1997 is the year. The year is 1997. You are wearing what people wore back then – a jean jacket, I think – and talking to your friend, about Austin Powers, your favorite movie by Mike Myers. You are quoting the movie and your friend thinks it is hilarious. Then, things turn dark. Your friend exclaims, “I thought Randy Quaid excellent.” “Randy Quaid?” You ask, trying to avoid hitting the wall. “Randy Quaid wasn’t in Austin Powers.” This is what you try to explain to your friend. To resolve the matter and save what little of your friendship you have, you turn on your 90-pound computer tower. 40 minutes later, your computer is connected to the internet and you can search, for example, for ‘do my dissertation for me’ query. Now, the question is: where do you go? How did people find information and settle disputes before Google? We will ask several experts this week to reach out to several experts to get the answers.
Assistant Professor of Information at the University of Texas at Austin. His research concerns the standardization, preservation, and emergence of new information objects on mobile and social media platforms.
Google Search controls more than 90% of the market, which includes search engines like Yahoo!, Bing!, and DuckDuckGo. Google’s personalized, ads-driven search algorithm overtook almost all the information we can find online. But, before that, there were website directory and indexed engines that compiled web resources according to topic.
Web search engines began as directories of websites that were curated by humans. Yahoo called them “surfers”, and they read every webpage about a topic, then ranked them. This human-driven approach to categorization was eventually replaced with crawling websites using bots (sometimes called Spiders). These spiders would then rank the websites according to their reliability and relevancy to different types of search queries. In the early 1990s, there were around twenty search engines, including WebCrawler (Lycos), AltaVista (Yandex) and AltaVista (AltaVista). These search engine indexes looked a lot like library catalogs. They were compiled by subject, structure, topic and subject. Early search engines were built so users could navigate to links across multiple high-level categories, such as “News,” Travel,” Sports,” and Business. The early search engine homepages looked a lot like a book’s index.
It’s important that you remember that in the 1990s, web searching had different goals. The goal of web surfing was not always to find facts or products. Instead, search engines allowed people to discover digital resources and interact with the internet. The 1990s saw less ad targeting and more freedom to explore. Even though the results weren’t always accurate and didn’t always filter out porn, web search offered users more control and greater control. Web search in the 1990s was more like a journeying experience, as compared to modern search. When I say quest, I mean actively participating in the navigation and discovery of content. In a world where personalized, curated searches from platforms like Google or Facebook are largely supplanted by audience targeted ads, it is difficult to imagine a more active role. Let me show you an example from an early web search adventure. Searching for the song lyrics of “Small Town Boy”, for example, could have led you to the first German fan page for Jimmy Somerville. Google will now provide the lyrics of song lyrics if you search on LyricFind.com. You can move from a searching experience to a more precise, algorithmic experience with search. Although you might get what you need with Google Search you will likely lose some of the serendipitous and unique features that made the early web so fascinating and fun to explore.
Search is not a term we use to refer to browsing websites or indexes. Instead, we are thinking about scrolling through and swiping information via feeds or apps that aggregate many different content and profiles into one stream. Maybe we are expecting an exact answer in the form of a snippet from an online resource. The majority of modern search features, especially those that are part of platforms like Amazon or Facebook, have monetized this process further by collecting more user information. To the point where people can use these services, it is almost always necessary to track user behavior such as search terms and browsing habits, they often require tracking. If we look back at the history of search engines like Google and Amazon, we can see all the opportunities we have lost. Then, ask yourself: How else can I surf the internet?
“The earliest search engines for web were directories of sites curated by individuals.”
Christine L. Borgman
Distinguished Research Associate, University of California Los Angeles Information Studies, and author of Big Data, Little Data, No Data : Scholarship in a Networked World
Yahoo and Altavista performed well in the 1990s. However, computerized information retrieval goes back to at most the 1950s. The beginning of the 1970s marked the start of commercial online remote access systems.
Google did not invent information-retrieval by any means–it built on very old methods of documentation, such as those of Paul Otlet, who invented the Universal Decimal Classification in the 1930s, and was among the parents of modern information science.
The history of online information-retrieval is discipline-specific–very deep specialist indexing in the fields of medicine, metallurgy, materials science, chemistry, engineering, education, the social sciences. In the early 1970s, we had excellent databases online that were available commercially–you only paid by the connect hour.
Some of Google’s fundamental principles stem from td–idf. This stands for Text Frequency Time Inverse Document Frequency. It was a concept that Karen Sparck Jones, a Cambridge doctoral dissertation, developed in 1958. Her method consisted in finding the frequency of a term, then dividing that number by the inverse proportion of how many documents are found. She is a true pioneer. She would later consult with Google and other noted information scholars. Page and Brin were certainly well-informed in this history.
