As one of the earliest explorers in the online world
— in fact, some have credited me with creating it — I'd like to tell you
a bit about the history of this company and how my original vision for
the online industry is still relevant today.
It all began when I was a doctoral candidate at
Stanford in 1960. I took a summer job at Lockheed Missiles and Space
Co. to improve information retrieval methods. Many of you are too
young to remember the second-generation computers of that era. Suffice
it to say, they used batch processing which was cumbersome and required
that you be a computer programmer to interact with a computer. Moreover,
computers in those days were used mainly for accounting and scientific
computation — not for processing text. The common argument around
Lockheed was that it was usually easier, cheaper and faster to redo scientific
research than to find out if anyone had ever done it before!
There came a point when I got very excited about
the possibility of using the computer for information retrieval.
My feeling was that by using the computer we could make a significant contribution
toward providing access to the world's published literature.
By the mid-1960s, third-generation computers with
random access disks, CRT terminals, and telecommunications ushered in the
new possibility of interactive computing. A colleague and I proposed
that Lockheed establish a lab to explore this new technology. Our
primary goals for an information retrieval system were that:
In 1968 we won our first major contract from NASA to
develop an online retrieval system for their database of aerospace research
documents. The result was NASA/RECON (Remote Console Information
Retrieval Service), which permitted the searcher to enter several descriptors
at once and get an immediate response. Furthermore, the search could
be modified as you went along (i.e., recursion) without having to reenter
the entire search. For example, engineers interested in an alloy's
heat tolerance could enter the name of the alloy, the heat range or ranges
that concerned them, and other relevant indexing terms. It sounds
like ancient history today, and it is, but try entering that kind of search
in one of today's popular Web search engines!
It had to be command-driven so that searchers could use it directly without
needing computer programmers to act as intermediaries.
It had to be recursive, meaning that there needed to be a means to limit
or expand the hits from a search without having to re-enter the search.
It had to provide an alphabetical display of all retrievable terms from
which one could choose.
And it had to let searchers retrieve a few items at a time to see if their
query was on target.
Subsequently, our group won contracts with the Atomic
Energy Commission, the European Space and Research Organization, the U.S.
Office of Education, the National Technical Information Service, and others
to apply this retrieval technology to their databases.
Because interactive access proved to be of value
to many organizations, in early 1972 we arranged to offer the ERIC (Educational
Resources Information Center) and NTIS (National Technical Information
Service) databases to any subscriber with a computer terminal. This
is when the DIALOG Information Retrieval Service, named after its information
retrieval language, became the world's first commercial online service.
Over the years, the company has undergone ownership
and name changes, and Knight-Ridder Information continues to expand its
products and services. But my dream that this company would
be the primary source of access to professional information throughout
the world has remained constant throughout its 25 year history.
With the rapid growth of the Web, some have been
predicting the demise of traditional online services. I don't agree.
Recently, I was doing some research in preparation for a speech I presented
in Stockholm. I determined that DIALOG contains more than 20 times
the total amount of information accessible through Web. Furthermore,
the two have grown at roughly the same rate over the past year, based on
In addition to comparing the quantity of information
on DIALOG and the Web, I compared the quality of search results for several
topics using DIALOG and the AltaVista search engine. I'm sure it
will come as no surprise that the DIALOG results were highly relevant,
while the AltaVista results were, to be generous, somewhat encyclopedic
in nature. I found that it was difficult and often impossible to
do a comprehensive and in-depth review of a particular topic on the Web.
It's somewhat ironic that with the phenomenal growth
of the Web and concomitant advances in interface-design, Web search engines
lack even the most rudimentary features that were basic in the first online
retrieval system we designed 30 years ago — features such as field specification,
display of index terms or options to allow one to refine a search. Nevertheless,
the Web has accomplished what the traditional online services have been
unable to do before now — capture the interest of a broad base of end users.
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