In the Lion’s Den

  • Posted August 10th, 2006 at 5:20 pm by Yahoo! Search
  • Categories: Interviews

Today we?re pleased to bring you a post by Jan Pedersen, Chief Scientist for Yahoo!?s Search and Marketplace. Jan began his career at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) where he managed a research program on information access technologies, and then went on to work with Verity, Infoseek, and Alta Vista, purchased by Overture.

Today, Jan is a very familiar sight around our campus, often in the company of the search industry?s leading minds ? folks that work at Yahoo!, like Andrei Broder, as well as many others from IBM, Google, Microsoft, and major academic institutions here and abroad. The role these scientists play in advancing the search industry and raising the game for all of us cannot be underestimated. Jan is also on the board for the Association for Computing Machinery special interest group for information retrieval, SIGIR.


The 29th annual meeting of the SIGIR is currently taking place among the picturesque buildings of the University of Washington in Seattle. Though last year’s was in Brazil, this year?s conference is very well attended indeed; more than 700 hundred academics, industry scientists and other search aficionados have gathered together to hear the thoughts of the very select 20% of submitters who cleared the tough referee bar this year. The winning papers range in topic from web search (of special interest to us, although fairly new to this audience) to papers addressing the backbone issues in machine learning, efficiency and system evaluation.

My current favorite, which also happened to win the best paper award at the conference banquet last night (here are some photos), describes how through clever sampling techniques one can dramatically reduce the editorial cost of a comparative search engine evaluation. Another interesting paper by the folks at Microsoft describes how they might incorporate user click behavior and other feedback into their search engine ranking.

Speaking of Microsoft, their presence at the conference is large and impressive, not only because of the conference?s proximity to the Redmond campus this year, but also because the various Microsoft research groups are hogging the limelight with twelve papers, around 17% of the total program, an unprecedented showing. Yahoo! is presenting three papers (all of extraordinary quality…) and Google is presenting two. But to twist the lion?s tail, too bad search share isn?t in the same order ;-)

Mixing with colleagues I haven?t seen for years is of course a key dimension of these events. Would you believe it ? we search scientists know how to party! The conference banquet was quite an event, a luau-like salmon dinner with the required (but thankfully brief) display of dance performace, and the ferry ride across Puget Sound in the evening with the Seattle skyline laid out before us was extraordinarily beautiful. Of course the Yahoo! reception Tuesday night at the Science Fiction History Museum set exactly the right tone — Yahootini?s were had by all.

Jan Pedersen
Chief Scientist, Search and Marketplace

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