A Brief History of Search Engines (1987-2000)

Published by Editorial Team on


Nowadays search engines become peoples one of the most needed elements in daily life. Today’s look wasn’t in the beginning. Let’s walk the history of search engines from the very beginning.

What is a search engine?

A search engine is a software program that runs on the internet. It is designed to find more accurate information from the world wide web. In every search engine, there is an input and output section which is usually users known as ‘search box’ and ‘search engine result page’. People need to put the most relevant keyword(s) which they want to query on the search engine’s search box. Search engines take that command and after a while, it shows the results on the SERP. Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Baidu are the most known search engines nowadays.



Archie – The Birth of Search Engines

URL archie.icm.edu.pl/archie_eng.html


In 1987 McGill University School of Computer Science runs a project name ‘Archie’. This software program collects information on downloadable files from the internet. Archie was a software tool for indexing FTP archives. The word Archie is taken from the word ‘archive’ without ‘V’. The most interesting fact is this ‘Archie is the world’s first considerable search engine in history.



World Wide Web Virtual Library (VLib)

An English scientist, Sir Tim Berners-Lee who was working on CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland. In 1989 the first website The Web in the world was invented by Tim Berners Lee. It was hosted on Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer. After that, he made a virtual lab name VLib (World Wide Web Virtual Library) in 1991. This CERN webserver hosted a list of the other web servers in that age of the internet.




Veronica was a search engine system made based on Gopher Protocol in November 1992. Two scientists Steven Foster and Fred Barrie from the University of Nevada, Reno developed Veronica. This search engine system mainly searched files, then it gathered their file names and titles and stored them in the Gopher index system.



Jughead – Brother of Veronica

Jughead was another search engine system like Veronica invented in 1993. Rhett Jones at the University of Utah developed Jughead based on Gopher Protocol too. This Jughead also searched file names and titles in Gopher index systems, but the difference is this is only searched a single server at a time.


World Wide Web Wanderer

In June 1993 Matthew Gray of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) developed probably the world’s first web bot called ‘Wanderer’. The full form of Wanderer is World Wide Web Wanderer. Matthew developed it based on Perl programing language. The bot was used to count the active web servers and its actual purpose was to measure the growth of the internet. Later very soon the bot was able to capture actual URLs. Wanderer collects the URLs and indexed its database called Windex. But there was a limitation of Wanderer. Bot accessed the same pages several times every day and it caused major lags.



The Fathe of Search Engine Jonathon Fletcher, from Scarborough, England developed JumpStation. It launched on December 12, 1993, and was announced on December 21 1993 on the NCSA Mosaic webpage. JumpStation was used to crawled and indexed the title and headers of the webpage.


World Wide Web Worm (WWWW)

The World Wide Web Worm (WWWW) is developed by Oliver McBryan at the University of Colorado. This is one of the primitive search engines of the world wide web. Although WWWW was first launched in March 1994, it was made at end of the year September 1993. WWWW made a database including 300,000 multimedia items and 110,000 web pages in 1994. This could search for keywords via the world wide web. But the search results were not shown by rank.


RBSE Spider

RBSE web crawler was developed end of 1993. This crawler was able to find URLs from its database. But without an exact match title, it was very difficult to find any results.




URL www.infoseek.com

In January 1994 an American serial entrepreneur Steve Kirsch announced the internet search engine called Infoseek. It was also known as ‘big yellow’. Early 90’s it was one of the most popular search engines in the world.

Infoseek was mainly regulated by its original owner Infoseek Corporation (HQ California, USA). According to statistics, the InfoSeek website had almost 7.5 million users per month. In 1998 Infoseek launched its UltraMatch targeting algorithm first time in history. It was able to submit a webpage in real-time and could target a specific audience by analyzing their behavior. At last, Infoseek was bought and merged by Walt Disney in 1999.


Galaxy/eiNet – Boundless Directory

URL www.einet.net


eiNet was launched in January 1994. It was known as the first searchable Internet directory. the MCC Research Consortium at the University of Texas, Austin also created Galaxy as a supporter of the Einet division.

