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Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

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Information Retrieval

When Calvin Mooers coined the term "information retrieval" in 1948, edge-notched punch cards were the state of the art. First invented in 1896 by Henry P. Stamford, these cards enabled people to search insurance records and library collections by metadata. Each notch constituted a descriptor (also known as an index term or metadata tag). In early versions, the user would thread a 16 inch needle through a stack of cards. The relevant notched cards would drop from the collection. A subsequent search of this result set enabled further narrowing (the Boolean AND). Non-relevant cards retrieved by this process were called "false drops," a term we still use today.

To those of us living in the age of Google, the world of punch cards seems distant and quaint. In fact, things have happened so fast in recent years, even 1993 seems like a lifetime ago. Back then, I was learning "online searching" at the University of Michigan's School of Information and Library Studies. We searched through databases via dumb terminals connected to the Dialog company's mainframe. Results were output to a dot matrix printer. And Dialog charged by the minute. This made searching quite stressful. Mistakes were costly in time and money. So, we'd spend an hour or more in the library beforehand, consulting printed thesauri for descriptors, considering how to combine Boolean operators most efficiently, and plotting our overall search strategy. A computer's time was more precious than a human's, ...

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