Investigating the Effects of Exploratory Semantic Search on the Use of a Museum Archive

Mulholland, Paul; Zdrahal, Zdenek and Collins, Trevor (2008). Investigating the Effects of Exploratory Semantic Search on the Use of a Museum Archive. In: IEEE 2008 International Conference on Distributed Human-Machine Systems, 9-12 Mar 2008, Athens, Greece.


Recently, there has been a great deal of interest in how new technologies can support the more effective use of online museum content. Two particularly relevant developments are exploratory search and semantic web technologies. Exploratory search tools support a more undirected and serendipitous interaction with the content. Semantic web technology, when applied in this context, allows the exploitation of metadata and ontologies to provide more intelligent support for user

Bletchley Park Text is a museum web application supporting a semantic driven, exploratory approach to the search and navigation of digital museum resources. Bletchley Park Text uses semantics to organise selected content (i.e. stories) into a number of composite pages that illustrate conceptual patterns in the content, and from which the content itself can be accessed.

The use made of Bletchley Park Text over an eight month period was analysed in order to understand the kinds of trajectories across the available resources that users could make with such a system. The results identified two distinct strategies of exploratory search. A risky strategy was characterised as incorporating: conceptual jumps between successive queries, a larger number of shorter queries and the use of the stories themselves to acclimatise to a new set of search results. A cautious strategy was characterised as incorporating: small conceptual shifts between queries, a smaller number of longer queries and the use of composite pages to acclimatise to a set of new search results. These findings have implications for the intelligent scaffolding of exploratory search.

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