Google’s only five, and even online veterans like Yahoo and AltaVista are comparative toddlers. In fact, it’s only been a little more than ten years ago that the first web search engines were born.
Tracking down the exact date that each search engine came into existence isn’t easy. Many of the earlier services were projects created by individuals, quietly announced in Usenet newsgroup postings. Others, even those created by larger organizations, have multiple “birthdays” depending on who you ask, or whether you consider prototype versions vs. official launch dates.
The list below is part of an ongoing project here at Search Engine Watch to capture the history of the major search engines and directories. We’ve already written a number of “happy birthday” articles; those are linked below.
For the others, we’re researching their histories, and will run articles in SearchDay as we can complete them. Be sure to also check out Danny Sullivan’s Where Are They Now? Search Engines We’ve Known & Loved.
WWW Wanderer is regarded as one of the first crawlers, launched by MIT student Matthew Gray. It wasn’t a true search engine — its purpose was to help estimate the size of the web. But its pioneering crawling process is widely used by search engines today.
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.
Yahoo’s How It All Started page says: “The two founders of Yahoo, David Filo and Jerry Yang, Ph.D. candidates in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, started their guide in a campus trailer in February 1994 as a way to keep track of their personal interests on the Internet.
JumpStation was one of the first crawler-based search engines, one that quickly faded away, however, after its student-creator, Jonathon Fletcher, graduated and went to work in the “real world.”
World Wide Web Worm
Another crawler-based engine, developed at the University of Colorado by professor Oliver McBryan. This crawler was purchased by GoTo.com in December 1999 and formed a key part of what has evolved into Overture today.
Created by University of Washington student Brian Pinkerton, Webcrawler subsequently was purchased by Excite, AOL, Excite again, before finally ending up in the hands of InfoSpace, which uses its name (but not technology) today.
Most early search engines were either research or personal projects, made freely available without thought of profit. Infoseek corporation had a different idea: It would create business for its “full text information retrieval service,” and charge users for access.
On July 20, 1994, Lycos quietly launched with a catalog of 54,000 documents. Less than a month later, the crawler had amassed more than 390,000 documents in its index. While that number may seem small compared with today’s 3+ billion web pages, at the time it was a notable achievement for a search engine.
Created by Colorado State University student Daniel Dreilinger, SavvySearch was one of the first meta search engines. It was purchased by CNET in October 1999, and renamed Search.com.
Another University of Washington engine, Metacrawler is now operated by InfoSpace.
Excite’s founding and early days is the stuff of Internet legend. The company was founded by six Stanford students who wanted to hang around together after graduation. One evening at Rosita’s Taqueria in Redwood City, CA, the group’s Graham Spencer suggested they build a search engine, because information retrieval seemed like the easiest place to “make progress.”
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.
On December 15th, 1995, AltaVista opened its virtual doors to the public, with an index of 16 million documents. It was an immediate hit — more than 300,000 searchers used the engine on its first day. AltaVista is now owned by Overture, which will be acquired by Yahoo later this year.
Ask Jeeves was the brainchild of venture capitalist Garrett Gruener and technologist David Warthen. From the start, Jeeves was different than the other search services of the day. The idea behind Jeeves was not to create yet another search engine or directory, but to offer a question-answering service — a virtual online concierge.
May 1996; reborn December 2002
Launched in May 1996, HotBot was initially powered by Inktomi and backed by Wired. Now owned by Terra Lycos, HotBot searches Inktomi, Google, AlltheWeb and Teoma.
LookSmart was founded by Tracey Ellery and her husband Evan Thornley. Ellery conceived the idea for the search directory while pregnant with twins and homebound in Australia. In its earliest incarnation, LookSmart was a unique, Java powered directory that was unfortunately ahead of its time for personal computers of the day.
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.
GoTo debuts a pay-for-placement service allowing web site owners to bid for placement. Those willing to pay more can appear higher in the search results. Though not the first to try this model, GoTo (not Overture) was the first company to successfully implement pay-for-placement.
Norwegian company FAST launched AlltheWeb.com claiming it had the largest index of web pages. AlltheWeb is now owned by Overture, and will soon be integrated with sister search engine AltaVista.
A group of computer scientists from Rutgers University founded Teoma in April 2000, determined to build a search engine that looks at the Web in terms of subject-specific communities. In April 2001, Teoma.com launched, and Ask Jeeves, Inc. acquired Teoma on September 11, 2001.
Wisenut was founded by Yeogirl Yun, the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of mySimon, one of the first comparison-shopping sites on the web. Wisenut was acquired by LookSmart in April, 2000.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication’s search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.