66 Implementing Interactions

The next sections describe some common interactions in digital organizing systems. One way to distinguish among them is to consider the source of the algorithms that are used in order to perform them. We can mostly distinguish information retrieval interactions (e.g., search and browse), machine learning interactions (e.g., cluster, classify, extract) or natural language processing interactions (e.g., named entity recognition, summarization, sentiment analysis, anaphoric resolution). Another way to distinguish among interactions is to note whether resources are changed during the interaction (e.g., annotate, tag, rate, comment) or unchanged (search, cluster). Yet another way would be to distinguish interactions based on their absolute and relative complexity, i.e., on the progression of actions or steps that are needed to complete the interaction. Here, we will distinguish interactions based on the different resource description layers they act upon.

Activities in Organizing Systems, introduced the concept of affordance or behavioral repertoirethe inherent actionable properties that determine what can be done with resources. We will now look at affordances (and constraints) that resource properties pose for interaction design. The interactions that an individual resource can support depend on the nature and extent of its inherent and described properties and internal structure. However, the interactions that can be designed into an organizing system can be extended by utilizing collection properties, derived properties, and any combination thereof. These three types of resource properties can be thought of as creating layers because they build on each other.

The further an organizing system moves up the layers, the more functional capabilities are enabled and more interactions can be designed. The degree of possible interactions is determined by the extent of the properties that are organized, described, and created in an organizing system. This marks a correlation between the extent of organization and the range of possible interactions: The more extensive the organization and the number of identifiable resource properties, the larger the universe of “affordable” interactions.

Interactions can be distinguished by four layers:


Interactions based on properties of individual resources

Resource properties have been described extensively in Resources in Organizing Systems and Resource Description and Metadata. Any information or property that describes the resource itself can be used to design an interaction. If a property is not described in an organizing system or does not pertain to certain resources, an interaction that needs this information cannot be implemented. For example, a retail site like Shopstyle cannot offer to reliably search by color of clothing if this property is not contained in the resource description.

Interactions based on collection properties

Collection-based properties are created when resources are aggregated. (See Foundations for Organizing Systems.) An interaction that compares individual resources to a collection average (e.g., average age of publications in a library or average price of goods in a retail store) can only be implemented if the collection average is calculated.

Interactions based on derived or computed properties

Derived or computed properties are not inherent in the resources or collections but need to be computed with the help of external information or tools. The popularity of a digital resource can be computed based on the frequency of its use, for example. This computed property could then be used to design an access interaction that searches resources based on their popularity. An important use case for derived properties is the analysis of non-textual resources like images or audio files. For these content-based interactions, intrinsic properties of the resources like color distributions are computationally derived and stored as resource properties. A search can then be performed on color distributions (e.g., a search for outdoor nature images could return resources that have a high concentration of blue in the upper half and a high concentration of green on the bottom: a meadow on a sunny day).

Interactions based on combining resources

Combining resources and their individual, collection or derived properties can be used to design interactions based on joint properties that a single organizing system and its resources do not contain. This can lead to interactions that individual organizing systems with their particular purposes and resource descriptions cannot offer.

Whether a desired interaction can be implemented depends on the layers of resource properties that have been incorporated into the organizing system. How an interaction is implemented (especially in digital organizing systems) depends also on the algorithms and technologies available to access the resources or resource descriptions.

In our examples, we write primarily about textual resources or resource descriptions. Information retrieval of physical goods (e.g., finding a favorite cookie brand in the supermarket) or non-textual multimedia digital resources (e.g., finding images of the UC Berkeley logo) involves similar interactions, but with different algorithms and different resource properties.

Interactions Based on Instance Properties

Interactions in this category depend only on the properties of individual resource instances. Often, using resource properties on this lower layer coincides with basic action combinations in the interaction.

Boolean Retrieval

In a Boolean search, a query is specified by stating the information need and using operators from Boolean logic (AND, OR, NOT) to combine the components. The query is compared to individual resource properties (most often terms), where the result of the comparison is either TRUE or FALSE. The TRUE results are returned as a result of the query, and all other results are ignored. A Boolean search does not compare or rank resources so every returned resource is considered equally relevant. The advantage of the Boolean search is that the results are predictable and easy to explain. However, because the results of the Boolean model are not ranked by relevance, users have to sift through all the returned resource descriptions in order to find the most useful results.[1][2]

Tag / Annotate

A tagging or annotation interaction allows a user (either a human or a computational agent) to add information to the resource itself or the resource descriptions. A typical tagging or annotation interaction locates a resource or resource description and lets the user add their chosen resource property. The resulting changes are stored in the organizing system and can be made available for other interactions (e.g., when additional tags are used to improve the search). An interaction that adds information from users can also enhance the quality of the system and improve its usability.[3]

Interactions Based on Collection Properties

Interactions in this category utilize collection-level properties in order to improve the interaction, for example, to improve the ranking in a search or to enable comparison to collection averages.

