Search Engines - still searching after all these years
(Posted on 05/10/20)
They’ve been with us for almost 30 years and we still use them every single day. But how have search engines changed and evolved over the decades? And how many from the early days are still with us?
Asking after you
We were wondering what had happened to Jeeves, the once-ubiquitous valet frontperson of search engine Ask.com. We hadn’t seen him in a while. Was he still in business? Had he been furloughed? A bit or research – using a search engine of course – revealed that it was now known as simply Ask.com, with no sign of Jeeves. It seems he’s been retired and had only been the mascot for Ask for British users anyway. It’s an American-owned company and in the US he wasn’t used at all. Jeeves – inspired by the PG Wodehouse character who was Bertie Wooster’s valet – fronted Ask.com from 1996 until February 2006, when he was dropped during a rebrand (jolly clumsy). In 2009 Ask reintroduced the character, but he has since vanished from their branding, as in 2010 Ask.com abandoned the search industry, because it couldn’t compete against more popular search engines, such as Google.
The search is on
Prior to 1993, the world wide web was indexed by hand, like a book. There was a list of web servers edited by its founder Tim Berners-Lee, but as more servers went online, the central list couldn’t be updated fast enough. Early versions of search engines included Archie, which downloaded the directory listings and created searchable databases of names and words. Others, such as Gopher, Veronica and Jughead, created and sorted through index systems. By 1993 the first nascent search engines began operation. JumpStation used a web robot to find relevant webpages and build an index. In was the first internet ‘search’ tool to include the three essential components of what we now know as a search engine – crawling, indexing and searching.
WebCrawler, which came out in 1994, was able to search for any word in a webpage, not just titled index pages. The first widely popular web searcher was Yahoo! Search which later simply became Yahoo! Many other engines appeared – Infoseek, HotBot, Northern Light, Dogpile, Scroogle, AltaVista – and some are still active, some are not. Ideas such as ‘rankings’ were introduced, to make some ‘answers’ to queries more prevalent than others. These could be paid for, to generate revenue.
Microsoft launched MSN Search in 1998, while it rebranded to Bing in 2009, while Yahoo! also operates using Bing technology. The all-conquering Google search was launched in 1998, and around 2000 rose to be the go-to search engine – a title it retains to this day.
The term “Shall we Google it?” has entered the everyday vernacular and we do so on a daily basis, often without even thinking. The process has become second nature. The concept of an instant search through hundreds, if not thousands or millions, of documents, is extremely useful for researchers. If you’re writing about a client, it’s easy to have a look at their website, or to research background information on their industry. This will enable you to gain insight into their work and allow you to write knowledgably about their business. Years ago, we would have to spend a great deal more time finding information on a subject that today we have at the touch of a button. It’s an invaluable aid and helps in finding the information and identifying key points. However, we still have to do the actual writing…