The Evolution of Search: From Archie to Google

by | Jan 8, 2013 | SEO

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Can you remember the days before search engines? Thumbing through indexes in the back of old musty books on research trips to the library, or if you’re anything like me, sitting in a messy circle of teetering towers of tomes, furiously scribbling notes. Haha, I can’t help but laugh in remembrance of those bygone times. Fond memories aside, in today’s fast paced information age, such endeavors seem as archaic as mounting a horse and buggy for the daily transit to work.

Cell phones, laptops, ipads, netbooks, everywhere within a mere wiggling of the fingers information abounds. For better or worse, we are glued to these screens, and they have become an integral part of our reality.

In 1990 the first search engine emerged. It was called Archie, and was a far cry from the innovation we now know and expect from search giants like Google. Archie, an abbreviation of the engine’s originally intended call name “Archives”, was created to parse information stored on public anonymous FTP sites.

Despite the limited capabilities of Archie, its servers parsed about 50,000 queries per day. The results were file paths with a time stamp and a link to their location. In a mere two years Archie grew to parse roughly 2.6 million files with 150 gigabytes of information*. This seems trifling to a modern purveyor of our delightful information age, but in it’s time this was quite a considerable amount of data.

Such is the way of innovation, that one great idea sparks another, and another, search alternatives continued to spring up. Veronica was one of the notable search engines of this era, a system for the Gopher protocal, developed in 1992 by Stephen Foster and Fred Barrie.

To understand Veronica, one must have a general understanding of the Gopher protocol. It is a TCP/ICP application layer protocol that is designed to distribute, search, and retrieve documents on the web*. It was an alternative to the the World Wide Web initially, but ultimately faded into obscurity as HTTP became the dominate protocol.

So many search engines rose and fell in popularity, paving the way toward the future. Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, Bing, and many others left a definite mark on the internet, but few can compare to the continuous evolution of Google.

Google began as a research project in early 1996 by students working on the Stanford Digital Library Project (SDLP). Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Ph.D. began exploring the mathematical properties of the World Wide Web, coming to a graphical understanding of its link structure*.

The Google we know today was born from a project nicknamed “BackRub”, this web crawler began exploring the net in March 1996, utilizing a PageRank algorithm to parse better results than existing techniques. PageRank assigned “a numerical weighting to each element in a hyperlinked set of documents”* which measured its relative importance.

No other search engine has capture and captivated its users quite so thoroughly as google. So much as to warrant an entry in popular dictionaries such as Merriam Webster, Oxford Dictionaries, and

From its inception to this point, Google has grown considerably in both functionality as well as range of service absorbing companies like YouTube, Orkut, and others. Not to mention its consistently dwarfing the search market shares.

From an abstract written by Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, you can begin to glean the reasons behind Google’s monumental success. They had a solid scalable plan, based on thorough research, and a driving urge to make the web more organized. This abstract is available on the website.

As Google continuously refines its algorithms, many websites are fading off into obscurity and losing their places in the search rankings. The only real way to avoid this is to understand Google’s underlying purpose and ideology. If our work makes the internet a better and more relevant place, we shouldn’t have to fear future updates from Google.

Here’s a video, from Google, detailing the evolution of search:

Further Reading and References:

First Search Engine:
Read More About Archie:
Gopher Protocol:
History of Google:
Anatomy of a Search Engine
How Big is Google, Really?

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