Information Scent

Thanks to smart phones( touch screen, in particular) , smaller screen sizes, interactive displays, and growing global users, the visual language of websites is also changing.

There are ( thankfully) not many websites that solely exist on the web domain. In order to maintain consistency across platforms ( web, tablets and mobiles, and soon wearable), companies are now trying to achieve consistency across websites.

On reading the article- Designing for the scent of information, I felt that the article brought out an interesting point of designing webpages keeping content central and not structure. However, other than this, I feel that the article has become outdated. A quick look across popular websites shows a dramatic shift towards more visual elements like icons, buttons, continuous vertical never ending scrolls, etc. The disappearance of blue links and the emergence of buttons instead is attributed to user’s mental models developed from using smart phones/tablets.flipboard

For instance- Screenshot of poplar online magazine website- Clipboard, encourages users to choose information they would like to access from a set of images rather than textual links.udacity

Also, websites like Udacity, are keeping information short, more like a snack for users to sniff, rather than spend longer time, thus ensuring information diversity is present for a user to see at a glance. Use of icons has increasingly substituted texts, giving important visual cues to users of what lies beneath.

In continuation, of  analyzing websites keeping “user-centric content” as central, I also observed Piazza, a website I often use and get confused by the strict structure.Some of my frustrations are-

piazza screenshot

piazza what a problem

Other than the fact that it does not have vertical scroll, Piazza also suffers from blind navigational menu. Adding to that is the many menu buttons, that I seldom use on a daily basis. I have tried to highlight certain activity zones, however, despite visiting the website every single day for the past month, I still end up missing posts, mainly because by default it shows me posts from 1 folder, hiding views from other. Unlike other websites, where a user can afford to run to better pastures, using and starving at Piazza is very frustrating! As a user, one of the main things that I would like from Piazza would be to be able to see an overview of all my classes, so that I can organize my work better, without missing on posts and updates in each class. Thus, I drew some quick sketches, keeping in mind the concepts of ‘information scent’.

piazza brainstorming

Scratch Pad

Scratch Pad

These are rough concept sketches loosely inspired from the article of ‘Information Scent’ making Piazza more content orientated for user ( student), such that they can take better control of their class material.

Pa and Me_Google has the ability to manipulate us, is it true?

Hi! My name is Jaskeerat, though I am a design professional with subsequent work experience in the design field, I am taking baby steps in ‘Information Technology’ .  For this discussion, my father joined me this time! He followed the Indian elections keenly this time, and is a moderately staunch supporter of Modi. Thus, this article is dedicated to you papa! pa & me_google manipulations

As a part of continued reading assignment, this time, we read the article by Epstein, R, titled “How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election. Politico Magazine, accessed Aug 25, 2015 at

The author states that powerful search engines, in particular Google, have the ability to rig election results in the favor of their preferred candidates. He makes the claim from the analysis of his research of behavior effects that he conducted in which he –

  • Was able to shift users opinions from 20- 80 % in the direction of the candidate who is favored in the ranking by just changing the order of the search results displayed.
  • Noticed that when people were made aware of biased search results, they deliberately changed their preferences to match the affected results. (I wonder, if this was an effect of biased or a classic case of “Social conformity)

Pa and Me_Asch conformitySimilar results were achieved in Pan et al 2007, In Google we trust: User’s decisions on rank, position, and relevance. The hypotheses of the paper was that “An eye tracking experiment revealed that college students users have substantial ability to rank results by their relevance to the query, however when the participants selected a link to follow from the Google’s result pages, their decisions were strongly biased towards links with higher position even if the abstracts themselves were less relevant”. [Pan et al 2007]

The research conducted in- depth analysis of users eye tracking movement measuring scan path and fixation gazes. In order to test the hypotheses, the search results were manipulated to give varied results to fool the participant. The research was analyzed at – task level (behavior of subject over all queries corresponding to one task), page level ( choices of clicks and ocular behavior was analyzed) and abstract level ( determined whether abstract was viewed or clicked).

normal condition revered condition swaped condition

The analyses concluded that college student subjects were heavily influenced by the placements of the ranking vs the relevance of the abstracts.


Pa and Me_innocous google

Does that mean, the conventional thinking of Google being just an innocuous intermediary impersonal technology between web pages and user, an aid for saving our time and effort and easing search, our dear “trusted” search engine, had hidden powers of strong influence that could affect our very being?

Would Google, could Google exploit this extra ordinary power? Epstein R, in his article mentioned 3 instances as proof to show that the practice of manipulating the users, by media and technology was not new. Through his scenarios, he strongly opines that not only does Google have the ability, but it did have a prominent part in ensuring victory to Narendre Modi in the Indian 2014 elections and has deep allegiances with the Obama administrations. Does that mean, Google has the ability to influence my decisions too?

Would this be a possible scenario of the future?

Pa and Me_google not a friendPa and Me_misleading search results

Ma and me_ Figuring out “Evaluation in Information Retrieval”

Hi! My name is Jaskeerat, though I am a design professional with subsequent work experience in the design field, I am taking baby steps in ‘Information Technology’ . My mother has graciously agreed to help me understand and make sense of some esoteric research papers.

Today, my Ma and I decided to read a research article called “Evaluation in Information Retrieval”, 2009, Cambridge UP. The article was a little confusing to begin with, but when both of us combined our heads to it, we kinda made some sense out of it! So, we decided to discuss the paper while cooking Dal ( legumes). 

