A user evaluation of hierarchical phrase browsing

Edgar, K. D., Nichols, D. M., Paynter, G. W., Thomson, K., Witten, I. H. (2003) T. Koch and I. T. Sølvberg (eds), Proc Seventh European Conference on Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries (ECDL’03), LNCS 2769, Trondheim, Norway, 313-324. Springer Verlag, Berlin.

Phrase browsing interfaces based on hierarchies of phrases extracted automatically from document collections offer a useful compromise between automatic full-text searching and manually-created subject indexes. The literature contains descriptions of such systems that many find compelling and persuasive. However, evaluation studies have either been anecdotal, or focused on objective measures of the quality of automatically-extracted index terms, or restricted to questions of computational efficiency and feasibility. This paper reports on an empirical, controlled user study that compares hierarchical phrase browsing with full-text searching over a range of information seeking tasks. Users found the results located via phrase browsing to be relevant and useful but preferred keyword searching for certain types of queries. Users’ experiences were marred by interface details, including inconsistencies between the phrase browser and the surrounding digital library interface.