Yahoo! Scientists Explore the “Three Dimensions of Search”

  • Posted February 25th, 2011 at 6:40 am by Yahoo! Search
  • Categories: Research, Search

Ever wondered if searches for topics such as “stock quotes” are made mostly by people from a high income bracket? Or whether it’s only young people who search for “miley cyrus”? Web search engines serve millions of people worldwide – yet, we know very little about who is searching for what, and how they are searching.  In a study, recently presented at the WSDM conference in Hong Kong, two Yahoo! research scientists paint a detailed picture of the data behind web search. 

Their study addresses the three dimensions of search: “who” is searching, “what” they are searching for, and “how” they are choosing to search. 

  • The “who” dimension uses demographic properties, such as gender, age, income and education level to obtain anonymous, aggregate estimates, based on user-provided registration data, and by crossing user-provided zip codes with census data.  
  •  For the “what” people are searching for, queries are mapped to Yahoo! directory topics and for each user a distribution across the various topics, such as Recreation/Sports or Entertainment/Music is obtained.  
  • Features such as session length or number of queries per session are considered to give insights into “how” people use web search engines.

One key problem that is addressed in the research is that results in current search engines are typically optimized on a per-query basis, without taking into consideration who issued the query. So, in a sense, web search engines attempt to know everything about queries while knowing only very little about users. The analysis is only two dimensional. Looking at how the three dimensions (who, what, how) interact therefore becomes a focal part of this study.

The insights presented in the study are interesting from a sociological point of view and, ultimately help Yahoo! deliver more relevant, personalized content to its users.

Some of the aggregate data used in the study is accessible via Yahoo! Clues

To view the full study by Yahoo! scientists Alejandro Jaimes and Ingmar Weber and, please click here.

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