Just finished reading Daniel Tunkelang’s recently published book on Faceted Search. I read Daniel’s blog (“The Noisy Channel“) regularly, and enjoy his good mix of IR practice with emphasis on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). With faceted search tasks on the roadmap at work, I wanted to better educate myself on the topic, and this one looked like a good read, with the cover promising:
“… a self-contained treatment of the topic, with an extensive bibliography for those who would like to pursue particular aspects in more depth”
With 70 pages, the book reads quickly and smoothly. Daniel provides a fascinating intro to faceted search, from early taxonomies, to facets, to faceted navigation and on to faceted search. He adds an introductory chapter on IR, which is a worthwhile read even for IR professionals with some interesting insights. One is how ranked retrieval that we all grew so accustomed of, blurred the once clear border of relevant vs. non-relevant that set retrieval enforced. Daniel suggests that this issue is significant for faceted search, being a set-retrieval oriented task, and a pingback on his blog led me to a fascinating elaboration on this pain in another fine search blog (recommended read!).
With such elaborate introductory chapters and more on faceted search history, not much is left though for the actual chapters on research and practice, and as a reader I felt there could be a lot more there. But then, it is reasonable to leave a lot to the reader and just give a taste of the challenges, to be later explored by the curious reader from the bibliography.
However, that promise for extensive bibliography somewhat disappointed me… With 119 references, and only about a quarter being academic publications from the past 5 years, I felt a bit back to square one. I was hoping for more of a literature survey and pointers when discussing the techniques for those tough issues, such as how to choose the most informational facets for a given query or how to extract facets from unstructured fields. Daniel provide some useful tips on those, but reading more on these topics will require doing my own literature scan.
In any case, for a newcomer with little background in search in general and faceted in particular, this book is an excellent introduction. Those more versed with classic IR moving into faceted search, will find the book an interesting read but probably not sufficient as a full reference.