Relevance labels, which indicate whether a search result is valuable to a searcher, are key to evaluating and optimising search systems. The best way to capture the true preferences of users is to ask them for their careful feedback on which results would be useful, but this approach does not scale to produce a large number of labels. Getting relevance labels at scale is usually done with third-party labellers, who judge on behalf of the user, but there is a risk of low-quality data if the labeller doesn't understand user needs. To improve quality, one standard approach is to study real users through interviews, user studies and direct feedback, find areas where labels are systematically disagreeing with users, then educate labellers about user needs through judging guidelines, training and monitoring. This paper introduces an alternate approach for improving label quality. It takes careful feedback from real users, which by definition is the highest-quality first-party gold data that can be derived, and develops an large language model prompt that agrees with that data. We present ideas and observations from deploying language models for large-scale relevance labelling at Bing, and illustrate with data from TREC. We have found large language models can be effective, with accuracy as good as human labellers and similar capability to pick the hardest queries, best runs, and best groups. Systematic changes to the prompts make a difference in accuracy, but so too do simple paraphrases. To measure agreement with real searchers needs high-quality ``gold'' labels, but with these we find that models produce better labels than third-party workers, for a fraction of the cost, and these labels let us train notably better rankers.
Users of search systems often reformulate their queries by adding query terms to reflect their evolving information need or to more precisely express their information need when the system fails to surface relevant content. Analyzing these query reformulations can inform us about both system and user behavior. In this work, we study a special category of query reformulations that involve specifying demographic group attributes, such as gender, as part of the reformulated query (e.g., "olympic 2021 soccer results" to "olympic 2021 women's soccer results"). There are many ways a query, the search results, and a demographic attribute such as gender may relate, leading us to hypothesize different causes for these reformulation patterns, such as under-representation on the original result page or based on the linguistic theory of markedness. This paper reports on an observational study of gender-specializing query reformulations -- their contexts and effects -- as a lens on the relationship between system results and gender, based on large-scale search log data from Bing. We find that these reformulations sometimes correct for and other times reinforce gender representation on the original result page, but typically yield better access to the ultimately-selected results. The prevalence of these reformulations -- and which gender they skew towards -- differ by topical context. However, we do not find evidence that either group under-representation or markedness alone adequately explains these reformulations. We hope that future research will use such reformulations as a probe for deeper investigation into gender (and other demographic) representation on the search result page.
A long-standing challenge for search and conversational assistants is query intention detection in ambiguous queries. Asking clarifying questions in conversational search has been widely studied and considered an effective solution to resolve query ambiguity. Existing work have explored various approaches for clarifying question ranking and generation. However, due to the lack of real conversational search data, they have to use artificial datasets for training, which limits their generalizability to real-world search scenarios. As a result, the industry has shown reluctance to implement them in reality, further suspending the availability of real conversational search interaction data. The above dilemma can be formulated as a cold start problem of clarifying question generation and conversational search in general. Furthermore, even if we do have large-scale conversational logs, it is not realistic to gather training data that can comprehensively cover all possible queries and topics in open-domain search scenarios. The risk of fitting bias when training a clarifying question retrieval/generation model on incomprehensive dataset is thus another important challenge. In this work, we innovatively explore generating clarifying questions in a zero-shot setting to overcome the cold start problem and we propose a constrained clarifying question generation system which uses both question templates and query facets to guide the effective and precise question generation. The experiment results show that our method outperforms existing state-of-the-art zero-shot baselines by a large margin. Human annotations to our model outputs also indicate our method generates 25.2\% more natural questions, 18.1\% more useful questions, 6.1\% less unnatural and 4\% less useless questions.
Recently, several dense retrieval (DR) models have demonstrated competitive performance to term-based retrieval that are ubiquitous in search systems. In contrast to term-based matching, DR projects queries and documents into a dense vector space and retrieves results via (approximate) nearest neighbor search. Deploying a new system, such as DR, inevitably involves tradeoffs in aspects of its performance. Established retrieval systems running at scale are usually well understood in terms of effectiveness and costs, such as query latency, indexing throughput, or storage requirements. In this work, we propose a framework with a set of criteria that go beyond simple effectiveness measures to thoroughly compare two retrieval systems with the explicit goal of assessing the readiness of one system to replace the other. This includes careful tradeoff considerations between effectiveness and various cost factors. Furthermore, we describe guardrail criteria, since even a system that is better on average may have systematic failures on a minority of queries. The guardrails check for failures on certain query characteristics and novel failure types that are only possible in dense retrieval systems. We demonstrate our decision framework on a Web ranking scenario. In that scenario, state-of-the-art DR models have surprisingly strong results, not only on average performance but passing an extensive set of guardrail tests, showing robustness on different query characteristics, lexical matching, generalization, and number of regressions. It is impossible to predict whether DR will become ubiquitous in the future, but one way this is possible is through repeated applications of decision processes such as the one presented here.
