The dominant Google is NOT the FIRST search engine !

History of serch engine and more exploration

(picture by Entech, 2017)

The advent of web 2.0 era brings a number of internet innovations to the reality. Search engine is one of the earliest examples of internet innovation with decades of development process. To a certain extent, search engines has already successfully dominated the cyber world since it occupies a significant place in people’s daily experience. This essay will give a brief introduction of the definition of search engine, then go on to the origin and historical trends of search engine. Moreover, it will discuss the business state of this field and relevant beneficiaries will be explored.

The advent of web 2.0 era brings a number of internet innovations to the reality. Search engine is one of the earliest examples of internet innovation with decades of development process. To a certain extent, search engines has already successfully dominated the cyber world since it occupies a significant place in people’s daily experience. This essay will give a brief introduction of the definition of search engine, then go on to the origin and historical trends of search engine. Moreover, it will discuss the business state of this field and relevant beneficiaries will be explored.

 

According to Alexander Halavais (2013), the definition of search engines refers to a kind of information retrieval system that supports keyword or query searching based on the massive collection of its database. Although search engine is an internet innovation, the idea of it firstly conceived in 1945 which was before the age of internet. Vannevar Bush (1945) has published an article called “As We May Think”. In this article, he encouraged and urged scientists to build a body system of knowledge for humanity. He believed in the idea of storing data because the accumulation of human experience is expanding at an alarming rate. If it is useful to the development of science and humanity, it is necessary to record all the knowledge and experience. Although it is generally considered that the genesis of search engine was in 1990, the concept of “hypertext and a memory extension” should be dated back to 1945 from my point of view. However, it took 45 years for human-being to bring search engine to reality. The first search engine in humanity history was “Archie” built in 1990. It helps solve the data fragmentation problem by combining a script-based data collector with a regular expression matcher to retrieve file names that match user queries. In essence, Archie becomes a database of web file names that match user queries (Wall, 2017). In conclusion, Vannevar Bush only introduced a concept of data recording and hypertext and memory extension but this idea was inspired and explored by generations after him and became the conceptual genesis of search engine. In terms of the physical genesis, Archie was created in 1990 as the first search engine in history.

Figure 1. A screen shot of homepage of Archie

Once the searching revolution began, the speed of evolution was high. After Archie, there were also a few of search engines coming up to the stage and each of them just updated some new functions. For example, only a year after the creation of Archie, Tim Berners-Lee built a virtual library up called “World Wide Web Virtual Library”. In the same year, the appearance of Gopher index system makes it possible to search online databases and text files. The most significant achievement of Gopher is freeing users from the restriction of details such as domain names, IP address and file formats (Vaughan-Nichols, 2017) that all they need to do is asking the question only rather than providing clues for the answer. Gopher index system was used in Jughead, created in 1993 which allowed users to search file names and titles.When Infoseek appeared in 1994, it enabled webmasters to submit a page in real time. Meanwhile, Yahoo was created and it remains its visibility till now. Also in 1994, WebCrawler was created which was the first widely used search engine and the first to fully index the content of web pages, thus making every word and phrase searchable. It was developed by the University of Washington and launched in 1994, the same year as Carnegie Mellon University’s Lycos. Both WebCrawler and Lycos became commercial enterprises, and WebCrawler was backed by two major investors, one of whom was Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Lycos invested heavily in the brand, showcasing its iconic black Labrador in television commercials, employing a large number of volunteers, and paying the site’s editorial staff (Hendy, n.d.). This is historically significant because it implies to the participation of capitalism and benefit.

 

Although there were so many search engines appeared in the 1990s, the business of search engine today is in a kind of monopoly situation. In 2005, only 7 years after Google was created, the proportion of Google in global search engine use has already reached to 53.3% (Halavais, 2013). The tendency just generally kept growing and the percentage of worldwide search engine market share has already climbed to 92.26% till September 2020. The key secret to success of Google is solving the spam and relevancy problems, which has made other search engines suffer for a while. As the Internet is used for more commercial purposes, spam-free search results are becoming more important. Searches for academic papers with one or two results are replaced by tens of thousands of searches per month for auto-insurance, designer clothing and credit cards, each with hundreds of thousands of competing pages. Google has mastered the magic weapon of eliminating spam SEO keyword page, will be more trustworthy website in the first place (Hendy, n.d.). However, the monopoly situation may not be permanent since there is a rise trend of specialized search engine, aiming to search information from a particular constrained portion, rather than from the entire internet (Halavais, 2013). This kind of searching is called “vertical search”. Compared to “horizontal search”, it is more effective to use this kind of specialized search engine when users require specific professional information by searching. Therefore, in terms of the historical trend of information management, the creation and evolution of search engine not only fulfilled Vannevar Bush’s idea of hypertext and a memory extension, but also became a powerful tool for information management by innovating algorithms and systems.

Figure 2. Google’s first server rack (Jurvetson, 2006)

Indeed, search engine generally benefits both macro level and micro level. Enterprises earn money and ordinary people’s life have been changed because of it. However, this benefit should be critically reviewed that some individuals or groups should be beneficiary and victim at the same time. Noble (2018) just indicated that sometimes search engine would give stereotypical feedback to the users. For instance, from the perspective of social view, if a user try to type “women cannot…”, the auto-suggestions popping up may be sexist terms such as “women cannot drive”or “women cannot be trusted”. Therefore, it can say that as a vulnerable group in patriarchal society, female’s right can not be benefited from search engine. Conversely, male may benefit from this kind of stereotypical results and invisibly consolidate their oppressive position. In terms of the political view, different search engines may stand for different political position. For example, if a user search “Tian’an men Square” picture in Google, the results would show him or her a number of tense view with military, tank and protest people. However, if you search the same key word in Baidu, the results will show you view of the building and square only. This is because Baidu is developed by China and it dominates the field of search engine in China. On the opposite, Google is not allowed to use in mainland China because complicated political issues are involved. No matter which search engine is, the regime that supports it behind the scenes must be the beneficiary. From this angle, ordinary people can be victims because they are misled by the results.

 

In conclusion, search engine firstly appeared in 1990, well developed in the following decades and finally be a crucial part of information management. The current situation of search engine business is monopolized by Google. Search engine does benefit the world but this interest is relative, according to different social group and political position.

 

Figure 3. Results of “Tiananmen Square” in Google

 

Figure 4. Results of “Tiananmen Square” in Baidu

 

Reference

Bush, V. 1945. (1996). As we may think. The Atlantic. Retrieved from:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/

Noble, S. U. (2018). A society, searching. In Algorithms of Oppression: How search engines reinforce racism (pp. 15–63). New York University.

Halavais, A. (2013). The engines. In Search engine society (pp. 5–31). Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity.

Hendy, C. (n.d.). The history of search engines. Retrieved from:

https://carlhendy.com/history-of-search-engines/#top

Vaughan-Nichols, J, S. (2017). Before Google: a history of search. Retrieved from:

https://www.hpe.com/us/en/insights/articles/how-search-worked-before-google-1703.html

Wall, A. (2017). History of search engines: from 1945 to Google today. Retrieved from:

http://www.searchenginehistory.com/

Zoe Wu
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