Ranked Retrieval with Vector Space or Probabilistic Models

Ranked retrieval sorts the results of a search according to their relevance with respect to the information need expressed in a query. The Vector Space and Probabilistic approaches introduced here use individual resource properties like term occurrence or term frequency in a resource and collection averages of terms and their frequencies to calculate the rank of a resource for a query.[4]

The simplicity of the Boolean model makes it easy to understand and implement, but its binary notion of relevance does not fit our intuition that terms differ in how much they suggest what a document is about. Gerard Salton invented the vector space model of information retrieval to enable a continuous measure of relevance.[5] In the vector space model, each resource and query in an organizing system is represented as a vector of terms. Resources and queries are compared by comparing the directions of vectors in an n-dimensional space (as many dimensions as terms in the collection), with the assumption is that “closeness in space” means “closeness in meaning.

In contrast to the vector space model, the underlying idea of the probabilistic model is that given a query and a resource or resource description (most often a text), probability theory is used to estimate how likely it is that a resource is relevant to an information need. A probabilistic model returns a list of resources that are ranked by their estimated probability of relevance with respect to the information need so that the resource with the highest probability to be relevant is ranked highest. In the vector space model, by comparison, the resource whose term vector is most similar to a query term vector (based on frequency counts) is ranked highest.[6]

Both models utilize an intrinsic resource property called the term frequency (tf). For each term, term frequency (tf) measures how many times the term appears in a resource. It is intuitive that term frequency itself has an ability to summarize a resource. If a term such as “automobile” appears frequently in a resource, we can assume that one of the topics discussed in the resource is automobiles and that a query for “automobile” should retrieve this resource. Another problem with the term frequency measure occurs when resource descriptions have different lengths (a very common occurrence in organizing systems). In order to compensate for different resource description lengths that would bias the term frequency count and the calculated relevance towards longer documents, the length of the term vectors are normalized as a percentage of the description length rather than a raw count.

Relying solely on term frequency to determine the relevance of a resource for a query has a drawback: if a term occurs in all resources in a collection it cannot distinguish resources. For example, if every resource discusses automobiles, all resources are potentially relevant for an “automobile” query. Hence, there should be an additional mechanism that penalize a term appearing in too many resources. This is done with inverse document frequency, which signals how often a term or property occurs in a collection.

Inverse document frequency (idf) is a collection-level property. The document frequency (df) is the number of resources containing a particular term. The inverse document frequency (idf) for a term is defined as idft = log(N/dft), where N is the total number of documents. The inverse document frequency of a term decreases the more documents contain the term, providing a discriminating factor for the importance of terms in a query. For example, in a collection containing resources about automobiles, an information retrieval interaction can handle a query for “automobile accident” by lowering the importance of “automobile” and increasing the importance of “accident” in the resources that are selected as result set.

As a first step of a search, resource descriptions are compared with the terms in the query. In the vector space model, a metric for calculating similarities between resource description and query vectors combining the term frequency and the inverse document frequency is used to rank resources according to their relevance with respect to the query.[7]

The probability ranking principle is mathematically and theoretically better motivated than the vector space ranking principle. However, multiple methods have been proposed to estimate the probability of relevance. Well-known probabilistic retrieval methods are Okapi BM25, language models (LM) and divergence from randomness models (DFR).[8] Although these models vary in their estimations of the probability of relevance for a given resource and differ in their mathematical complexity, intrinsic properties of resources like term frequency and collection-level properties like inverse document frequency and others are used for these calculations.

Synonym Expansion with Latent Semantic Indexing

Latent semantic indexing is a variation of the vector space model where a mathematical technique known as singular value decomposition is used to combine similar term vectors into a smaller number of vectors that describe their “statistical center.[9] This method is based mostly on collection-level properties like co-occurrence of terms in a collection. Based on the terms that occur in all resources in a collection, the method calculates which terms might be synonyms of each other or otherwise related. Put another way, latent semantic indexing groups terms into topics. Let us say the terms “roses” and “flowers” often occur together in the resources of a particular collection. The latent semantic indexing methodology recognizes statistically that these terms are related, and replaces the representations of the “roses” and “flower” terms with a computed “latent semantic” term that captures the fact that they are related, reducing the dimensionality of resource description (see “Vocabulary Control as Dimensionality Reduction”). Since queries are translated into the same set of components, a query for “roses” will also retrieve resources that mention “flower.” This increases the chance of a resource being found relevant to a query even if the query terms do not match the resource description terms exactly; the technique can therefore improve the quality of search.

