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Memory-inspired Search Tools

Digitally storing personal information objects (music, email, digital photographs, previously visited web pages) is increasingly easy. Managing these large archives, however, becomes progressively more difficult as the size of collections and diversity of content grows. At Strathclyde we are developing new search tools, inspired by theories of human memory, for managing personal information.

David Elsweiler | Ian Ruthven

Personal information objects are either ones we have created ourselves, such as digital photographs, or ones we have used in some way, such as emails or documents. Our previous experiences of these information objects and the memories they invoke can be used to help find these objects at later dates. We can, for example, use our recollection of previously using or creating an information object to help us find it again - "I can't find the URL to the recipe I need but think Emma sent in an email last week", "I need the photograph of Mark using the new interface, don't know where I put it but it was taken during that conference we attended last summer in Rome", "I need that evaluation paper again, I think I cited it when writing that report last week".

Our work investigates how people use their recall of personal information - how and what they remember - to design new interfaces for searching.

Our interfaces allow people to use what information they can remember about an object to help find it. As people may remember different things about different objects, our interfaces allow for the use of different types of information to search. Our interface for email searching, shown below, allows people to search by name, time, content, presence of attachments and other pieces of information that people might remember. As a searcher interacts, the interface prompts them with new information about the emails presented to prompt recall of additional information that be used for searching.

These new styles of interface reduce the effort on the searcher to remember where they have stored an object, allowing for a more fluid and natural interaction with out personal information.