IBM’s Storage and Information Retrieval System (STAIRS) Doesn’t Make the Cut


Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, full-text search systems were being developed. IBM’s STAIRS system touted incredible statistics regarding the two main factors to measure the efficiency of  search: precision (the relevance of the majority of results found) and recall (capturing the majority of all relevant results possible) claiming that their results were as high as 75% - 80% across both precision and recall. However, in 1985 researchers David Blair and M.E. Maron tested the system using a much higher volume of text than ever attempted with over 350,000 pages of texts from a law case and discovered that with a much larger pool to search, recall dropped to only 20%, meaning that only 1 out of 5 relevant documents were being found. Something had to be fixed to accommodate searches through masses of data.

Blair, David C., and M. E. Maron. 1985. "An evaluation of retrieval effectiveness for a full-text document-retrieval system." Communications of the ACM 28: 289-299.

Krajewski, Markus author. 2011. "Paper machines : about cards & catalogs, 1548-1929."

Photo Credit:
Photograph 1: Computer ad from Computerworld, 1975. From the LogicKull Blog.