the user from the picture, and how to improve things we should make it easy to organise, annotate and compare search results to allow both the user and the system itself to learn. His slides are available here.

After a short break we heard from Mike Taylor of Microsoft Research who led us through the history of ranking models, from the classic BM25, through ‘black box’ systems using machine learning methods including gradient descent and neural networks. He mentioned LambdaRank which was unfamiliar to most of us (some papers by Burges et al are available on the Microsoft site). Interestingly it seems that the focus at Microsoft has shifted back to probabilistic models and Mike showed examples including a system for predicting ‘real’ clicks on online adverts (as opposed to automatic clicks by web robots).

Thanks to our speakers and everyone who came and we hope to continue what is proving to be a popular series of events. Next is a gathering of those involved in open source search on Tuesday 3rd May – hope to see some of you there.

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