I have been an Internet user since 1987. I have seen the birth of the World Wide Web. I have seen the death of gopher, FTP, and telnet. I remember using Archie to search ftp sites for freeware that I could download , and Veronica to search gopher sites for information I wanted.
Using Archie required that you knew the name of the file you wanted. This was a problem when you didn't know what the exact filename was but knew the program you needed. Veronica helped a little by allowing you to search for keywords in the titles of pages in the gopher network.
The World Wide web was born giving you access to this hypertext rich environment where links could be embedded in the middle of your document. But the searches were still on titles. When WebCrawler came out it was a vast improvement. You could now search the full-text of the article. Then Lycos, Yahoo and others joined in. Then came the explosive growth of the Internet fueled by a possibility of making a profit by selling products and services over "the Web".
Search results became larger and larger. Google is now the big dog on the Internet, giving you access to an index of billions of pages. The amount of pages of information that you get back from queries can be more than what you can sift through in your lifetime let alone in the few minutes you need to get your answers.
My Search Problem
I got an advertisement in the postal mail of slick card stock folded in half. To my surprise there was a slick paper booklet attached to the inside using that gummy non-permanent adhesive that I have seen sometimes. (See the photo included with this article.) I want to buy some for myself.
I searched for three days for about 2 hours each day trying to find what that adhesive is and how to purchase it. My search was in vain. I have the same problem I did back when I was using Archie to search for freeware. I don't know the name of the adhesive and therefore my best attempts to get a valid search result has been overwhelmingly difficult.
Google was of little help. I searched for mailing supplies, adhesives, gum, glues and all combinations of the words. I finally resorted to going to answers.com and typed in "gummy adhesive". I got a press release about "3M Gummy Glue Removable Adhesive". This was finally what I was after, however since the 3M stuff is a low melt hot glue and dries as white, this is not exactly the product I was looking for. The product I see all the time is clear.
Back to Google I went with the Gummy Adhesive search to little avail.
I did notice a lot being said about "glue dots". Maybe that is what I am looking for, but I doubt it.
Natural Language Processing
The ideal would be for the search engine to read a question that I input like "What is that gummy adhesive attaching credit cards and slick fliers to other slick paper called?" And the algorithms dissect my question and give me what I asked for. This is called Natural Language Processing.
Natural Language Processing is very difficult.
Ask Jeeves made an attempt by indexing a list of questions that a human had previously reviewed and found the answers. They then matched the keywords in your query to the list of questions it knew how to answer.
There have been projects for specific niche markets where NLP has been used successfully. However a general search engine is a long way off. (For a list of Projects that are researching NLP for question answering see the references to the Wikipedia article on the subject.)
I guess I'll just have to give the company that gave me the advertisement a call and ask what they used.