IEEE Transactions on Knowledge and Data Engineering

Evaluating Refined Queries in Top-k Retrieval Systems

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In many applications, users specify target values for certain attributes/features without requiring exact matches to these values in return. Instead, the result is typically a ranked list of "top k" objects that best match the specified feature values. User subjectivity is an important aspect of such queries, i.e., which objects are relevant to the user and which are not depends on the perception of the user. Due to the subjective nature of top-k queries, the answers returned by the system to an user query often do not satisfy the users need right away, either because the weights and the distance functions associated with the features do not accurately capture the users perception or because the specified target values do not fully capture her information need or both. In such cases, the user would like to refine the query and resubmit it in order to get back a better set of answers. While there has been a lot of research on query refinement models, there is no work that we are aware of on supporting refinement of top-k queries efficiently in a database system. Done naively, each "refined" query can be treated as a "starting" query and evaluated from scratch. This paper explores alternative approaches that significantly improve the cost of evaluating refined queries by exploiting the observation that the refined queries are not modified drastically from one iteration to another. Our experiments over a real-life multimedia data set show that the proposed techniques save more than 80 percent of the execution cost of refined queries over the naive approach and is more than an order of magnitude faster than a simple sequential scan.