Fundamental properties of aboutness

Bruza, Peter; Song, Dawei and Wong, Kam-Fai (1999). Fundamental properties of aboutness. In: 22nd Annual International ACM-SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval (SIGIR '99), 15-19 Aug 1999, Berkeley, CA, USA.




Information retrieval (IR) is a reasoning process which is assumed to be driven by determining aboutness (|=) between two information carriers (i.e., document and query). Thus, the study of aboutness will be very helpful to set up the theoretical foundations of IR. Aboutness is modeled as a binary relation over the information carriers (IC). Early studies viewed aboutness as a form of entailment. We regard aboutness as a broader notion. Recent attempts have been made to formalize properties of aboutness which can be expressed as postulates (rules) in terms of information containment, composition and preclusion. However there is yet no consensus regarding this framework except that it should be logic-based [7]. Although a number of aboutness properties are commonly discussed in the literature, e.g., reflexivity, transitivity, symmetry and left (right) monotonicity, etc., there is thus far no agreement on a core set of aboutness postulates, e.g., Hunter deems aboutness to be irreflexive [6] whereas Huibers deems it reflexive [5]. The disagreement stems partially from the framework chosen to formalize aboutness. Hunter uses default logic whereas Huibers uses situation theory. Once the framework has been fixed, certain aboutness properties are implied by it. Moreover, some properties, e.g., transitivity and symmetry, etc., may be sound only within certain IR models, and some of them may lead to negative effects to the effectiveness of IR system. In this article, by adopting a very simple framework, we attempt to gain enough freedom to propose and discuss a wide range of aboutness postulates without being bound too much by the underlying framework. Cleverden cites experiments wherein the agreement between subjects judging documents with respect to a query was around sixty percent [4]. This suggests that aboutness have a subjective component. However, there also seems to be a core of agreement, which, in our opinion is amenable to formal treatment. Thus, the purpose of this article is to consider aboutness from a fundamental, commonsense perspective, to shed light on the nature of aboutness by formalizing properties describing it, and to define a set of reasonable (hopefully sound) properties of aboutness, which is independent of any given IR model.

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