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History of World / Regional Search Engines and Directories


Computers have become a way of life for people around the world. They are used to research term papers, check weather forecasts, track military progress, exchange ideas (blogs and chat) and to find the cheapest price on items etc. It is no surprise that as the computer age takes hold computer usage has increased. The number of websites that are being developed on the World Wide Web is growing at an ever increasing exponential amount. And because we live in a quick-fix society, with limited time on our hands, we need something to make surfing the web a lot easier, something that will sort out all this influx of information into a logical order. Hence the wonder of search engines, which have transformed the meaning of search and has made our jobs easier. This paper focuses on search engine case studies around the world. Different search engine regions selected for research in this paper were: American, European, Canadian, Australian and the UK.

American Search Engines

Introduction

As of January 1, 2004 the estimated human population of the United States of America was 292,287,428 and there were 164,100,000 computers (1). An estimated 90,000,000 households have access to internet (2). With this many people surfing the web, curiosity might cause one to wonder about the search engines being used in America. Two of the most popular and well known search engines in America are Google and Yahoo. Although most people have a preference to one or the other search engine it is difficult to say one is truly better than the other as the quality of search is similar. According to some users, Google is the most powerful search engine in the world (3). However, others users argue that between the two search engines, “There is an imperceptible difference in the quality and relevancy of results.” (3).

History of Google

Google, www.google.com, was created by two Stanford University students. The original name was BackRub but by 1998 the name had been changed to Google and it became a private company (4). A Googol is (10100), the word Google was created as a variation (5). Some argue that Google is the top search engine in the world and indeed it has become so popular that it is now known as a verb (5).

General Information

Google has grown from indexing 25,000,000 pages in November of 1998 to 4,285,199,774 pages in of June 2004 (6). Google is a crawler based search engine, meaning that the search engine sends out crawlers which automatically visit sites, follow links and create indexes which are then searchable (7). Google is currently in a legal battle with the court systems to keep its name out of the dictionary (5). Google was the first major search engine to index non-HTML web content allowing PDF files to be accessed (8). Google also offers services such as “cached” links that allows a user to view older versions of pages. Other features include spell check, dictionary definitions, integration of stock quotes, street maps, and telephone numbers (4).

Google Homepage

The home page offers a user many convenient features. Google has an easy to use tool bar that users can download onto their personal computers (3). If a user wants to search specifically for pictures the “Images” button will give them access to the entire web but only those results containing images will show up. The “Groups” button allows users to participate in discussions that are taking place on Usenet newsgroups. The “News” button will provide headline news stories and you can have news alerts on specific subjects sent directly to your email. “Froogle” is a simple, easy way for a user to search for a bargain or even a specific item online. The “more” link provides access to human-compiled information from the “Directory”, allows a user to get travel information or even simply use a calculator. The “Advanced Search” will allow a user to limit a search to PDFs or .edu search results. “Preferences” allows customization of Google services. “Language Tools” will translate any website or article into an understandable language. If you’re curious about Advertising, Business Solutions or about Google, click below the search box on one of the links. The “I’m Feeling Lucky” button will take a user directly to the first page result of their search and not show any other pages. Google lists its sponsored links separately from its general search results.

History of Yahoo

Yahoo, www.yahoo.com, was created in 1994 (4). Most people are familiar with the phrase, “Do You Yahoo?” created as a Yahoo advertising slogan.

General Information

In 2004 Yahoo is believed to be indexing about 3 billion pages (9). Yahoo is the oldest directory, “relying on human editors to organize web sites into categories” however, Yahoo decided to make a giant shift towards crawler based listings in October of 2002 (4). Yahoo previously relied on Google for search results but in February of 2004 Yahoo created its own search technology (4). “It is important to note the new search engine is for web results only. Image search is still powered by Google, and News search is a combination of Yahoo’s own editorial and technological resources.” (10). Yahoo has many of the same features Google provides such as “cashed” links, spell check, dictionary, yellow pages, and mapping programs. Yahoo also provides email services for free as long as the user doesn’t mind sharing the page with advertisements. In fact, Yahoo’s knowledge and experience from the email services are believed to be helpful in providing Yahoo with a deeper understanding of spam and an ability to keep it out of their web page index (10).

