Nine things you didn’t know about search engines

We take search engines for granted these days. They exist because they have to. Without them, going through and finding relevant information in the millions and millions of pages that exist on the web would be an almost impossible task.

For example, it would have been extremely time-consuming for us here at Pingdom to put together this blog entry if we couldn’t easily search the web for the information we needed.

Search engines
Above: The big three. Or…?

Here are nine things you probably didn’t know about search engines.

1. Invented in 1936?

The basic idea that would lead to the invention of hypertext and the reasoning behind the need for quick information retrieval of such stored information (the equivalent of today’s search engines) was published way back in 1945 by Vannevar Bush, an American engineer and science administrator. The essay, As We May Think, may have been written as early as 1936. His concept of a “memory extender” device, a memex, contains pioneering thoughts that ultimately led to the creation of the WWW.

2. A magic, automatic retriever of text

The first actual search engine was created in the 1960s by Gerard Salton. He and his team at Cornell University created the “SMART information retrieval system” (SMART stood for Salton’s Magic Automatic Retriever of Text). Gerard Salton is considered the father of modern search technology.

3. First on the internet

The first internet search engine was called Archie, made to index FTP archives. The name Archie is just Archive with the “v” removed.

4. First on the WWW

The first web search engine was called Wandex. It was released in 1993 and used an index created by the first web crawler, World Wide Web Wanderer, written in Perl by Matthew Gray at MIT. Matthew Gray now works at Google.

5. Not much to do

In December of 1993 there were only 623 websites on the internet, which made work for the first web search engines a lot easier than today, when there are more than 162 million websites on the internet.

6. First full text search

WebCrawler was the first search engine that indexed entire pages, and therefore the first to provide full text search like today’s search engines. It launched in 1994. Before then the search engines had only indexed page titles and header information. Today WebCrawler has transformed into a meta search engine, using results from Google, Yahoo, Live search, and others.

7. The Proto-Google

The technology that would become Google was originally called BackRub, a project Larry Page and Sergey Brin started working on in 1996.

8. Yahoo and Microsoft late in the game

Yahoo and Microsoft didn’t have their own search engine technology until 2004. Yahoo Search used data from AltaVista and Inktomi, and was even powered by Google for a while. Microsoft’s MSN Search (now Live Search) followed a similar path (but didn’t use Google) and didn’t launch their own technology until early in 2005 (beta in 2004).

9. The big three – NOT

Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are usually considered the “big three” in search, but this is actually incorrect, at least if you consider the total number of searches world wide. Baidu, the Chinese search engine, surpasses Microsoft’s Live Search in the number of searches made… which would make Google, Yahoo and Baidu the big three.


  1. The future of search engines will be interesting to watch as well, especially as search engines focus on returning information in the generic sense (dates, numbers, videos, maps) instead of just web pages. I think that Mahalo is particularly interesting at the moment. It may never challenge the biggies as a humongous search engine, but it’s “human-powered” search is definitely useful in a lot of cases.

  2. Interesting point with the actual position of Baidu. Just too bad that most of us don’t understand Chinese characters: even with search engines and all the modern web technology, there is a huge part of the internet in Asian countries that will stay forever unknown for us living in EU or US. But fact is, many chinese understand English nowadays. Take five minutes to review my <a href=>site</a>, thanks.

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and not published in real time. All comments that are not related to the post will be removed.