Search Engines / Background | WebReference

Search Engines / Background

Search Engines

I. Background

The Web evolved beyond FTP archives not just by becoming a graphically rich multi-media world, but by evolving tools which made it possible to find and access this richness. Oldsters like this author remember that before browsers there was WAIS (released 1991), and the XWAIS version provided a user-friendly GUI way to find information. However, this system required servers to organize information according to a specific format. GOPHER, another information serving system with some user-friendliness, was released the same year. One of the earliest search engines like those today, Lycos, began in the spring of 1994 when John Leavitt's spider (see below) was linked to an indexing program by Michael Mauldin. Yahoo!, a catalog, became available the same year. Compare this to the appearance of NCSA Mosaic in 1993 and Netscape in 1994.

Today there are a score or more of "Web location services." A search engine proper is a database and the tools to generate that database and search it; a catalog is an organizational method and related database plus the tools for generating it. There are sites out there, however, that try to be a complete front end for the Internet. They provide news, libraries, dictionaries, and other resources that are not just a search engine or a catalog, and some of these can be really useful. Yahoo!, for example, emphasizes cataloging, while others such as Alta Vista or Excite emphasize providing the largest search database. Some Web location services do not own any of their search engine technology - other services are their main thrust. Companies such as Inktomi (after a native American word for spider) provide the search technology. These Web location services have put amazing power into every user's hands, making life much better for all of us. . . . and it's all free, right?

. . . Maybe not. It is rumored that these information companies might increase their revenues by selling information - information about you. After you use a search engine and find a page with mutual fund quotes, you might find yourself suddenly receiving e-mail advertising investments. Think this is a coincidence? Think again. The investment company could have paid a search engine for your e-mail address. The sale of such information is not advertised at this time, however, there is an existing protocol for servers to ask a user's browser for such information, routinely entered during set-up. Get scared about your privacy by checking out the anonymizer snoop page. For best results, search for the anonymizer snoop page, "I can see you", then go to it from your search engine (you'll see what I mean). For now, let's stick to the practical aspects of search engines, catalogs, and Web location services.

Comments are welcome

Revised: August 28, 1996