Today Google is synonymous with web search. The big G with its initial service answers an average of 100,000 million queries per month. 40,000 every second. And no one doubts its hegemony.
Despite the privacy problems it may have caused, Google dominates the search engine market with more than 90% share in all countries except China and Russia, where the political context makes them local tools such as Baidu and Yandex the dominators.
Google’s leadership in the sector has made it its own advertising and the one served on the internet that gives the giant almost 90% of its income despite all the diversification it has carried out in recent years.
However, there was a time when Google was not the great janitor and master of the internet. Not much less. From the beginning of 3W, a formula was sought to try to track and order all the information that was gradually being added to the network, until it was huge. This is the history of internet search engines before the birth of Google in 1998.
To speak of the origin of search engines is to do the same on the same website. Tim Berners-Lee, considered the main father of the World Wide Web in 1989 while working at CERN in Switzerland. It used a technology called Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that transmitted data via TCP / IP, which makes all URLs start with “HTTP” – now added a ‘S’ – until today. To facilitate the interface with HTTP, Berners-Lee built the world’s first web browser, also developed the HTML language to format text-based content, from languages that have already been tested at CERN. For Berners-Lee, the technology had to be freely accessible, without patents or copyrights, to be accessible to all.
Over time, some users began creating web pages that collated the URLs shared in catalogs, creating directories that allowed them to navigate through different categories to find the relevant web pages. As if all the websites in the world were in a huge categorized list. The best known of all of them was surely the DMOZ project, created in 1998 and which passed through the hands of Netscape or AOL until its disappearance not many years ago.
This type of ordering of the results is not very different from what Google and other search engines do today, which also have a list of urls and indexed websites, with the difference that instead of categorizing the results by subject, they have Added the search and ordering system of the websites by the so-called PageRank – a term patented by Google itself – and which orders the websites according to different parameters of trust and popularity. The difference, in short, that a website appears on the first page or much further back in search results and the cornerstone of the SEO business.
Academic pioneers: from Archie to Aliweb
Archie, built in 1987 at McGill University, is considered the first internet search engine, although it was actually designed to search files on (FTP servers), and not for content on web pages.
W3Catalog (originally called “Jughead”) was launched later in September 1993 by Oscar Nierstrasz from the University of Geneva, and this one we can call the first search engine as what we understand now. W3 mostly took existing lists / catalogs from web pages and made them searchable in a standardized format.
Already more openly, Aliweb (Archie Like Indexing for the Web) is widely considered the first search engine on the web. Launched in November 1993, Aliweb allowed webmasters to submit their web pages and enter relevant keywords and descriptions for these pages to be found. However, the search engine was largely forgotten, as Internet users back then still preferred to browse websites using directories, lists, and catalogs like DMOZ.
The case of Lycos and the Spanish incursion
WebCrawler was the first widely used search engine, as well as the first to fully index the content of web pages, making each word and phrase searchable. It was developed at the University of Washington and released in 1994, the same year that Lycos from Carnegie Mellon University came to light.
Both WebCrawler and Lycos became commercial companies, with WebCrawler supported by two main investors, one of them Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Lycos invested heavily in its brand, with television commercials featuring its iconic black dog. The history of Lycos is known for being one of the future great debacles of the dot-com crisis, and especially in Spain, and which was acquired by the extinct Terra (owned by Telefónica), in 1999 with the intention of positioning itself as a great dominator. from global searches. That did not work, and the purchase of Lycos ended up also replacing Olé.com, the first search engine in Spanish that, after being born in 1996, was also acquired by Telefónica.
The big landing: Excite, AltaVista and Yahoo!
Two years after Aliweb was born, search engines became the usual method by which the so-called ‘Internet users’ started browsing. Excite and AltaVista, both launched in 1995, opened a path whose most significant member was Yahoo, a company originally founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo.
Yahoo! It started as a traditional web directory and then launched its search engine in 1995. Yahoo!, until the arrival of Google, was the great dominator, although it achieved its dominance thanks to the acquisition of smaller companies -getting its search technology- and rounds of financing. The giant, which later expanded its business to portals, services and many other things, later ended up in a compromised situation that was closed with the sale of the company by Verizon in 2016 for a much lower value than it came to have.
During those years of the late 90s, important investments that supported companies like Yahoo, AltaVista and Lycos, deficit sites but that increasingly accumulated more and more visibility.
Robin Li, the father of Baidu … and Google’s ‘PageRank’
Robin Li (Li Yanhong) remains one of the great strangers despite having founded a website and a company -Baidu- which is one of the most used on the internet, even if only in China.
