May 20th, 2016
There are approximately 4.49 billion webpages in the world today, and you usually find the one you are looking for by using a search engine. Indeed, 44% of online shoppers begin by using a search engine. We take them for granted, but it took many years for search engines to evolve to the level of sophistication we see now. Take a look at this brief history of search engines to check out your favorite digital tool's humble beginnings.
An ominous foreshadow to the search engine came in 1945 from Vannevar Bush, who published a paper in The Atlantic Monthly urging scientists to help build a body of knowledge for the whole world. He proposed the idea of a virtually limitless, fast, reliable, and associative memory story and retrieval system. He called it a memex -- sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Later, Gerald Salton laid the foundation for modern search engine technology. Salton's Magic Automatic Retriever of Text (the SMART system) was developed by his team at Harvard and Cornell. The method employed some essential search engine functions and concepts, including Inverse Document Frequency (IDF), Term Frequency (TF), term discrimination values, and relevancy feedback mechanisms.
The very first search engine was Archie (short for archives), created by Alan Emtage in 1990. Archie solved the data scatter problem by combining a script-based data gatherer with a regular expression matcher for retrieving file names matching a search term.
Archie experienced some serious popularity -- so much so that the University of Nevada System Computing Services group developed Veronica, a service that served the same purpose as Archie, but worked on plain text files. Jughead, another search engine, soon followed.
Many different types of search engines were employed in the years to come. Excite, created by six Stanford undergraduates, was followed by World Wide Web Wanderer, which used bots to count active web servers and measure the growth of the Internet.
Alta Vista presented the world with unlimited bandwidth for the first time and was also the first to allow natural language queries. In 1994, Yahoo took off -- although, they initially outsourced their search services.
The real climax of search engine history, as everyone well knows, came with the invention of Google in 1996. Ironically, Google is more of a ranking mechanism than a search engine. Originally called Backrub, it was designed to utilize backlinks for search. It ranked pages using citation notation, so any mention of a website on another site would count toward the mentioned site.
The rest, as they say, is history. Well, actually, many other search engines rose and fell (and thrived) during Google's fight to the top, including MSN, AskJeeves, and Bing, but there is no doubt that Google now reigns as the monolithic god of search engine dome. A vast industry has grown out of the need to gain visibility through this ranking system -- search engine optimization, digital marketing, and website design companies are all products of the field.
But rest easy knowing that no matter how large Google gets, the Internet will always be more abundant. Indeed, Google has indexed 200 Terabytes worth of data -- 204,800 gigs -- just only scratching the surface by indexing about 0.004% of the entire Internet.