Google emerged from the Digital Libraries Initiative, which was led and involved 8 to 10 federal agencies. I was able to get funding through it. I remember attending the all-hands meetings, where Page and Brin had a poster suggesting Google. I still remember thinking: This is so cool! They have reinvented bibliometrics on the Web.
Bibliometrics can be used to create links between documents, and then follow that network. This method is especially useful for topics with changing terminology. You could, for example, go to a Roe-v. Wade discussion starting in the mid-1970s. Look for every reference and everything that cited it. This will allow you to go in both directions.
The Science Citation Index, which was also established in the 1950s brought old principles and technology of library science to modern technology. The ideas of biblimetrics, citation indexing, and biblical annotation may have roots back hundreds of years.
“Google did not invent information-retrieval by any means–it built on very old methods of documentation, such as those of Paul Otlet, who invented the Universal Decimal Classification in the 1930s, and was among the parents of modern information science.”
Safiya Umoja Noble
Associate Professor of Information Studies at UCLA and Co-Director of UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry. The author of Algorithms of Oppression : How Search Engines Reinforce Racism
One of the most crucial aspects of early internet information exchange was the ability to harness subject matter experts from scholars to librarians to help cultivate and organize knowledge. These people were visible as AI and search tools developed. We realized that sharing is possible online because people power is key to making it happen. Based on the existence of pockets of websites managed and maintained by organizations, especially universities, we attempted to identify what was trustworthy.
The first search engines were actually virtual libraries. Many people now understand the importance of libraries as a public service. The loss of a lot occurred as automation increased and AI replaced librarians and expert. Yahoo! and other large advertising platforms such as Google replaced the public good. Google.
Expertise can now be outsourced and optimized content is paid for by AdWords’ highest bidder. This has caused a large gap between search engine knowledge and advertisement, especially when trying understand complex issues. The search engine has made us less trustful in our ability to critically think and have backed it up with researched facts. We are also more susceptible to manipulation by propaganda. While search engines can be useful in finding information that is not relevant, they have made us less aware of the importance and benefits of slow, deliberate investigation. This makes us more informed citizens.
“The first search engines actually were virtual libraries. People understood the importance of libraries as a public service. As automation became more common, librarians and expert were replaced by AI. This led to a loss of a lot. Yahoo! and other large advertising platforms such as Google replaced the public good that could’ve been realized. Google”
Associate Professor of History at the University of Waterloo and the author of History In the Age of Abundance. How the Web is Transforming Historical Research
Google was not the first search engine on the web. The original search engine for the web was called the Wandex (or World Wide Web Wanderer). It measured the web in 1993. This index led to Lycos, Infoseek, and Yahoo! directories. 1995.
These search engines and directories of the early days were rather complicated. Website creators would have to fill out forms to be added to the directory. Meta tags would also need to be included in your HTML. In the mid-1990s, more people created websites and hosted them on third party platforms. However, not all sites were registered.
One reason for this is that early websites relied on hyperlinks – far more than we do today in our age search – to bring people to their sites.
This is demonstrated by the WebRing. Sage Weil, a young programmer, developed the WebRing in 1995. WebRings were a group of websites that were topically united. WebRings could be used to connect people who are passionate about old cars, or cat lovers, with a WebRing for them. A WebRing interface would appear at the bottom of these pages, inviting users to click on the “next”, “previous” or overall index for everyone who has joined the ring.
This was a fairly democratic and easy way to discover sites. Anyone could create a Web Ring, and anyone could join one if they felt they belonged to the community. Importantly, they created a new way of connecting people. WebRings was in its heyday until 2000, when it was sold to Yahoo! Some management changes resulted in users being alienated.
I’m not trying to be nostalgic. I would never want to return to a world in which content was found mostly via hyperlinks. However, I do use Google as much and as often as anyone else. Google’s PageRank algorithm means that Google ranks sites higher up on search results pages if they have more links coming in from trusted sources. This can funnel traffic to some big winners. If I search “cats,” I may find the top dozen results out of nearly four billion. There are many cool homepages created by cats-loving people or best thesis writing services. If I had clicked through a webring back in 1998, there was a chance that I might have discovered some amazing content or felt connected to other people through the sharing of similar interests. Google is much easier to find these types of content.
Google wasn’t the first search engine for web. In 1993, the World Wide Web Wanderer (or Wandex) was created. It measured the web and produced a searchable index. 1995
Was there anything I missed? The mules. My Netscape browser, powered by mules, was slow. But I miss the gentle rhythms that grazed the web.
“Yahoo! Although it worked well for the first few decades of the internet, it became cumbersome and eventually broke down in 1997 …”.