Half a century ago ago John Tukey (of Fast Fourier Transform, "FFT", fame) invented a superb user interface for free-text information retrieval. Tukey took titles from thousands of papers published by the American Statistical Association and built an amazingly powerful yet easy-to-use index to them. His design incorporated three key insights:

Tukey used the computers of his time to do index generation, permutation, and sorting --- with decks of punch cards and reams of all-caps line printer output. He split titles at chinks, bound chunks together as units, and generated KWICs from the results. The product was a three-volume reference set, useful in its time, now almost impossible to locate --- essentially forgotten.

I only know of John Tukey's work because of a chance meeting with him in the early 1990s. I showed him my little indexer/browser software (see = "Notes on Free Text Information Retrieval" and the = "Free Text Archive"). Tukey laughed with joy. He had dreamed of a virtually identical information interface but could only implement a static version of it on paper; now, the personal computer had brought it to life.

Monday, January 31, 2000 at 10:44:52 (EST) = 2000-01-31

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicScience - TopicProfiles

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