genre in retrieval

I was lucky enough to go to ASIST this past week and went to many interesting discussions. One that stuck out and has ties to our recent lecture involved ‘genre’ in search. The panelists discussed the use of genre in search and whether or not it was valuable. There were many comments and much disagreement. The following is from the summary:

Work has included proposals for what constitutes a digital genre, the automatic and manual classification of documents by genre, users’ ability to recognize the shape of digital documents, the solicitation of users’ genre terms for digital documents (e.g., personal homepages or blogs), and users’ ability to recognize and agree on the genre of digital documents. Yet, no one has been able to show that retrieval by genre can be effectively implemented. Why not? What directions should research take to bring this seemingly intuitive concept to a working reality?

I am wondering what the rest of you think?  Can genre searching be implemented and would it be useful?


  1. Tyler Pace

    Genre between intended sender and recipient may be mutually understood, but between actual sender and recipient (or at least actual recipient and anybody else) might not be understood at all. Identifying an abstract, shared and “correct” genre for a document seems like a very challenging task, especially as your documents context becomes removed from current time and place. We can probably agree on genres for 20th-21st century documents written by US authors with relative ease, but identifying genres for 14-15th century French authors may not come so easily!

  2. tdbowman


    I agreed at first, but after listening to the panelists I wasn’t quite sure. One of the panelist’s studies suggests some interesting data…

    from Mark A. Rosso Meredith College, Raleigh,NC

    The third study was an online experiment in which 257 college, faculty, students, and staff from two schools categorized a new set of 55 pages using the 18 genres. On average, over 70% agreed on the genre of each page. No study of this scale is known to report user recognition of web genres. This user validation is necessary to set upper bounds for machine categorization efforts. Also, because genre is usually considered to be “socially defined”, genre studies using researcher-defined a priori categories (e.g., [5]) may not be able to show genres’ usefulness for web search.Interestingly, the genres in this palette, although developed independently, are similar to 7 of 8 Internet-wide genres based on user input reported in [7], and similar to 8 of 11 Internet-wide genres as reported in [3]. Based on these observations, one might infer that some substantial amount of genre knowledge exists among users, even from different cultures (in this case, the United States, Germany, and Sweden).

  3. Tyler Pace

    Very interesting. I’ll have to skim/read the paper later for more thoughtful commentary, but the abstract is appealing given the questions you brought up.

  4. jeffreybardzell

    Additionally, some genres are more universal than others. Thus, far more than 70% should recognize a cover letter for a job application, but what percent can distinguish between an animutation and a fanimutation?

  5. tdbowman


    Very true when you dig deep into lesser known genres… but it is interesting that we’ve become so adept with what is expected of web sites (only after 10 years). It definitely speaks to a common “language” of sorts. It really makes me question my understanding of what our clients want/need and what the person consuming the information wants/needs. The panelists also discussed the usefulness between intranets and the internet, which of course the genre in search would be much more useful in a closed intranet environment.

  6. Mark Rosso

    All the panel members from the recent ASIST genre panel discussion were quite pleased at the number of folks there and their level of enthusiasm in the discussion.

    I have a 3-page “poster” in the 2005 ASIST proceedings which goes into a little more detail than the JCDL reference given earlier. A JASIST article is in the final revision stages now, but for those who would like to wade through the dissertation right now, you can find it at:


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