Google Research

Embedding Search into a Conversational Platform to Support Collaborative Search

  • Sandeep Avula
  • Jaime Arguello
  • Robert Capra
  • Jordan Dodson
  • Yuhui Huang
  • Filip Radlinski
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Human Information Interaction and Retrieval (CHIIR'19), pp. 15-23


Popular messaging platforms such as Slack have given rise to thousands of applications (or bots) that users can engage with individually or as a group. In this paper, we study the use of searchbots (i.e., bots that perform specific types of searches) during collaborative information-seeking tasks mediated through Slack. We report on a user study in which 27 pairs of participants were exposed to three searchbot conditions (a within-subjects design). In the first condition, participants completed the task by searching independently and coordinating through Slack (no searchbot). In the second condition, participants could only search inside of Slack using the searchbot. In the third condition, participants could both search inside of Slack using the searchbot and outside of Slack using their own independent search interfaces. We investigate four research questions focusing on the influence of the searchbot condition on outcomes associated with: (RQ1) participants' levels of workload, (RQ2) collaborative awareness, (RQ3) experiences interacting with the searchbot, and (RQ4) search behaviors. Our results suggest opportunities and challenges in designing searchbots to support collaborative search. On one hand, access to the searchbot resulted in more collaborative awareness, ease of coordination, and fewer duplicated searches. On the other hand, forcing participants to share the querying environment resulted in fewer overall queries, fewer query refinements by individuals, and greater levels of effort. We discuss the implications of our findings for designing effective searchbots to support collaborative search.

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