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Summary

\item We constantly, naturally Find Out About (FOA) many, many things. Computer search engines need to support this activity, just as naturally. \item Language is central to our FOA activities. Our understanding of prior work in linguistics and the philosophy of language will inform our search engine development, and the increasing use of search engines will provide empirical evidence reflecting back to these same disciplines. \item IR is the field of computer science that traditionally deals with retrieving free-text documents in response to queries. This is done by indexing all the documents in a corpus with keyword descriptors. There are a number of techniques for automatically recommending keywords, but also a great deal of art. \item Users' interests must be shaped into queries constructed from these same keywords. Retrieval is accomplished by matching the query against the documents' descriptions and returning those that appear closest. \item A central component of the FOA process is the users' relevance feedback, assessing how closely the retrieved documents match what they had ``in mind.'' \item Search engines accomplish a function related to database systems, but their natural language foundations create fundamental differences as well. \item In order to know how to shop for a good search engine, as well as to allow the science of FOA to move forward, it is important to develop an evaluation methodology by which we can fairly compare alternatives.

In this overview we've made some simplifying assumptions and raised more questions than we've answered, but that is exactly the goal! By now, I hope you have been convinced that there are many facets to the problem of FOA, ranging from a good characterization of what the users seek, to what the documents to methods for inferring semantic clues about each document, to the problem of evaluating whether our search engines are performing as we've intended. The rest of this book will consider each of these facets in greater detail, and others as well. But like all truly great problems, issues surrounding FOA will remain long after this text is dust.


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