The dramatic improvements in core information retrieval tasks engendered by neural rankers create a need for novel evaluation methods. If every ranker returns highly relevant items in the top ranks, it becomes difficult to recognize meaningful differences between them and to build reusable test collections. Several recent papers explore pairwise preference judgments as an alternative to traditional graded relevance assessments. Rather than viewing items one at a time, assessors view items side-by-side and indicate the one that provides the better response to a query, allowing fine-grained distinctions. If we employ preference judgments to identify the probably best items for each query, we can measure rankers by their ability to place these items as high as possible. We frame the problem of finding best items as a dueling bandits problem. While many papers explore dueling bandits for online ranker evaluation via interleaving, they have not been considered as a framework for offline evaluation via human preference judgments. We review the literature for possible solutions. For human preference judgments, any usable algorithm must tolerate ties, since two items may appear nearly equal to assessors, and it must minimize the number of judgments required for any specific pair, since each such comparison requires an independent assessor. Since the theoretical guarantees provided by most algorithms depend on assumptions that are not satisfied by human preference judgments, we simulate selected algorithms on representative test cases to provide insight into their practical utility. Based on these simulations, one algorithm stands out for its potential. Our simulations suggest modifications to further improve its performance. Using the modified algorithm, we collect over 10,000 preference judgments for submissions to the TREC 2021 Deep Learning Track, confirming its suitability.
Traditional information retrieval (IR) ranking models process the full text of documents. Newer models based on Transformers, however, would incur a high computational cost when processing long texts, so typically use only snippets from the document instead. The model's input based on a document's URL, title, and snippet (UTS) is akin to the summaries that appear on a search engine results page (SERP) to help searchers decide which result to click. This raises questions about when such summaries are sufficient for relevance estimation by the ranking model or the human assessor, and whether humans and machines benefit from the document's full text in similar ways. To answer these questions, we study human and neural model based relevance assessments on 12k query-documents sampled from Bing's search logs. We compare changes in the relevance assessments when only the document summaries and when the full text is also exposed to assessors, studying a range of query and document properties, e.g., query type, snippet length. Our findings show that the full text is beneficial for humans and a BERT model for similar query and document types, e.g., tail, long queries. A closer look, however, reveals that humans and machines respond to the additional input in very different ways. Adding the full text can also hurt the ranker's performance, e.g., for navigational queries.
A conversational information retrieval (CIR) system is an information retrieval (IR) system with a conversational interface which allows users to interact with the system to seek information via multi-turn conversations of natural language, in spoken or written form. Recent progress in deep learning has brought tremendous improvements in natural language processing (NLP) and conversational AI, leading to a plethora of commercial conversational services that allow naturally spoken and typed interaction, increasing the need for more human-centric interactions in IR. As a result, we have witnessed a resurgent interest in developing modern CIR systems in both research communities and industry. This book surveys recent advances in CIR, focusing on neural approaches that have been developed in the last few years. This book is based on the authors' tutorial at SIGIR'2020 (Gao et al., 2020b), with IR and NLP communities as the primary target audience. However, audiences with other background, such as machine learning and human-computer interaction, will also find it an accessible introduction to CIR. We hope that this book will prove a valuable resource for students, researchers, and software developers. This manuscript is a working draft. Comments are welcome.
An emerging recipe for achieving state-of-the-art effectiveness in neural document re-ranking involves utilizing large pre-trained language models - e.g., BERT - to evaluate all individual passages in the document and then aggregating the outputs by pooling or additional Transformer layers. A major drawback of this approach is high query latency due to the cost of evaluating every passage in the document with BERT. To make matters worse, this high inference cost and latency varies based on the length of the document, with longer documents requiring more time and computation. To address this challenge, we adopt an intra-document cascading strategy, which prunes passages of a candidate document using a less expensive model, called ESM, before running a scoring model that is more expensive and effective, called ETM. We found it best to train ESM (short for Efficient Student Model) via knowledge distillation from the ETM (short for Effective Teacher Model) e.g., BERT. This pruning allows us to only run the ETM model on a smaller set of passages whose size does not vary by document length. Our experiments on the MS MARCO and TREC Deep Learning Track benchmarks suggest that the proposed Intra-Document Cascaded Ranking Model (IDCM) leads to over 400% lower query latency by providing essentially the same effectiveness as the state-of-the-art BERT-based document ranking models.
Evaluation efforts such as TREC, CLEF, NTCIR and FIRE, alongside public leaderboard such as MS MARCO, are intended to encourage research and track our progress, addressing big questions in our field. However, the goal is not simply to identify which run is "best", achieving the top score. The goal is to move the field forward by developing new robust techniques, that work in many different settings, and are adopted in research and practice. This paper uses the MS MARCO and TREC Deep Learning Track as our case study, comparing it to the case of TREC ad hoc ranking in the 1990s. We show how the design of the evaluation effort can encourage or discourage certain outcomes, and raising questions about internal and external validity of results. We provide some analysis of certain pitfalls, and a statement of best practices for avoiding such pitfalls. We summarize the progress of the effort so far, and describe our desired end state of "robust usefulness", along with steps that might be required to get us there.