My 9/27/09 Missoulian column
The history of Web search is much like the history of the rest of the modern Internet: it started out small and adapted to – and spawned – new technologies.
Web search didn’t always exist, and that’s hard for me to believe sometimes. I use Web search for everything: finding computer error messages, news articles and, of course, searches for everything else under the sun.
Web search depends on indexes of Web sites and other resources. The first indexes of the Web depended on people indexing sites by hand, or through software that gathered disparate indexes in different formats.
Such indexes were much smaller than today’s, and pure keyword searches were impossible. That was until 1995, when a company called Altavista created the first full text search of the Web. Altavista used a crawler called “Scooter,” a software bot that crawled around the Internet and indexed everything reachable.
Full text search was the harbinger of what would come. But who remembers Altavista? They got passed up by new technology and were hit by the tech meltdown in 2000.
Then Google came along in 1997 with two new ideas: automating the complex process of developing an index (which wasn’t a new thing, but they did it better and faster), and doing something critically different with that index.
That difference was “weighting” search results. Instead of showing “raw” results like other search engines, Google decided what results you would get, albeit in a valuable way.
Google’s technology shows search results according to how many other Web sites mention and link to that site. If lots of sites point to a Web site, Google thinks that Web site must be more valuable.
Search is a huge business. According to Comscore, there were 13.9 billion core searches performed in August in the U.S. alone. And Google is king, with around 65 percent of the search market.
But that same report shows that Google’s market share declined a slight amount. Big news? Hard to say, but the new kid on the block is called Bing, a search index developed by Microsoft in response to Google’s dominance.
Looking back in 10 years, it might be seen as a turning point. But Google is so well known, it’s a verb. I don’t think someone is going to say they “Binged” something anytime soon.