Thursday, September 11, 2008

BPN 1217 Pre-internet (3): Information retrieval industry

In a short time online services became commercial companies. Heart of the online service was the portfolio of textual and numerical databases and the search engines. The first databases consisted of a collection of abstracts from scientific, technical or medical articles (secondary information). But soon databases were published with full texts of laws, verdicts and newspapers (primary information). Also numerical series like stock quotes were databased. All these databases were made accessible for search action by an information retrieval program.

The texts of these databases were processed to various kinds of indexes, so that words could be found outside its context and in its context. But also controlled key words could be searched. With the search engine words and keywords could be combined by the Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT. But the retrieval program could also search on words and adjacent words. This type of searching was called full-text retrieval. Besides search facilities there were user friendly facilities like highlights, highlighting the requested terms; the highlight was introduced by Mead Data Central.

Searching was an art. The low modem speed, the low processing of the central computer, the connected time and the tariffs of data lines function as a ticking taxi meter for the user. By training the users learned methods to search fast and they passed on tricks to each other. Professional searchers were like terminal machinists, who competed with each other to reach the best results in the shortest time and against the lowest tariffs.

The organisation of a commercial ASCII information service was fourfold: a computer centre, a sales organisation, one or more information providers and a user. The computer centre took care of loading databases and maintaining the service and the telecom facilities. The sales organisation sold access to the service and the databases and took care of the marketing and trainings. The information providers offered one or more databases to the online service. The user sought access to the information service and searched the databases.

The tariffs were composed of several items. The user paid a subscription to the service, connected system time, a copyright royalty for the use of the database. Separately the user had to pay connected time to the telecommunication company. From the beginning it was a production oriented tariff. But marketing came in when BRS came into the market with a bang as it offered search for a fixed tariff, where the other ones offered time and royalty based tariffs.

Blog Posting Number: 1217


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