4. Searching - the first search engines
Transcript

When anyone mentions ‘search engines’ – I immediately think of Google, Yahoo and Ask.com. Years before these became popular, lots of other searching tools had been used to find things on the Internet.

According to the ‘Living Internet’ website, the first popular Internet search engine was the Wide Area Information Servers system (or ‘WAIS’), which was developed in 1988 by a company called ‘Thinking Machines’. The WAIS system searched index databases on remote computers. So when a user typed a question, WAIS searched its database for the most relevant documents and generated a list of documents, ranked in order of relevance.

Another early search tool was ‘Archie’. Alan Emtage, a student in Canada, wrote the program in 1990. Archie worked by downloading directory listings of all the files available on public sites and building a searchable database of file names. Archie then matched users’ queries to the filenames from this database. However, because the contents of these files weren’t indexed – only the file names – Archie was overtaken by more sophisticated searching tools, like ‘Gopher’.

Gopher was invented in 1991 by a team from the University of Minnesota, in the United States. Unlike Archie, Gopher could index the content of text files, making it a much more useful search tool. Because this system gave people a simple way to navigate around the growing resources on the Internet, many people think that Gopher paved the way for the huge popularity of the World Wide Web we use today.

In 1994, WebCrawler went live on the Internet. It was the first full-text Web search engine that let people search for any word on any webpage. This hadn’t been possible before, so WebCrawler became very popular.

The more you read up on early search engines, the more it becomes clear that there are disagreements as to which search engines came first and how successful they were. This really made me think about the reliability of the different things I was reading and how important it is to check out information using other sources. It’s especially important to get your facts straight when you’re using the Internet to do research, because some websites contain information that’s just not true!

One thing that nobody can deny is the incredible rise in popularity of ‘Google’ from its modest beginnings at Stanford University in the United States. Google began in 1996, when students Larry Page and Sergey Brin began working together on a search engine originally called ‘BackRub’. The Google phenomenon was HUGE. An Internet research company called ‘comScore’ reported in August 2007 that Google was the most-used search engine worldwide, handling more than twice as many searches as its nearest rival Yahoo!

Lots of big companies turn to comScore for information about how the Internet is being used, so I’m confident they’ve got their facts straight.

Google is my favourite site, but I also use Yahoo and Ask.com when I’m looking for information. What other search engines do you use? Do you think they’d show different results? When you’ve finished listening to me, why not try typing ‘Internet history’ into some different search engines and compare the results.