Latent semantic indexing has been shown to be a practical technique for estimating the substitutability or semantic equivalence of words in larger text segments, which makes it effective in information retrieval, text categorization, and other NLP applications like question answering. In addition, some people view it as a model of the computational processes and representations underlying substantial portions of how knowledge is acquired and used, because latent semantic analysis techniques produces measures of word-word, word-passage, and passage-passage relations that correlate well with human cognitive judgments and phenomena involving association or semantic similarity. These situations include vocabulary tests, rate of vocabulary learning, essay tests, prose recall, and analogical reasoning.[10]

Another approach for increasing the quality of search is to add similar terms or properties to a query from a controlled vocabulary or classification system. When a query can be mapped to terms in the controlled vocabulary or classes in the classification, the inherent semantic structure of the vocabulary or classification can suggest additional terms (broader, narrower, synonymous) whose occurrence in resources can signal their relevance for a query.

Structure-Based Retrieval

When the internal structure of a resource is represented in its resource description a search interaction can use the structure to retrieve more specific parts of a resource. This enables parametric or zone searching, where a particular component or resource property can be searched while all other properties are disregarded.[11] For example, a search for “Shakespeare” in the title field in a bibliographic organizing system will only retrieve books with Shakespeare in the title, not as an author. Because all resources use the same structure, this structure is a collection-level property.

A common structure-based retrieval technique is the search in relational databases with Structured Query Language(SQL). With the help of tools to facilitate selection and transformation, particular tables and fields in tables and in many combination or with various constraints can be applied to yield highly precise results.

A format like XML enables structured resource descriptions and is therefore very suitable for search and for structured navigation and retrieval. XPath (see “Structural Relationships within a Resource”) describes how individual parts of XML documents can be reached within the internal structure. XML Query Language(XQuery), a structure-based retrieval language for XML, executes queries that can fulfill both topical and structural constraints in XML documents. For example, a query can be expressed for documents containing the word “apple” in text, and where “apple” is also mentioned in a title or subtitle, or in a glossary of terms.

Clustering / Classification

Clustering (“Categories Created by Clustering”) and computational classification (“Key Points in Chapter Eight”) are both interactions that use individual and collection-level resource properties to execute their operation. During clustering (unsupervised learning), all resources are compared and grouped with respect to their similarity to each other. During computational classification (supervised learning), an individual resource or a group of resources is compared to a given classification or controlled vocabulary in an organizing system and the resource is assigned to the most similar class or descriptor. Another example for a classification interaction is spam detection. (See “Key Points in Chapter Eight”.) Author identification or characterization algorithms attempt to determine the author of a given work (a classification interaction) or to characterize the type of author that has or should write a work (a clustering interaction).

Interactions Based on Derived Properties

Interactions in this category derive or compute properties or features that are not inherent to the resources themselves or the collection. External data sources, services, and tools are employed to support these interactions. Building interactions with conditionality based on externally derived properties usually increases the quality of the interactions by increasing the system’s context awareness.


Popularity-Based Retrieval

Google’s PageRank (see “Structural Relationships between Resources”) is the most well-known popularity measure for websites.[12] The basic idea of PageRank is that a website is as popular as the number of links referencing the website. The actual calculation of a website’s PageRank involves more sophisticated mathematics than counting the number of in-links, because the source of links is also important. Links that come from quality websites contribute more to a website’s PageRank than other links, and links to qualitatively low websites will hurt a website’s PageRank.

An information retrieval model for web pages can now use PageRank to determine the value of a web page with respect to a query. Google and other web search engines use many different ranking features to determine the final rank of a web page for any search, PageRank as a popularity measure is only one of them.

Other popularity measures can be used to rank resources. For example, frequency of use, buying frequency for retail goods, the number of laundry cycles a particular piece of clothing has gone through, and even whether it is due for a laundry cycle right now.

Citation-Based Retrieval

Citation-based retrieval is a sophisticated and highly effective technique employed within bibliographic information systems. Bibliographic resources are linked to each other by citations, that is, when one publication cites another. When a bibliographic resource is referenced by another resource, those two resources are probably thematically related. The idea of citation-based search is to use a known resource as the information need and retrieve other resources that are related by citation.

