Information Retrieval and Youth: The Question of Relevance and Readability on the Web

Much research to advance relevance of information retrieval (IR) from Web search engines has been conducted in recent years. Similarly, studies on the readability of web pages have significantly increased since 2010. Some researchers have explored the reading difficulty of websites, complexity of reading texts online, and impact of interface usability issues on reading; while others have developed new algorithms and models to improve relevance based on the reading difficulty of websites, or to predict topic distribution based on readability level. Yet, we are still facing challenges and issues in meeting the information needs of youth, notably children, who have developed an affinity for leading engines (i.e., Google, Yahoo!, and Bing). Bilal’s recent study (2012) reveals that out of 1,360 children’s search queries submitted to these engines, 655 results were relevant, producing a precision ratio of 48%. The difficulty children experience in interpreting results retrieved by search engines is another dilemma. Could the reading complexity of these results be at the crux of this difficulty? Exploration of the relevancy and precision of results retrieved by search engines on children’s search queries, design of innovative methodologies for assessing relevance, and use of “standard” readability measures to evaluate the reading level of retrieved information vis-à-vis children’s reading abilities should unveil critical areas that demand the attention and intervention of researchers, educators, practitioners, and interface designers. Effective system and human interventions should improve IR performance as well as optimize the search experiences and learning outcomes of youth across all age groups. Dr. Dania Bilal, Professor School Information Sciences, College of Communication and Information The University of Tennessee at Knoxville


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