COS 435, Spring 2012 - Problem Set 2

Due at 1:30pm,  Monday,  February 27,  2012

Collaboration and Reference Policy

You may discuss the general methods of solving the problems with other students in the class. However, each student must work out the details and write up his or her own solution to each problem independently.

Some problems have been used in previous offerings of COS 435. You are NOT allowed to use any solutions posted for previous offerings of COS 435 or any solutions produced by anyone else for the assigned problems.   You may use other reference materials; you must give citations to all reference materials that you use.


Lateness Policy

A late penalty will be applied, unless there are extraordinary circumstances and/or prior arrangements:


This problem is our class experiment with evaluating search engines. We will compare Google, to  Microsoft's Bing.  (You may be interested in comScore's  January 2012 U.S. Search Engine Rankings.  Take special note of the information on "Powered By" Reporting at the bottom of the page. )   This is only meant to be an exercise, so I do not expect we can do a thorough enough job to call the study valid. But it will have the components of a full evaluation and hopefully we will get something interesting.  You may be interested in the equally (more?) unscientific 2011 comparison of Google and Bing by Conrad Saam of Search Engine Land.

Part A:  Choose an information need.  The information need should require gathering information about a subject from several Web sites with good information.  An example of an activity that would provide an appropriate information need is doing a report for a course.   You should choose an information need that that you think is neither too easy nor too difficult for a search engine.  For example, one expects looking for information on the rotovirus to yield essentially 100% relevant pages - too easy;  conversely, looking for information on the history of the LaPaugh family in Europe might (at best) yield one relevant result in 20 - too hard.

Write a description of your information need that can be used to judge whether any given Web search result is relevant or not.  Use the style of the TREC topic specifications, using title, description, and narrative sections. (See the examples of TREC topic specifications in the class presentation on the evaluation of retrieval systems.)  You will be distinguishing between "highly relevant" and "simply relevant", so you may wish to distinguish these in your narrative section, but it is fine to leave the distinction between "highly relevant" and "simply relevant" as a quality judgment.  In either case, you should be demanding in your criteria for  "highly relevant".  Once you have your information need described, write one query that you will use on both search engines to capture the information need.   The query should have the following properties:

Before proceeding to Part B, submit your description of information need and your query to Professor LaPaugh by email for approval.  This is primarily to make sure no two people have the same information need or query.

Part B:
Run your query on each of Google and  Bing.   Run the queries while remaining as anonymous as possible to the search engines: without Bing or Google toolbars active, with the "Suggested Sites" feature of Internet Explorer off, and logged off your Google and Windows live accounts. Consider only the regular search results, not sponsored links. Ignore  “image results”, “video results”,  “news results” and any other special results  - these are not counted as part of the first 10 results on the first results page and may cause the first results page to have less than 10 regular results.   If you are having trouble with several results in languages other than English, you can go to the advanced search and choose English only, but then do this for both of the search engines. (In my trials, I did not get foreign-language results with a regular search, so this may not be an issue.)   Record the first 30 results returned.

Pooling:  To get a pool for hand assessment, take the first 20 results from each search engine.  Remove duplicates, and visit each result to decide relevance.  Score each result as "highly relevant" , "simply relevant" or irrelevant according to your description of Part A.    Record the size of the pool (number of unique results produced by the combined results 1 - 20 of each search engine).  Also record the number of "highly relevant" and "simply relevant" results in the pool.

Scoring:  After constructing the pool, go back and score each of the first 30 results returned by each search engine based on your scoring of the pool.  If a result does not appear in the pool, it receives a score of irrelevant.   If a document appears twice under different URLs in the list for one search engine, count it only for its better ranking for that search engine and delete any additional appearances within the same list. In this case there will be less than 30 distinct results returned by the search engine.  Do not go back to the search engine to get more results.  Keep only what was returned in the first 30, with their original ranks.  For each search engine, calculate the following measures.  For all but discounted cumulative gain (
measure 4), "simply relevant" and "highly relevant" should be lumped together as "relevant". 

  1. The reciprocal rank of the results.
  2. Precision at rank 10.
  3. The discounted cumulative gain at rank 10, DCG(10), using a gain of 0 for irrelevant documents, a gain of 1 for "simply relevant" documents and a gain of 5 for "highly relevant documents".
  4. The average over the precisions at each point that a relevant document appears in the first 20 (yes 20, not 30). We will compute the mean average precision for all the queries.
  5. If all the relevant documents in the pool appear in the first 30 returned results, record the rank at which the last relevant result appears.  This is the point of 100% recall of the relevant documents in the pool.  If some relevant documents are missing in the first 30 returned results, note this and record the recall of the relevant documents in the pool within these 30 results.

The first 4 measures are ways of capturing the quality of the first 20 results, which is about as far as most people look.  The fifth measure gives credit to one search engine for finding relevant documents returned earlier by the other search engine. 

What to hand in for Part B:  Email to Professor LaPaugh and Yiming Liu:

The pool size, number of relevant results in the pool, and the 5 scores will be averaged across the class, so please separate them from the other parts of your email  and report each number on a separate line, clearly labeled as to what it is.

Part C: 
What observations do you make about usability issues  (user friendliness) of each search engine - separate from the quality of results you have been assessing in Part B?  You may email your observations with Part B,  but write them after, and clearly separated from, the Part B results.