A Chat with Yahoo! Research Director Ricardo Baeza-Yates

  • Posted October 16th, 2006 at 10:38 pm by Yahoo! Search
  • Categories: Interviews

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Ricardo Baeza-Yates is the Director of the Yahoo! Research Labs in Barcelona, Spain and Santiago, Chile. Prior to joining Yahoo! Research, Ricardo was the Director of the Center for Web Research at the Department of Computer Science of the University of Chile; and ICREA Professor at the Department of Technology of the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. He maintains ties with both universities as a part-time professor, leveraging his affiliations with both to collaborate on joint research. We sat down with Ricardo to discuss his role in starting Yahoo! Research Labs in Spain and Chile and his thoughts on today?s web search.

On Joining Yahoo!
Q. What is the most exciting part of expanding research offices in new regions for Yahoo!?
A. There are a couple of things that have made my role at Yahoo! especially exciting. The first has been to build a lab from scratch ? to start something from nothing. The second part is building the lab with many different people from around the world that want to be a part of creating new ideas. The research being explored in Europe and South America can be very different from that of the U.S. and it?s been impressive to see talent coming from different backgrounds and regions.

Q. How does your affiliation with the Center for Web Research complement your research endeavors at Yahoo!?
A. I founded the Center for Web Research almost five years ago at the University of Chile in Santiago through a large Millennium Program grant from the Chilean Planning Ministry, and served as the first director of the program. I continue to be associated with the Center for Web Research to create a synergistic relationship with Yahoo! Research. Although both centers are completely separate ventures, we collaborate on joint research. A similar symbiosis happens in Barcelona.

Q: What are your top three goals for incorporating web search and web data mining into Yahoo!?s research?
A: Web search and web data mining is successfully practiced already among Yahoo! research experts in the U.S., but I hope to add new knowledge, particularly in the latter field. The main three goals for me are to explore the potential of all web-related information ? to improve current systems, find new ideas for products or services, and discover new ways to analyze information ? for many, many different purposes. Also, to leverage the different backgrounds and expertise here at the Yahoo! Research Center in order to obtain a fresh look, a new perspective and a different angle that will allow us to come up with new breakthroughs around existing problems. And finally, I think utilizing our location as a tie-in to strengthen European search will be important ? for example search in non-English languages.

Q: Looking back over the last 9 months, what has been your most exciting professional challenge?
A: The most exciting and rewarding part of developing the Yahoo! Research Center in Spain and Chile has been establishing the research group and I think we have finished the initial stage. We have various researchers that span across several different countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Chile, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands and U.K. These folks have an excellent research background and ultimately had an interest in participating in our research adventure. I think we have a pretty good mix of people, not only technically, but that also people that bring in a positive attitude and open minds.

On Today?s Web Search
Q: Do you find search usage patterns different in the various parts of the world?
A: In my experience the main usage patterns within search are not really different. The language changes, but the statistics are very similar. The purpose of the search may be a little bit different but currently there are no studies of the categories of search ? i.e. entertainment, e-commerce, etc. Perhaps this is a study we look to do in the future.

I think usage patterns change according to the devices being used ? going from a PC to a mobile device will change the patterns, and this could be influenced by regional locality or different cultural issues.

Q: How is the growth of social media, such as blogs, vlogs and social networks, impacting and challenging web search?
A: Social media implies user generated content – that is, people doing things like tagging content or media, commenting on pictures and text, etc. However, it also could imply other user actions, like clicking on links or asking queries. This contributed explicit and implicit knowledge can be used, for example, to improve search. The collective knowledge of all of these contributors is more then the knowledge of any expert on any topic. It?s the collection that makes up what?s called the wisdom of the crowds. Hence, social media provides the knowledge of many, many people that is encoded and we only have to decode it to be able to utilize the knowledge to strengthen search. So the main challenge is basically how to decode this information to better understand the Web, not as individual users, but as a collective aggregation of all of them.

On Other Things
Q: What Chilean dish should be added to URLs, the Yahoo! cafeteria in Sunnyvale?
A: Ah, two of my three favorite things to talk about ? food and wine. I don?t know if I can narrow it down to one favorite dish. If it?s okay, I?ll tell you a few. My favorites would probably be ceviche in either Peruvian or Chilean style, but don?t put ketchup on it like in North America? it ruins it! I also favor Pastel de Choclo, which is like a meat, chicken and corn baked pie, and of course, Chilean Empanadas ? probably filled with seafood is my favorite.

Q: Napa Valley wine or Chilean wine?
A: That?s an easy answer. Chilean wine, specifically a Carmenere grape, which can only be found in Chile. You get one of the best price/quality ratios in the wine world.

Q: Anything else you?d like to share?
A: Sure – I love old maps and in general geography. I love applied geography – traveling. In my office I have an upside-down map of the world to remind people that there is always another valid point of view, something that a researcher should never forget.

Ricardo will be traveling for invited talks to the Czech Republic in January for the Current Trends in Theory and Practice of Computer Science Conference, off to Istanbul, Turkey in April for the International Conference on Data Engineering, and to Warsaw, Poland in September for the European Conference on Principles and Practice of Knowledge Discovery in Databases. You can also catch him at the World Wide Web Conference (coming to Banff, Canada, in May) and the ACM SIGIR Conference (Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in July).

Thanks, Ricardo!

- Yahoo! Search blog team

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