So It's 1994, we have this crazy new technology called the internet and everyone wants to explore it. Enter David Filo and Jerry Yang, who made a list of their favorite websites and entitled it Yahoo! (Please note: spell check protests if you forget the “!”). As the list grew, and friends wanted access, it evolved into a searchable directory with one significant improvement from all the other amateurs in cyberspace at the time - each URL retrieved by a search query included a short description of what the user could expect from the site.
Following Yahoo!, some seemingly formidable opponents emerged. WebCrawler was introduced later that year, and differentiated themselves by being the first search engine to index the entire set of text from any given website. LookSmart, founded in 1995, had a good seven year run, before it tried charging listed sites per click to keep up with Yahoo!'s revenues. Their profits improved, but at about the same rate their popularity declined among clients who hadn't planned on paying per click.
Also in 1995, newcomer AltaVista offered unheard of bandwidth and multiple language capabilities but didn't have the management to match it. Yahoo! gobbled them up for $140 million in stock and cash and they were only the first domino, Inktomi and Overture were soon to follow.
Who’s Got Mail?
There were a couple other engines that emerged early on and may, like Yahoo!, be used today by more than one generation. Let's start with AOL, who was already an established Internet services company when they saw the search engine marathoners run by and decided to buy new track shoes. Throughout the years, they have depended much on other providers to operate their search platform and ads and have gone through many sales, acquisitions, and partnerships with big names such as Excite, Netscape, WebCrawler, Overture, and Yahoo!. In May 2002, they finally signed on a partnership with Google who still runs their search platform today and owns 5% of the company. AOL has since remained in the top five search engines, trying to distinguish themselves by a plethora of shopping and multimedia features, but alas it seems to be mostly a club for those still clinging to their Instant Messenger screen names.
Go Get It
If only all dogs could be as eager to fetch as Lycos. By leveraging its size and reliability rather than its innovation, Lycos created a noticeable presence. In October 1994, Netscape compiled a list of search engines ranked by number of results returned for the query "surf" - and Lycos was #1. Unfortunately, their lack of innovation was highlighted once everyone else caught up with them in size. They've gone through many phases of renovation over the years, but remain clumped in the "Other" category on recent graphs of the most influential search engines.
The Online Gentleman
Before everyone told us to "Google it", there was a trusty butler who always welcomed life's questions. Good ol' Jeeves, in his pinstriped suit jacket (no matter the pants never matched) used a unique approach and could read your questions in natural language, you didn't need to think hard about what key words or phrases to search. You simply typed in the question however you would ask it out loud and human editors employed by the engine matched and ranked your queries the way Yahoo! used algorithms. Though the original Jeeves has retired to a beach somewhere(and been replaced by his investment banker evil twin), his legacy lives on and took on a new name, Ask.com, in 2006.
Google: Giving Excite nightmares since 1999.
Google came into the world in 1998 with an odd name and simple face, birthed from a research project called "BackRub" which was the first to reverse navigate the 'back links' that lead to a website. Instead of ranking results based on how many times a term appeared on a given page, Google employed their PageRank algorithm which ranks a page by the path of links that leads to it. Despite having a unique product, Google's creators, two Stanford PhD students were overwhelmed with school and running a company, and unsuccessfully tried to sell Google to Excite in 1999 for $750,000. I wonder how hard Excite kicked themselves five months later when Google received $25 million in funding from optimistic venture capitalists.
What Google's homepage lacked in sequins and glitter, they more than made up for in speed and accuracy with their PageRank patent. And by introducing AdWords in 2000, Google further propelled itself to the forefront with pay-per-click online advertising. In 2009, Google's total search advertising revenue was $23 billion.
Despite a strong start in the industry, come 2000, Yahoo! was at a loss for how to compete with Google's pioneering PageRank technology. Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and sign a contract to let 'em run your search engine. That way, their users would have no reason to try out Google.com when Yahoo! search, run by Google, essentially gave them the same results. However, this was only a temporary towel throw-in, and after acquiring AllTheWeb, Inktomi, and AltaVista in 2003, Yahoo! announced in 2004 that they'd be shedding Google and would once again run their own search technology. For the next four years Yahoo! tried to flex it's muscles by purchasing various media web services like Flickr, Del.icio.us, and Upcoming.org but failed to prove it's search engine strength, and by 2008 was in intense negotiations with Microsoft to again find a new operator for the search platform. The "Microhoo!" contract was signed on July 29, 2009.
Microsoft, like AOL and Yahoo!, primarily relied on others to run their search engine, until 2004 when seeing Google's unrivaled success, they decided to take matters into their own hands. At the time, Google commandeered 35% of web search queries, while Microsoft only handled around 16%. Microsoft steered full speed ahead to expand their index of Web sites and refine and group their search results to give customers more options. "We're trying to move away from the 10 blue links" of current search results, said marketing manager Brad Goldberg. Unfortunately, they failed to pull followers from the Google fan club, which had grown to 71% of the web in 2009 and so decided to try something else entirely, something with a catchy onomonopoeia and lots of great photography. The world wide web welcomed Bing to the scene in 2009. By monopolizing on our brains preference for visual stimuli, Microsoft had figured out that differentiating from, instead of trying to match, Google was the only way to stay in the race. Bing decided to master vertical searches, with search results showing up in categories that can be easily organized, filtered, and honed further. Bing was also the first engine to include social networking feeds, like Twitter, in its results. While Google remains the top choice for volume, Bing has created a niche, for specialty and media searches, and nearly doubled their search volume since 2009.
-My deepest sympathies, Excite.
-Google may be running everyone's search engine one day.
-Vertical search capabilities is 'where it's at.'
-Some Twitter feeds may be better left unsearched.
-The Microhoo! team isn't giving up yet.
In the final part of The Search Engine Saga series, we'll discuss who the interesting newcomers are in the industry. Innovative new search engines add themselves to the web monthly, and though they may never give Google a run for their money, they can successfully distract you from work for a good couple of hours. Here's a sample