The paper begins by discussing various measures of evaluating Information Retrieval. We discovered that what we want to search is called “information need” that is then translated to “query”. For instance- if we want to figure out how to cook dal ( information need), the query for this need becomes cook- dal- recipes! More importantly, the relevance of search is measured by information need and not query! (This means it is extremely important to correctly identify the need to queries and give relevant results)

mom and me_Evaluating IR

The paper then told us about many many types of standard collection methods that have been used to evaluate information retrieval, some old (The Cranfield Collection, 1950s), some focusing on cross-language information retrieval ( NTCIR, CLEF), and some new ones ( Reuters and 20 Newsgroups). 

The key contribution of the paper lies in explaining different types of methods to evaluate unranked and ranked search results. Mom and me loved exploring the concept of- “Precision and Recall” measures to evaluate unranked retrieved sets. It was interesting to note the relevance of having two numbers of precisions and recall  and its importance under different circumstances.

For instance, I am a casual cook, who just wants to learn how to cook dal ( btw, dal is not my favorite dish, just clarifying..).  In my case, I would be interested in getting different recipes of cooking dal, the relevance of which one I get, is not really important. Thus, I am interested in getting “High Precision” search results. But Ma, who sometimes like to upload her recipes online, is looking for her specific results. While searching, she is looking for results that give her “high recall”!ma and me_precision vs recall

There were also many methods to calculate ranked retrieval results, which we found a little confusing. However what caught our attention was “Assessing Relevance”. We debated a lot about how to effectively measure relevance of documents? ( Also the key question of the paper). We learnt about “Pooling” method which is used to measure the relevance of the document. However, also realized there can be many challenges in measuring relevance. For instance- what is more relevant when retrieved results are similar in content, or have duplicate knowledge. If the same information is available in different formats ( e.g.- video, article, etc ) is that also considered duplicate? What are the methods to evaluate such search results? Some times learning recipes is easier through videos, you know.. just saying, but that’s maybe subjective..??

ma & me_figuring relevance


Though it is mentioned in the paper, that “Marginal relevance” which measures documents exhibiting diversity and novelty is an accurate measure for such situations. We felt that it would be helpful to explore measuring relevance across different formats of documents.


Finally, the paper came to “User utility”, i.e measuring whether the users found this information useful or not. Something like, asking me ‘Whether I could find the recipe of the dal’ ( quantitative, objective measure) and asking Ma, ‘How satisfied was she with the search results’(quantitative subjective measure).

ma and me_user utility

The Paper went on to explain various types of rates of measures of user utility for different types of websites. For instance- One good measure for search engines is rate of return of users,( Like I only search through Google) whereas for enterprises it is rate of time spent for looking for information ( user productivity). (Cornell student essential has really low user productivity)

However, humans are complicated subjective beings, thus in order reach more accurate analysis systems like A/B testing is deployed, wherein system builders manipulate one function vs the other to measure user behavior.Snippets- static and dynamic– its relevance to users is explained, leading further to Search Engine Optimizations and Natural language processing concepts.

In conclusion, we learnt a lot by reading this paper. Search engines are doing lot of mathematical calculations to give us the closest, most relevant results, results which makes sense to us, in our context! Well.. that is enough food for thought for the day, I guess! Mom has the dal ready now, time to gobble and reflect!

See you soon, with another interesting research paper!

Orientation Day @ Cornell

orientation @ Cornell

You have not just sneaked in here by mistake, You have been selected from a vast pool of applicants!

You are the chosen one! You are unique.

“You are now a Cornellian”

The day August 24th, began with much anticipation and excitement. After all, everyone had been waiting for this day, to become officially a student at Cornell, to get a physical, tangible proof of acceptance. A recognition of struggles through competitive exams, essays and applications. The day when we wanted  someone to tell us that we were special, that resonating voice to boost our confidence and crush our lingering self doubts. The booming voice of confidence and optimism belonged to Elizabeth Garret- the first woman president of Cornell.

Amongst many other things, mentioned in her speech, two things really stuck with me. These were-

  • Advocate your self
  • Remain focussed

As professionals entering into education, I feel I have to continuously remind myself of the purpose that has brought me here, and how I need to put my interests forward to make the most of this opportunity. A professional/ graduate course is really different from other courses that one might pursue. As a professional looking to advance certain skills, one has to evaluate every opportunity or the cost of missing one. Other than just honing those skills, there is another parallel dimension of correctly and concisely portraying your interest areas to fellow students, faculty, employers. This is not a time to be confused.This is a time for clarity and purpose and using the vast resources at Cornell for that purpose.

On the flip side, the vast amount of educational & extra curricular resources offered at Cornell can make any one numb. The sheer amount of subjects offered here are both fascinating and exciting for broadening your perspective. Added to that, entering into a new environment, experiencing new cultures, bonding with people from different countries can all get a little disorienting. It is easy to lose focus, to get drifted, to get greedy to dive into the vastness of knowledge. Thus, it is indeed extremely important to keep your career goal at the back of your head at all times.  At the moment, I guess, I am struck in awe of all that is being taught here, of how it is being taught here.

So, in all fairness, I will try to keep this blog updated with all the new knowledge that I gain here. More with the purpose to achieve a reflective journal of how my skills learnt here will/ are aligning with my career/ personal goals. So, wish me luck…