Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Blog in Review

I started the Slow Searching blog on March 20, 2013, and have completed 21 posts (including this one) in the intervening nine months. The topics I post about break down roughly into thirds, with one third covering my research (e.g., question asking, slow search), another third covering activities surrounding research (e.g., paper writing, conference travel), and the last third covering personal topics (e.g., Griffin’s book, walking 100 miles).

The most popular Slow Searching posts of the year were:
Overall, the blog was seen almost 20,000 times and received 35 comments. I love it when people post comments -- it’s nice to know I’m not writing into a void. The most popular queries used to find the blog are twitter search, the marakon ways, and slow searching.

New Year’s Resolution: Once a month I will write a post summarizing an interesting research paper that I’ve read.

2013 Research in Review

This post summarizes the research I published in 2013. The work divides roughly into three components covering: 1) the role of time in search, 2) the use of human computation in search, and 3) computer mediated communication.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Walking to Great Wolf

My children's favorite places on earth is Great Wolf. Why? Because they can literally climb the walls there. They run around playing MagiQuest, going down water slides, playing at the arcade, and singing along with animatronic trees. Several of them already have plans to move to Grand Mound when they grow up.

The closest Great Wolf is located in Grand Mound, WA, an 86 mile drive from our house. It takes us about an hour and a half to drive there from Bellevue, barring traffic. But this summer, my 7 year old and I plan to take a week to walk the entire distance, and learn just how far away Great Wolf really is.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Questions about Me

Now you, too, can answer standardized test questions about me. In April I shared some of the funny tweets that bored Texas teenagers posted after being forced to answer reading comprehension questions about me on a standardized test (called STAAR). Turns out that test has been released! [Full text of the test.]

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Formula for Academic Papers: Title and Abstract

There are many ways that people will use the papers you write. Only a few will pick up your paper and read it straight through, from start to finish. More often, your readers will approach the paper with a focus on the specific component that will aide their research. Somebody running a similar study to yours, for example, may want to borrow your methodology or build on a particular finding you present. A person doing a literature search may want to place your paper in the context of other research or use it as a source of additional papers to read. Even those who do end up reading your paper straight through will probably start by scanning the conclusion, figures, and references to decide if the paper is worth the effort. In each of these cases, however, your reader will also read the title and abstract to develop the necessary context. You want to be sure that these form a clear and complete view your work.

A Formula for Academic Papers

Academic writing often follows a formula, and for good reason. Formulaic components are time-tested, and matching structural expectations makes it easy for the reader to focus on content. As you develop your own way of presenting your research to an academic audience, you should build on the common formula in your area. The best way to learn this formula is to read a lot and study the successful elements of well-presented papers. Over the next few weeks I will share the basic formula that I use as a starting point for my papers in human-computer interaction and information retrieval, in case it is useful to you.

Common components:

This series of posts is based on a presentation I gave with Holly Rushmeier on Publishing Your Research at Grace Hopper Conference 2013.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Case for Slow Search

As discussed in a previous post, Web searchers expect search engines to return results instantaneously. To meet these expectations, search engines make many compromises to shave milliseconds off their response time. But it is ironic that a few milliseconds matter so much when over half of our interactions with a search engine involve multiple queries and take minutes or even hours. Just think, for example, of the last time you planned a vacation or researched a potential medical diagnosis. For these tasks, the quality of the experience – and not speed – is what matters.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Search Engines' Quest for Speed

I remember seeing the World Wide Web for the first time in 1994. I had just started college, and was in a dungeon of a computer lab with a friend of mine (who I happened to marry seven years later). He pulled up Lynx, an early text-based browser, and showed me a page of text that physically resided on a remote computer. We could visit the URLs that he knew, read the text available, and tab between the underlined words to navigate to other pages of text – but that was it. The whole experience was all together underwhelming. It wasn’t until I discovered search engines that the Web really seemed to come alive. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Surprise Success

This is an update to my earlier posts about my eight year old son’s experience writing a 64-page fantasy novel titled The Marakon Ways. We self-published the book as an easy way to share it with friends and family. I guessed we might possibly sell up to 100 copies, but to all of our surprise we have already sold more than twice that! And the book only just became available via Amazon today.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How to Ask Effective Questions

We all ask questions of our social networks. For example, the other day I posted a question to Twitter looking for a hotel recommendation in Dublin for SIGIR 2013. When we ask questions, sometimes we get good answers, and sometimes we get bad answers. But the quality of the answers we get isn't completely random – it is something we, as question askers, can control. This post describes some of the tricks we have learned about how to ask effective questions online from our research.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Making the Marakon Ways

My 8 year old son, Griffin, just published a fantasy novel called The Marakon Ways. I helped him with the publishing, but not the writing. In fact, he didn’t even tell me that he was writing a book until he was a few chapters in! According to his teacher, Matt, at the start of the school year Griffin decided he would write a book and asked for help typing it up. Over the next four months, Griffin dictated his story, watching over his teacher's shoulder to make sure everything came out just the way he wanted it to, and learning a lot about patience and politeness. 

