Happy Birthday, Dogpile!

Dogpile, the meta search engine with the goofy name, was one of the first net services to fetch a wide variety of documents and file types.

Research attorney Aaron Flin created Dogpile when he got frustrated with the state of web search in 1996. He found that subject-oriented indexes like Yahoo returned too few results, and yet search engines like AltaVista claimed to find thousands of results for the same query.

Flin decided to write a meta search engine that searched multiple sources simultaneously, presenting results from three sources at a time.

In a posting to the alt.internet.i-box Newsgroup on December 28, 1996, Flin wrote:

"Please check out http://www.dogpile.com/, a new meta-
search tool I just completed. It searches through 20
web, Usenet and ftp search engines, 3 at a time, and
returns the results to you on one page. If you get
less than ten hits, it will automatically fetch results
from three more search engines.

Dogpile wasn't the first meta search engine. Savvy Search, written by Colorado State University graduate student Daniel Dreilinger, had been around since March of 1995, and Metacrawler, developed at the University of Washington by then graduate student Erik Selberg and Associate Professor Oren Etzioni, was announced on July 12, 1995.

Both Savvy Search and Metacrawler blended results, whereas Dogpile returned a complete set of results from each source without mixing them up. Flin also added other features to Dogpile. His announcement continued:

"It has many features such as the use of AND NEAR and
NOT connectors, reformatting the query to match the
search engine and follow up links for each search
engine if more hits are available."

In August of 1999, Go2Net acquired Dogpile for $55 million in Go2Net stock and cash. The move was especially notable because Go2Net already had absorbed the web's most popular meta search service, Metacrawler, in November 1998. Acquiring Dogpile gave Go2Net a second popular meta search service.

Why buy what Go2Net already had? To lock up the market.

Just one year later, in August 2000, InfoSpace merged with Go2Net. InfoSpace continued to run both Dogpile and Metacrawler as separate services. Then in early 2002, InfoSpace acquired the Excite and Webcrawler portals for just $10 million.

Over the course of this year, InfoSpace merged and unified the underlying technology powering Dogpile, Metacrawler, Excite and Webcrawler. Though each site maintains its own unique brand with distinctly different interfaces, all four are meta search engines powered by the same technology.

Of the four, Dogpile is InfoSpace's "destination meta property," according to the company. It's designed as a mainstream consumer site, using a simple presentation, without the advanced capabilities its creator, Aaron Flin originally built in to it.

Aaron Flin Announces Dogpile
Flin's original announcement of the availability of Dogpile, on December 28, 1996.

The Big Four Meta Search Engines
SearchDay, Sept. 17, 2002
Though there are dozens of useful meta search engines, InfoSpace is the industry gorilla, operating the four arguably best known and most heavily used properties.

Movement In Meta Search
The Search Engine Report, May 3, 2000
A roundup of meta search news, focusing Go2Net and other key meta search company business models.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was About.com's Web Search Guide.