Galaxy/eiNet is still alive and working as a directory. At that time it was familiar with well utilizing the listing information but it lost importance lack of unnecessary information in a short amount of database.



URL www.aliweb.com


ALIWEB (Archie Like Indexing for the Web) was another one of the earliest search engines in the world wide web (WWW). It was developed from three primitive search engine systems Archie, Jughead, and Veronica. ALIWEB is also developed by Gopher Protocol but it was far developed from the previous search systems.

It allows meta tags of the web pages. But there was no search crawler for spidering the web information. That time user should submit their webpage manually. There was a problem at that time, people didn’t know clearly how to submit their webpage information. This point forced down the ALIWEB that time.

ALIWEB was first announced in November 1993 but published in May 1994 at the First International Conference on The World Wide Web. The conference was held at the CERN in Geneva. ALIWEB was developed by Nexor Dutch Scientist Martijn Koster. This search engine is still live and accessible for users.


Yahoo! Search – A Flash Light of Future Search Engine Era

URL www.search.yahoo.com


Two Stanford University students Jerry Yang and David Filo developed a directory named Yahoo! Directory in 1994. After one year March 2, 1995, they launched a search engine function named Yahoo! Search. This search engine function was allowed to search from Yahoo! Directory. Yahoo! Search has become a licensed search engine from other companies and it was one of the most popular search engines in the history of all time.

Yahoo! Search was developed by PHP language and it was a true web crawler-based search engine. In this engine informational webpages were free for adding the directory. This is still a live search engine but on July 29 2009 Yahoo and Microsoft announced that they were in a deal with Bing to become more powerful Yahoo! Search.



URL www.webcrawler.com


WebCrawler is one of the oldest non-commercial, metasearch engines which was started developing by Brian Pinkerton at the University of Washington on January 27, 1994. Initially, it was not a search engine, it was only a computer desktop application. It was officially launched on April 21, 1994.

AOL (America Online) bought WebCrawler in June 1995 and they introduced its amulet ‘Spidy’.

Excite acquired WebCrawler from AOL on April 1 1997 for 12.3 million US dollars.

In 2001 Excite bankrupt and WebCrawler become the property of InfoSpace.

In July 2016 OpenMail acquired InfoSpace for 45 million US dollars. Thus, WebCrawler petting under ownership OpenMail.



URL www.lycos.com


The word ‘Lycos’ is short for ‘Lycosidae’, which is Latin for “wolf spider”. Wolf spiders are members of the family Lycosidae, from the Ancient Greek word ‘λύκος’ meaning ‘wolf’. In 1994 a web search engine and web portal were launched spun out of Carnegie Mellon University. Lycos search engine documented 1.5 million documents in January 1995. Lycos could make ranked by relevance retrieval and used prefix matching and word proximity by itself.




LookSmart is a primitive human-maintained online advertisement directory. LookSmart is an English directory and its primary focus is the United States. But it appeals to its information to the whole world-wide people.

In 1995 in Melbourne Australia, LookSmart was developed by Evan Thornley and Tracy Ellery as a personal web portal. Later 1997 it launched as a java program-based search engine. That time it seemed to be redesigned and acquiring almost 90,000 website information in its directory.

LookSmart was a leading and active American search advertisement, content management search engine system. Once it competes with Yahoo by increasing inclusion rates back and forth to the adviser.




www.excite.com (worldwide)

www.excite.co.jp (in Japan)

At Cupertino, California In June 1993 some students of the University of Stanford named Ben Lutch, Martin Reinfried, Joe Kraus, Graham Spencer, Ryan McIntyre, and Mark VanHaren created computer software to manage statistically and use the immense information of the WWW to provide a more efficient search result for the users. They named it ‘Architext’.

In July 1994 IDG (International Data Group) invest a big amount of money so that they could use Architext as an online service. In October 1995 this was officially launched as ‘Excite’. Excite is now still live and it is a web portal, metasearch engine, a web-based email service provider, and chatbot management company.