The Marakon Ways

I am very proud of my 8 year old son, Griffin! Over the past seven months he wrote an 8 chapter, 60 page fantasy novel that tells a "clever and engrossing story." From the book's back cover:
Lily and Daniel don't realize, when they first see a wolf in the kangaroo pen at the zoo, that they are about to embark on an amazing adventure. But after the wolf disappears into thin air, the two children quickly discover that things in the real world don't always happen the way that grownups tell them they should. Lily and Daniel become trapped in a vortex that transports them to an unknown world called Wolf Land. There they learn that they must save a strange breed of wolf-people and an entire way of life from Arclos and his five evil sons using an ancient martial art called the Marakon Ways. Written by eight year old Griffin Hehmeyer and illustrated by his classmates, The Marakon Ways is an entertaining fantasy story that appeals directly to the child in all of us.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Child-Friendly Conferences

I feel lucky to be part of an awesome, inclusive community that is flexible and thoughtful about how to help people with different constraints participate and contribute. Everyone wants great researchers to produce great work, so we try to remove the obstacles that get in the way. Following Friday’s post with advice for traveling to conferences with children, several conference organizers have expressed interest in how they might help make it easier for parents to attend. What follows is a list of ideas for supporting parents at conferences, compiled with the help of colleagues*:

Friday, May 3, 2013

Attending a Conference with a Baby

I was just in Paris, attending CHI 2013, and felt a little homesick because none of my children were with me. For over six years, while I was pregnant and nursing, at least one of my four boys came with me to every conference I attended. Griffin, for example, traveled one hundred thousand miles in his first year of life. Below are some things that I found made attending a conference alone with a baby a little easier for me.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

My Four Boys

These are my four little boys, ages 4, 6, 6, and 8. I was in graduate school when I gave birth to our first, the one with the gold bow tie. My husband and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Nobody we knew at the time had children – or was even married. When the nurse first handed Alex our baby, he looked confused and asked, “Can I sit down first so I don’t drop him?”

Friday, April 12, 2013

I Know You Know I’m Busy

Imagine that you are busy. Now imagine that the phone rings. It seems reasonable to assume that you would be less likely to answer the call at that point than if you were available. Phone calls, like any type of communication, are established via a negotiation between the initiator of the communication and the recipient.  The person placing the call chooses when to place it, and the person receiving the call chooses whether to answer it. One way a busy person can partake in the negotiation is to ignore incoming calls. Surprisingly, however, it turns out that people are actually more likely to answer the phone when busy!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Social networking sites are not just places to maintain relationships. They are also valuable information sources. Previous posts (Online QuestionAsking, Asking v. Searching) have discussed how people find information using social networks by asking questions. This post explores the other way people find information using social media: by searching preexisting social media content.  For example, if someone wanted to read a lot of snarky comments about the use of CamelCase in hashtags, they might go to Twitter and search for "#nowthatchersdead."

Friday, April 5, 2013

Standardized Fame

Just over two years ago I received a request from Pearson and the TexasEducation Agency for permission to use a photograph of mine for an End-of-Course English II Assessment for high school students in Texas. Yesterday, it seems, Texas gave a STAAR test where test takers were asked to read a Technology Review article about me, answer a few questions, and write a short essay. I know this because yesterday evening I suddenly became very popular on Twitter among the Texas teenage crowd.

My first clue was some tweets that I initially took for spam:

Monday, April 1, 2013

Asking v. Searching

Most of the time when we want to know something, we don't turn to a search engine – we ask somebody a question. While we used to have to know the right person to ask, we can now use Facebook or Twitter to broadcast our questions to our entire social network. The kinds of questions that we ask our social networks are very similar to what we search for using search engines, except that we tend to keep our questions "cocktail party-appropriate." Not surprisingly, we are more likely to search about health, religion, sex, and politics than to ask questions on those topics. For example, although adult queries make up a sizable portion of search engine queries, my colleagues and I have yet to see a single question asking about porn in the course of our research.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Online Question Asking

 I do information retrieval research, which means that I try to figure out how people use search engines, and use what I learn from that to build better search algorithms. My goal is to take the short, one or two word query that you enter into a search box and use it to identify a few relevant results from among the billions of documents that make up the web. Something happened a few years ago, however, to change the way that I think about search.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Walking in Place

After coveting a treadmill desk for months, I finally set one up for myself at the office. In fact, I'm walking (quite slowly) right now as I type.