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Web-search experts flock to Dublin for conference

Decision to hold global event here shows growing recognition of Ireland’s leadership in the field

More than 500 web-search and internet-search experts from around the world will gather in Dublin this week for the ACM SIGIR 2013 conference which will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first web search engine. The conference is the premier international forum for the presentation of the latest research results and the demonstration of new systems and techniques in the field of information-retrieval and web search. The decision to hold it in Dublin demonstrates growing international recognition of Ireland’s leadership position in this field.

The conference begins today with sessions in the Mansion House and TCD and continues until Thursday, August 1st. It is being hosted by the Science Foundation Ireland-funded CNGL – the Centre for Global Intelligent Content CNGL consortium which is co-hosted at Trinity College Dublin and Dublin City University. The €58 million research centre focuses on on adapting digital content to the needs and preferences of global users, including the delivery of personalised information-retrieval across a range of platforms, media types and languages.

The centre is engaged in tackling the challenges presented by the explosion of content available to internet users. Content has become overwhelming. By the end of 2012 it was estimated there were 634 million active websites containing more than 20 billion pages on the web with some 144 billion emails being sent every day. And it continues to grow at an almost unimaginable rate. There are 695,000 Facebook status updates every minute, more than 175 million tweets sent every day; and more than 60 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute.

The problem for users is how to find the information they are looking for amid this mass of data. Traditional approaches have been to develop applications for particular mediums or content type. However, the volume of content generated, the accuracy of audience targeting for that content and the means of accessing the content via different media types such as text, video, graphics and speech, and the devices used is changing continuously.


'Vast amounts of data'
"Search and information-retrieval has become a ubiquitous part of the lives of millions of people across the world – helping us to locate and retrieve information from websites, library databases, product and service catalogues, social media, and many other information sources," explains CNGL associate director and SIGIR 2013 general co-chair Dr Páraic Sheridan.

“As the volume of information on the web continues to grow so too does the importance and complexity of search engines designed to sift through the vast amounts of data and find pertinent results that the user seeks – typically in a fraction of a second.”

Not only do search engines have to search through vast amounts of text, they must also be able to retrieve the answers to users’ queries from images, videos, podcasts and other multimedia files, Dr Sheridan adds.

“They must also contend with multiple modes of search and delivery, such as speech, audio and mobile. Modern search engines are more sophisticated, faster and more accurate than ever before. Information-retrieval is now a multi-billion euro industry, and thousands of researchers around the world dedicate their time to constantly enhancing search engines so that we can find the information that we want, when and how we want it.”

CNGL is at the leading edge of this research through its pioneering work on a new concept known as global intelligent content, which will enable digital content to be more discoverable and adaptable. It works by embedding new levels of knowledge and intelligence into content that will enable retrieval and search services to automatically process and transform that content in a more consistent way for particular users.

"CNGL's research underpins a future vision for information search and discovery in an increasingly connected and mobile world," says Dr Sheridan. "Our hosting of ACM SIGIR 2013 in Dublin is a great showcase for the research and innovation happening here in Ireland through the collaboration of academics and industry. It provides an opportunity for us to highlight our leadership in areas such as digital content, platforms and applications through centres such as CNGL, as well as with the many companies with a strong information-retrieval base in Ireland including Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, LinkedIn, IBM, AOL, Facebook and Twitter. "

SIGIR 2013 is bringing together pioneers of search-engine technology including Jonathon Fletcher, creator of Jump Station, which is widely considered to be the world's first web search engine. Fletcher joins today's opening panel in the Mansion House to discuss 20 years of web search and look back over the history of information-retrieval research.

Tomorrow, John R Smith of the IBM Watson Research Centre will deliver the conference keynote address on "Riding the Multimedia Big Data Wave" in the Mansion House. Today, multimedia content makes up 60 per cent of internet traffic and 70 per cent of mobile-phone traffic and is increasingly becoming a valuable source for insights and information. The keynote talk will address why multimedia content requires highly sophisticated algorithms for content analysis and is spurring on tremendous amounts of research and development of techniques to enable effective multimedia information extraction and retrieval.

The main focus switches to the TCD Exam Hall on Wednesday where the emphasis is firmly on industry. This track promises an exciting and varied programme of talks delivered by leading practitioners in information-retrieval, including senior staff from Yahoo, LinkedIn, IBM, and Microsoft. The keynote speakers are Stefan Weitz, senior director with Bing Search and Yahoo! Research vice-president Ricardo Baeza-Yates. The conference concludes on Thursday with a series of tutorials in the TCD Arts Block.

For further information on the SIGIR 2013 conference go to sigir2013.ie.