URL www.altavista.com

Paul Flaherty a researcher at Digital Equipment Corporation’s Network Systems Laboratory and Web Search Laboratory made an idea about a web search engine. The organization agreed with that. Louis Monier and Michael Burrows made the algorithm. They named it AltaVista and it launched on December 15 1995 at altavista.digital.com.

AltaVista was the world’s first unlimited bandwidth web search engine. AltaVista was a metasearch engine and it allowed multiple languages at that time. These characteristics made AltaVista very popular at that time.

AltaVista was defunct on July 8, 2013. But before that, it made some awesome changes in the search engine’s history. It included some advanced search settings and also allowed users to add or delete their webpage URL(s) within 24 hours. People first time get search tips and features from AltaVista.




In 1996 Lary Page was working on a research project called BackRub. It was a part of teamwork on Stanford Digital Library Project (SDLP) and interestingly it was the beginning of the mighty Google. The goal of the BackRub was to create a universal digital library that could rank the search result by the URLs’ authority, reliability, and trustworthiness. That’s mean it ranked the result pages using backlink citations, the meaning of any mention or notation. For this reason, Lary introduced a massive graph of link structure. Which is later called backlinks and also a significant impact on PageRank.


Inktomi Hotbot

A United States Corporation is Inktomi which is a software and internet service provider (ISP) in America. Inktomi had a search engine system called HotBot from May 26, 1996. HotBot was software for serving the results from the Inktomi database.

HotBot was maintained by HotWired (1994-1999). HotWeired was the world’s first online news and magazine portal. HotBot was good as limited searches but it was not good enough for PPC (or Pay Per Click) features. Since it was a commercial search engine then it should maintain the PPC system for advertising smoothly. As a result, HotBot was paused after a certain period.


Ask Jeeves / Ask.com

URL www.ask.com

Ask Jeeves was the world’s first character-based search engine which was founded in 1996 by Garrett Gruener and David Warthen in Berkeley, California.

Ask Jeeves was able to fetch search results and understand the question pattern which people used every day. It was used for local communities and it was very easy to spam. For this reason, DirectHit (maintainer of Ask Jeeves) faces questions many times.

Ask Jeeves lasted until 2005 when it was turned into Ask.com, a question-answer search engine. We will talk later about Ask.com.




URL www.msn.com


The full form of MSN is Microsoft Network. MSN was started its journey as a web portal. But in 1998 MSN was merged with Microsoft’s main database and create an awesome search engine. It was a very smart look and had a powerful signal.

MSN.com was one of the most successful search engines until Google came to the field and make their update based on the backlink. MSN.com is still active but that’s not popular as before.


The Birth of Google

URL www.google.com


After the success of BackRub Lary Page and Sergey Brin renamed their company name after a mathematical term Google which means a number that includes 100 zeros after 1. They incorporated the company in $100,000 and relocated to the garage of Susan Wojcicki.

Day by day the world wide web was growing and the result of Google was more accurate by their link-building method. But that’s not all the story. We’ll show how they improve their core algorithm concerning the circumstances.




AlltheWeb was an internet search engine founded in 1999 and closed in 2011 by Yahoo. Initially, AlltheWeb was for Internet Service Providers, FTPs, and content sites but by June 2002 it was crawled and indexed over 2.5 billion content webpages. AlltheWeb was very popular for its smart customizable look, fresh database, and advanced search features.

In February 2003 Overture bought AlltheWeb for $70 million
In that same year, Overture was acquired by Yahoo. So naturally, AlltheWeb went under Yahoo in 2003.
Yahoo made some testing about live search results on AlltheWeb in 2006
At last, AlltheWeb was shut down by Yahoo on April 4, 2011.




URL www.teoma.com


In April 2000 Teoma was launched by Professor Apostolos Gerasoulis. Professor Apostolos Gerasoulis was one of the powers of Ask.com. After few months of launching Ask Jeeves acquired Teoma in September 2011.

On January 21 2003 Teoma 2.0 was released and declared as the most relevant and accurate search engine at that time. Teoma had a 175% growth in 2002 and 51% in 2003. At that time experts assumed that Teoma could be a great search engine in the next decade.

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