After studying at Buffalo University in New York, where he earned a doctorate in Computer Science, in 1996, Li created and patented a system called RankDex, to rank the importance of web pages in a search result. For the first time, he used “link analysis” to determine the importance of web pages by the number of other pages that link to them.
RankDex is the basis of the ranking algorithm of all the major search engines of today, and a clear inspiration for Google’s ‘PageRank’, which is two years later. In fact, RankDex is referenced in Larry Page’s first patent.
Shortly after welcoming the new millennium, Robin Li and his partner Eric Xu co-founded and incorporated Baidu, now China’s largest search engine.
Ask Jeeves (Ask.com)
The questions today are a main component of how we search in Google, which has the ability to answer and understand what we are asking it to give us satisfactory results -or close to being so-.
The germ of this idea however is found in Ask Jeeves a search engine launched in 1997, with a unique ability to answer questions.
Until its appearance, users had to think carefully about what “keywords” to look for on AltaVista or Yahoo to get a useful page of results. A typical search engine would give equal weight and importance to every word in a question, often returning irrelevant results. Ask Jeeves was able to extract the important words and the primary intention of a question, giving much more relevant results. It became enormously popular with the growing number of non-techies surfing the web, who were not used to thinking like a computer.
The company was acquired by IAC (Match.com) in 2005, but struggled to compete with bigger rivals like Google. It changed its name to Ask.com in 2006, to save on the copyrights of the P.G. Wodehouse (Jeeves was a butler character in one of his books). In 2010, Ask made its search team redundant and outsourced to another search engine provider.
The start of monetization: Overture before Google Adwords
GoTo.com was a minor player in the market, but its ability was to monetize searches, creating the first ad auction system in 1998, in which companies bid on keywords. Instead of paying for banner visits, companies paid up to $ 1 for each click on their premium search results list.
The company changed its name to “Overture” in 2001 and began selling its advertising solution on MSN and Yahoo, monetizing hundreds of millions of searches a day. This far exceeded the revenue of their own GoTo search engine, but it also gave them the capital to acquire competing search engines, AltaVista and AllTheWeb. Other search engines were being bought by status and traffic; These purchases were purely commercial, increasing Overture’s ad platform coverage and maintaining 100% of revenue.
Google AdWords was launched in October 2000, initially based on CPM (cost per thousand impressions) and moved to PPC (pay per click) in 2002. The PPC model was remarkably similar to Overture’s proprietary advertising platform. Later that year, Overture filed a lawsuit, alleging that Google had stolen its proprietary technology.
In 2003, Yahoo bought Overture for $ 1.63 billion. It secured the advertising platform that fueled most of Yahoo’s revenue, in addition to increasing its market share with the search engine portfolio Overture had previously acquired. Then, in 2004, Google settled the lawsuit with the newly acquired Overture, offering Yahoo 2.7 million Google shares as compensation. Based on today’s stock valuation and Google’s stock share accounting in 2014, these shares would be worth $ 6.9 billion.
Google continues to dominate search, but DuckDuckGO may be your rival for the future
Yahoo struggled for years to come, making bad investments, acquisitions, and business professionals, which ended with its already announced sale in 2017.
And let’s not forget Bing
Because the Microsoft search engine is still the only major rival – albeit a minor one – of Google, at least until alternatives like Duck Duck Go have come to the fore.
MSN Search was launched in 1998 in response to Google including it in the Windows operating system, used by more than 90% of Americans. MSN initially used Inktomi (a previous search engine) to boost their search results.
In 2004, Microsoft finally gave the search the investment it needed, building its own technology and launching it in 2005. The most significant success of MSN at that time was in the world in the market as providers, they offered their technology to other engines. search, Internet providers and portals.
Just as MSN Search started to gain momentum (helped by being the default home page for millions of Internet Explorer browsers), Microsoft changed the name of the service to “Microsoft Live” in 2006. The decision behind this is vague and baffling aside from reinforcing the company’s “Windows” brand and making it look modern. Only a year later, the company re-branded its search engine, removing the reference to “Windows” and calling it “Live Search”.
In 2009, Microsoft announced that Live Search would be renamed Bing for the last time. Brand changes and the quality of Microsoft’s search results became a point of ridicule over the years, but Bing, with accusations of intrusion by its default listing, has become the latest little rival to Google. Today Bing, by the way, serves as an internal search engine for another old search engine, Yahoo!