Aliweb, a pioneering web search engine that used advanced technologies way ahead of its time, made its debut nine years ago, on November 30, 1993.
Aliweb was one of the original "web wanderers," programs that retrieved documents by following links discovered on web pages, spreading "like a virus," according to early lore.
Of course, today we call web wanderers "crawlers" and they're the technology used by all of the major search engines to build their web indexes.
Aliweb wasn't a full-text search engine. Rather, it read special "index" files created by webmasters that described the contents of their sites. These index files followed a format suggested by the Internet Anonymous FTP Archives Working Group.
At the time, FTP searching was one of the primary ways you found things on the Internet. And one of the most popular FTP "search" programs was called Archie. Aliweb is actually an acronym for "Archie Like Indexing In The Web."
Martijn Koster, Aliweb's creator, announced the system to the comp.infosystems.www Usenet newsgroup on November 30, 1993. He wrote:
"ALIWEB is an experiment in automatic 'distributed'
indexing: a WWW server advertises its contents in a
local file, which is automatically retrieved and
processed proactively by a single site. The combined
database of these indices can of course be searched
from the Web."
The index files that "advertised" the contents of the web server effectively used meta data describing the entire contents of the web site. This allowed Aliweb users to run advanced searches, limiting results to document subjects or titles, all without the advantage of having a full text index of web pages.
The problem was that the Aliweb required webmasters to create and maintain their own indexes. According to the history of Aliweb page, "... a chicken-and-egg problem became apparent: Because not many people provided information, the resulting database was rather empty. Because the database was empty not many people used it to look for things. Because not many people used it there was no incentive for people to provide information."
This lack of interest, combined with the emergence of automated crawlers like Webcrawler and Lycos in 1994, led to the demise of Aliweb. In 1995, responsibility for Aliweb was handed over to EMNET, a UK based Internet consultancy, which forecast a bright future for the service. From the History of Aliweb page (link below):
"A new and exciting period for Aliweb has recently arrived, since responsibility for it has been handed over to EMNET and the whole site and engine is being rewritten to bring it up to date with the latest HTTP and HTML standards, which will carry through well into the new millennium."
So much for rosy predictions. Although Aliweb no longer functions as a search service, the methods it pioneered, including distributed indexing and the use of rich meta data are now widely accepted.
Aliweb's Koster is also well known for his work on the Robots Exclusion Protocol. He created The Web Robots Pages, a site that's still considered to be one of the definitive resources for information about crawlers and their operation.
Web pioneer that he is, Koster is just 32 years old, and currently works as a Software Architect for Danger, Inc., working on server-side applications to support the Hiptop mobile device.
Aliweb's creator, Martijn Koster, announces his new web search service to the comp.infosystems.www Usenet newsgroup.
ALIWEB - Archie-Like Indexing in the Web
Aliweb creator Martijn Koster presented this paper to the First International Conference on the World-Wide Web in Geneva, 1994.
History of ALIWEB
A history of Aliweb maintained by the company that hosted and then took over the service in 1994, when Koster no longer had time to maintain the system.
The Web Robots Pages
Web Robots are programs that traverse the web automatically. Some people call them web wanderers, crawlers, or spiders. These pages have further information about these web robots.
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