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Dagobert Soergel
College of Information Studies, University of Maryland

Design of an integrated information structure interface. A unified framework for indexing and searching in database, expert, information retrieval, and hypermedia systems.

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This paper presents a general information structure model and an interface design that allows users to search and interact with the structure. Both draw power from simplicity. The objective is to develop an intuitive information structure model that is immediately obvious to the user. The unified information structure model integrates information retrieval, hypermedia systems, database systems, and expert systems. The user of such a system accomplishes hypermedia navigation, retrieval, and inference all with the one search syntax that is as simple and natural as it is general and powerful. The paper demonstrates the essential unity of database, expert, information retrieval, and hypermedia systems and discusses the dimensions of a design space in which specific systems can be located. The unified view is developed through a borrow-and-generalize strategy: Find an example from one context, abstract a principle from the example, and apply the principle in another context. Many examples illustrate this approach.

The emphasis of this paper is to describe an information structure and interface intuitive for a user. This approach can be implemented through an interface providing unified access to many heterogeneous systems, all mapped to same model, or through a system that implements a unified information structure in its storage of data.

The paper describes the basic structure, a plain entity-relationship model without the complication of attributes; binary relationships are also called links. Collections or sets of objects, called neighborhoods, provide more structure and play a key role in searching. The paper then presents a classification of search types and search metaphors, including the navigation metaphor ?use a known starting point to follow links to unknown but presumably helpful target objects ?and query-based search. Specifying two starting points such that a target is retrieved only when it can be reached from both is a natural way of specifying Boolean AND. Starting from a whole neighborhood of objects is a natural way for specifying Boolean OR. Specifying whole neighborhoods of objects as search targets is a new and very powerful element of our design. For example, the user can specify single paragraphs, whole documents, or the neighborhoods of documents by the same author as targets for an AND search. Hierarchical inheritance is an integral part of the model.

Part 2 discusses a number of advanced concepts and applications, including modeling a programming environment and the use of data about the structure, or metadata.
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