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To Infinity and Beyond! Where Does Online Search Go from Here?

Posted by in Industry News

A brief history of Search Engines

1990 – Here we can find the very first web search engine which was just a simple list of all web servers (there weren’t many). This became redundant very quickly with the rapid development of the Internet and there was a need for something a little more progressive. The first tool developed for searching on the Internet was called Archie (“archive” without the “v”) and was created by Alan Emtage. This tool created directory listings based on the files located on the public anonymous FTP sites making a searchable database of files names but this did not account for all the contents of these sites.

1991 – Gopher is created by Mark McCahill in 1991, which led to two new search programs, Veronica and Jughead (keeping with the Archie comic book theme). These saw the facilitation of keyword searching in a more comprehensive listing of directories.

1993 – June – The development of what is thought to be the first web robot, the World Wide Web Wanderer in. Its purpose was to generate an index, called ‘Wandex’, which would measure the size of the Web.

1993 – November – The world’s very first web search engine, Aliweb is launched. Aliweb did not use a web robot but relied on website administrators to notify them of their site’s existence, not very efficient.

1994 – Enter stage right, WebCrawler, the first “full text” crawler-based search engine.

1994 to 2000 – What proceeded Webcrawler was a flurry of new search engines set loose into the world, each fighting for popularity. These included Lycos, Magellan, Excite, Inktomi, AltaVista and Infoseek. The battle continued for a number of years until the rise to prominence of Google around 2000.

Post-Google – The impact Google had on the world of search was the achieved through the innovation of PageRank. PageRank changed the face of searching the web by allocating websites with a rank based on a number of links connecting a website. Yahoo! switched to the Google search engine in 2004. In more recent news, Yahoo! has now changed to utilise the technology used by the world’s newest search engine, Microsoft’s Bing.

That brings us to the present moment, but where to from here? What developing technologies will shape the way search engines work in the future? Do users drive the evolution of search engines or do the engines themselves dictate how we surf the Web? Will social networking play a part in this development? What role and on what scale will search engines have in our personal and professional lives in 2, 5, 10 years time?

These questions bring us to an interesting quote by Google’s Vice President of Search Product and User Experience, Marissa Mayer:

“We’re all familiar with 80-20 problems, where the last 20% of the solution is 80% of the work. Search is a 90-10 problem. Today, we have a 90% solution: I could answer all of my unanswered Saturday questions, not ideally or easily, but I could get it done with today’s search tool. However, that remaining 10% of the problem really represents 90% of the work. Coming up with elegant, fitting and relevant solutions to meet the challenges of mobility, modes, media, personalization, location, socialization, and language will take decades. Search is a science that will develop and advance over hundreds of years. Think of it like biology and physics in the 1500s or 1600s: it’s a new science where we make big and exciting breakthroughs all the time. However, it could be a hundred years or more before we have microscopes and an understanding of the proverbial molecules and atoms of search. Just like biology and physics several hundred years ago, the biggest advances are yet to come. That’s what makes the field of Internet search so exciting.”

Microsoft has maneuvered to brand Bing as a ‘decision engine’, moving away from relevancy ranking and aspiring more to a tool to aid decision making. We have heard in previous E-Web blog that Google is looking to use page speed as a ranking factor shortly. With the multitude of ways to gather information, a gamut of methods for processing, analysing and displaying this information, a plethora of companies vying to be at the forefront of this field and an armada of web users with different needs and wants, the question of what does the future hold for online search engines is a very interesting one indeed.

Where do you think it will head? We would love to hear your thoughts. Post your comments.

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