Citation-based search can be implemented by directly following citations from the original resource or to find resources that cite the original resource. Another comparison technique is the principle of bibliographic coupling, where the information retrieval system looks for other resources that cite the same resources as the original resource. Citation-based search results can also be ranked, for example, by the number of in-citations a publication has received (the PageRank popularity measure actually derives from this principle).


During translation, resources are transformed into another language, with varying degrees of success. In contrast to the transformations that are performed in order to merge resources from different organizing systems to prepare them for further interactions, a translation transforms the resource after it has been retrieved or located. Dictionaries or parallel corpora are external resources that drive a translation.

During a dictionary-based translation, every individual term (sometimes phrases) in a resource description is looked up in a dictionary and replaced with the most likely translation. This is a simple translation, as it cannot take grammatical sentence structures or context into account. Context can have an important impact on the most likely translation: the French word avocat should be translated into lawyer in most organizing systems, but probably not in a cookbook collection, in which it is the avocado fruit.

Parallel corpora are a way to overcome many of these challenges. Parallel corpora are the same or similar texts in different languages. The Bible or the protocols of United Nations(UN) meetings are popular examples because they exist in parallel in many different languages. A machine learning algorithm can learn from these corpora to derive which phrases and other grammatical structures can be translated in which contexts. This knowledge can then be applied to further resource translation interactions.

Interactions Based on Combining Resources

Interactions in this category combine resources mostly from different organizing systems to provide services that a single organizing system could not enable. Sometimes different organizing systems with related resources are created on purpose in order to protect the privacy of personal information or to protect business interests. Releasing organizing systems to the public can have unwanted consequences when clever developers detect the potential of connecting previously unrelated data sources.


A mash-up combines data from several resources, which enables an interaction to present new information that arises from the combination.[13] For example, housing advertisements have been combined with crime statistics on maps to graphically identify rentals that are available in relatively safe neighborhoods.


Mash-ups are usually ad-hoc combinations at the resource level and therefore do not impact the “mashed-up” organizing systems’ internal structures or vocabularies; they can be an efficient instrument for rapid prototyping on the web. On the other hand, that makes them not very reliable or robust, because a mash-up can fail in its operation as soon as the underlying organizing systems change.

Linked Data Retrieval and Resource Discovery

In “The Semantic Web World”, linked data relates resources among different organizing system technologies via standardized and unique identifiers (URIs). This simple approach connects resources from different systems with each other so that a cross-system search is possible.[14] For example, two different online retailers selling a Martha Stewart bedspread can link to a website describing the bedspread on the Martha Stewart website. Both retailers use the same unique identifier for the bedspread, which leads back to the Martha Stewart site.

Resource discovery or linked data retrieval are search interactions that traverse the network (or semantic web graph) via connecting links in order to discover semantically related resources. A search interaction could therefore use the link from one retailer to the Martha Stewart website to discover the other retailer, which might have a cheaper or more convenient offer.

  1. Each of the four information retrieval models discussed in the chapter has different combinations of the comparing, ranking, and location activities. Boolean and vector space models compare the description of the information need with the description of the information resource. Vector space and probabilistic models rank the information resource in the order that the resource can satisfy the user’s query. Structure-based search locates information using internal or external structure of the information resource.

  2. Our discussion of information retrieval models in this chapter does not attempt to address information retrieval at the level of theoretical and technical detail that informs work and research in this field (Manning et al. 2008), (Croft et al. 2009). Instead, our goal is to introduce IR from a more conceptual perspective, highlighting its core topics and problems using the vocabulary and principles of IO as much as possible.

  3. A good discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of tagging in the library field can be found in (Furner 2007).

  4. (Manning et al. 2008), Ch. 1.

  5. Salton was generally viewed as the leading researcher in information retrieval for the last part of the 20th century until he died in 1995. The vector model was first described in (Salton, Wong, and Yang 1975).

  6. (Manning et al. 2008), p.221.

  7. See (Manning et al. 2008), Ch. 6 for more explanations and references on the vector space model.

  8. See (Robertson 2005), (Manning et al. 2008), Ch. 12 for more explanations and references.

  9. (Deerwester, Dumais et al. 1990).

  10. See (Dumais 2003).

  11. (Manning et al. 2008), Section 6.1.

  12. (Page et al. 1999).

  13. (Yee 2008).

  14. (Bizer, Heath, and Berners-Lee 2009).


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The Discipline of Organizing: 4th Professional Edition Copyright © 2020 by Robert J. Glushko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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