Associative index model

The paper “An associative index model for the results list based on Vannevar Bush’s selection concept” by Charles Cole, Charles-Antoine Julien and John E. Leide of McGill University, Montreal, which appears in the latest issue of Information Research, contends that algorithmically created methods of refining results lists in online catalogs are not well suited to meet the users’ information needs. The authors draw on Vannevar Bush (whose seminal text, “As we may think” (1945), is available here) and Charles Cutter to develop an associative index model.

Based on an understanding of cognitive processes during a search, the model establishes a second collocation set, triggered by the user’s associative thinking while perusing the first, system-derived results list. This second set is considered to better match the user’s actual information need. In my view it is only an externalization and formalization of thought processes at work in a more or less conscious way, including epistemological questions like, how do we look for information, how do we formulate a query, i.e. use natural language to reflect our information need, how do we process and organize the findings, how is association involved in search and selection.

Some questions remain open, for instance, why didn’t the authors revert to the FRBR user tasks instead of creating their own with slightly different meanings, or how would relevance feedback relate to their approach. I wonder what role topic maps could play in an associative retrieval tool – enabling users to identify subjects in their own words, i.e. from their thought associations, feeding improvements suggested by users back. A dynamic system getting “smarter” through user input which complements computational algorithms.

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