Happy Birthday, Inktomi!

Inktomi, the biggest search engine you may never have heard of, opened its virtual doors to the public seven years ago today.

Inktomi is a behind the scenes search engine, powering some of the largest search services on the web, including MSN, Looksmart, About, and others, as well as a number of regional heavyweights. Dozens of other major web sites use Inktomi Enterprise Search to power their on-site search engine.

In short, Inktomi is a major player in the web search arena, despite its low profile, operating largely behind the scenes.

When Inktomi made its public debut on September 26, 1995, you could search it directly on its servers at the University of California. When it first came online, Inktomi created quite a stir, largely because it pioneered the large-scale, parallel processing techniques that are commonplace among today's search engines.

When it was launched, Inktomi claimed to have the largest web index of more than 1.3 million documents on the World Wide Web. Lycos had a similarly sized index at the time, but Inktomi's press release claimed that Lycos was "significantly slower."

Infoseek and Yahoo were also online at that time, but Infoseek's index of 2O+ million documents and Yahoo's 50,000 directory listings were significantly less than what Inktomi offered.

Inktomi, pronounced to "ink tuh me", was named for a mythological trickster spider of the Lakota Indians, a small spider that outsmarted larger rivals. It was created by Eric Brewer, then an assistant professor of computer science at U.C. Berkeley, and graduate student Paul Gauthier.

The project was initially funded by the U.S. government's Advanced Research Projects Agency. Brewer and Gauthier decided to commercialize the technology not long after it made its debut, founding Inktomi corporation in February of 1996. That spring, the company landed its first major customer, Wired Digital's HotBot search engine.

Soon after, Inktomi removed the direct interface to its search engine from the web, opting instead to operate as a provider of search for other web portals, rather than directly competing with other sites. As Gauthier said in a 1998 Wired magazine article, "We build the engine room, and our partners build the trim on top of it."

The company caught the crest of Internet mania with nearly perfect timing when it went public on June 10, 1998, at an offering price of $18 per share. Shares closed that day at $36, giving the company a market value of $739 million -- a figure that doubled within three months.

The company grew quickly, offering a variety of web search, ecommerce and enterprise search products, as well as Internet caching services. Over the past year, Inktomi has shed most of the business lines it acquired or built up, focusing solely on search technologies. Today, its once high-flying shares can be bought for around fifty cents apiece.

Inktomi isn't the only major search engine co-founder Brewer has been involved with. In the year 2000, by way of saying thanks to the U.S. government for its early support of Inktomi, Brewer offered to donate a search engine to government. Brewer's gift directly led to the first generation of U.S. Government portal FirstGov.gov, which went online on September 22, 2000 -- nearly five years to the day after Inktomi's public launch.


Parallel Computing Brings A Faster And Bigger Search Engine To The Internet:
UC Berkeley's Inktomi

The original press release announcing the availability of Inktomi, and how it differed from other web search services operating in 1995.

How Inktomi Works
Comprehensive information and coverage of Inktomi over the life of the service, available to members of Search Engine Watch.

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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.