Sunday, April 3, 2016

Starting to RUN

Thank you for the email, tweets and texts about my new appointment at Radboud University Nijmegen. I'm happy that other people realize what a special day it was for me, and share my excitement about new opportunities and new challenges. I appreciate the warm reception at Radboud University. The "Welcome!" was unmistakeable: actually written on my whiteboard, when I walked into my office in the Center for Language Studies for the first time.

My appointment is as "Professor of Multimedia Information Technology" at the Faculty of Science, Institute for Computing and Information Sciences (iCIS). It involves a double affiliation (50/50) between iCIS and the Faculty of Arts, Centre for Language Studies (CLS). In this way, it brings together my background (pre-1990 in Math and EE; 1990-2000 in Formal Linguistics; and since 2000 in Computer Science, i.e., audio-visual search engines). It is a natural extension of this background that I will be working to bridge the research occurring on information access between the two faculties.

A press release about my appointment appeared on 31 March on the Radboud University homepage. I was very happy about the publicity for the MediaEval Multimedia Evaluation Benchmark. MediaEval is an initiative aimed at driving the development of new multimedia access technologies by offering shared tasks to the community. Instead of being centrally organized, it is grassroots in nature. My role is the bass player who, in a band, helps to links different parts together and keep the music moving forward on tempo. The success of the benchmark comes from the dedication and efforts of the task organizers, and the participants. (MediaEval is offering a great lineup of tasks in 2016, and signup is now open on the MediaEval 2016 website. The MediaEval 2016 workshop will be held 20-21 October 2016, right after ACM Multimedia 2016 in Amsterdam.)

Starting January 2017, Radboud University will be my main university (4 days per week), but I will maintain an affiliation with Delft University of Technology (1 day a week).

Currently, my main affiliation remains the Multimedia Computing Group at Delft University of Technology. However, I am at Radboud University Nijmegen for two days a week to get started at CLS. My first act is teach Intelligent Information Tools, a course for first and second year undergraduate students in Communication and Information Science. The students learn about the nature of information, the structure of the internet, how search, recommendation, and other information tools work, and also how to think critically about these tools.

At TU Delft I continue teaching, and pursuing my research. The main focus of my research at this time is recommender systems, within the context of the EC FP7 project CrowdRec "Fusion of active information for next generation recommender systems". It is a privilege to serve the CrowdRec consortium as the scientific coordinator.  Current highlights are: The NewsREEL news recommendation challenge, at CLEF 2016 the ACM RecSys 2016 job recommendation challenge, and the Workshop on Deep Learning for Recommender Systems, also at ACM RecSys 2016. I look forward to a successful conclusion of the project September 2016, and also to future collaborations.

Seven years ago, nearly to the day, I wrote the first post on this blog. I had read an article advising kill your blog, as an answer to blogposts getting lost in a sea of mainstream information. My post points out that it is strange to suggest that bloggers must change, and not mention the role or responsibility of search engines.

Now, I am more convinced in ever of the value of information within small circles. Search needs to support exploitation of that value. The readership of this blog is intended to be future versions of myself, and also a limited number of people interested in a deep dive into reflections on various search-related topics. As I move to a new university, and the number of people I teach or collaborate with grows, I would like to remember that. I'll probably have less time to write blog posts, but I have decided that I will wait a few more years until moving away from occasionally blogging.

Creating information is a way in which we help ourselves think. Intense conversations also refine thought. But the model of everyone talks to everyone about everything does not always make sense. Instead, we need room for reflection with a relatively small set of individuals. Search should support that.

What's blocking the road? Maybe we feel that small scale search is a success because Google now displays calendar events in our search results. Maybe facing the personal is somehow more laborious or painful. In any case, currently we are far from understanding the aggregated impact of thousands of local dialogues, or to evaluating the success of small search that helps us exchange ideas with our past selves, and our closest colleagues. The future holds no lack of challenges.