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Dead medium: Indecks Information Retrieval System
From: Candi Strecker
Source(s): The Last Whole Earth Catalog, 1971 (p. 320, with charming illustration)

Database programs on personal computers have proven

extremely efficient at organizing and manipulating certain

kinds of everyday information. How did people store and

sort this kind of data back in the dark ages before

desktop computers, say, 25 years ago?

One method was to use the special sortable paper

cards marketed as the "Indecks Information Retrieval

System." Each Indecks card was approximately the size and

shape of the old computer "punch card." Like punch cards,

Indecks cards had a diagonally-cut corner, so they could

quickly be aligned before sorting. Each card face had two

parts: a rectangular central area (where one would note

down information), surrounded by an outer margin with

about 80 numbered, punched holes. Each number could be

assigned a subject appropriate to one's project.

A "notcher" tool was used to chop a notch in a card

from any subject hole to the card's edge. When a stack of

cards was aligned and the Sorting Rod (sort of a knitting

needle) was run through a particular subject hole, the

appropriate cards == those notched at that subject's hole

== would drop down out of the deck into one's lap.

At least one competing product existed in this

category, referred to below as "McBee cards."

From the Last Whole Earth Catalog's review of

Indecks, by Stewart Brand:

"What do you have a lot of? Students, subscribers,

notes, books, records, clients, projects? Once you're

past 50 or 100 of whatever, it's tough to keep track, time

to externalize your store and retrieve system. One handy

method this side of a high-rent computer is Indecks. It's

funky and functional: cards with a lot of holes in the

edges, a long blunt needle, and a notcher. Run the needle

through a hole in a bunch of cards, lift, and the cards

notched in that hole don't rise; they fall out. So you

don't have to keep the cards in order. You can sort them

by feature, number, alphabetically or whatever; just poke,

fan, lift and catch. [...]

"We've used the McBee cards to manipulate (edit) and

keep track of the 3000 or so items in this CATALOG.

They've meant the difference between partial and complete


The subsequent (1980) issue of the Whole Earth

Catalog is full-to-bursting with information about

personal computers, but contains no mention of the Indecks

system. Sometime between 1971 and 1980, this medium seems

to have died...

Candi Strecker (strecker@sirius@com)