Yahoo Homepage

Yahoo’s home page is cluttered compared to the simple format of Google. Yahoo has the typical advanced search options and preferences allowing for customization of features. To the right of the search box is a pull tab that allows a user to limit their search to the web, images, yellow pages, news, or product information. A user can look up movie times, send yahoo greetings, search for a house, or find travel information, just to name a few things. Yahoo’s website directory has sites organized by subjects such as, education, science, health, and government. Towards the bottom of the page is a list of local Yahoo’s. Who knew that there was a Yahoo Singapore let alone a Yahoo Catalan. Like Google, Yahoo lists its sponsored links separately from its general search results.

European Search Engines

Introduction

There are 44 nations in the European region. These countries are home to 567,095,995 people, 9.33% of the world’s population (11). Each of these countries has at least one regional public search engine. Some of them have several (12). Booz-Allen & Hamilton, one of the United States’ older and more respected consulting firms conducted a study which pointed out that “…22% of European households have access to the Internet” and in 2004 it is expected that, “Western Europe should have more than 215,000,000 users on the Internet on at least a quarterly basis (13).”

The countries of Europe have been involved in a long and complex process of European integration. The EU was formed 1 November 1993 and is a union of 25 independent states (Appendix 1) (14). As one of its objectives; the EU has taken on the challenge of integrating member states and surrounding countries to provide them with stable Internet and E-commerce development and growth (15). Alltheweb and Ezilon are two of the many search engine companies that are seeking to capitalize on the opportunity provided by the EU integration.

History of Alltheweb

Fast Search and Transfer (Fast) ASA started business operations in 1997 in Oslo, Norway. In June 2001 they went public. Fast is an outgrowth of academic research and development from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (16). Fast Search and Transfer launched Alltheweb in May 1999 and gave it the brand name of “Fast” until 2001, when the site was redesigned under the “Alltheweb” brand. Alltheweb, www.alltheweb.com, then became a public search engine and technology showcase for the Fast Search Company (17). In February of 2003, Overture announced they would purchase Alltheweb from Fast. The acquisition, coupled with their previous announcement to purchase the AltaVista Company, helped Overture to bolster their leadership in commercial search and aligned the company to create the most comprehensive search capability on the Internet (18). Yahoo! Corporation bought Overture on October 7, 2003 to fortify itself for an eventual showdown with Google and Microsoft (19).

General Information

Alltheweb now has all of the indexing power of Google. Through the acquisition process, Alltheweb has increased its prowess to become a leader in the search engine community throughout Europe (19). Its employees strive to help Yahoo provide the best public search engine not just in Europe, but the world.

Alltheweb Homepage

Pulling up the Alltheweb homepage (20) the user is provided with a simple and easy to navigate site. Alltheweb homepage contains five tabs: web, news, pictures, video and audio. However, the user has to search for a specific topic to find information in these categories rather than information being available for them on the site. All “sponsored links” are viewed to the right of the page where they are available if desired. Only after glancing through all of the paid links does the viewer come to the most relevant search returns. On completion of a search for a topic the user is provided with an option to “Refine your search” which provides further subcategories on the topic. Other features offered on Alltheweb are the ability to filter potential offensive content, restrict the number of results per page, highlight search terms, change text size, and the ability to open search results in a new window. You can select up to 8 preferred languages from a list of 36.

History of Ezilon

Ezilon.com search engine was founded to allow individuals and companies around the world to access information easily, particularly by the EU community. (21) The Ezilon homepage states that Ezilon.com is a European Union International Search Engine and Directory. (22)

General Information

Ezilon search engine provides a searchable directory for European websites ranging from Europe travel links, business, hotels, news and classified ads and most especially links from the Western European countries. They also accept listings for non EU websites, but they must have contents of interest to the EU or general Europe. (23)

Ezilon Homepage

Ezilon homepage has immediately accessible information on it. Unlike other websites which present “Sponsored links” Ezilon provides “Sponsored matches” prior to the search results. Ezilon’s “Sponsored matches” can be viewed to the right of the page.

Ezilon specializes, through the guidance of the EU, in pooling and distributing information for the advancement of a united Europe. Other convenient features available to users are: popular links, weather forecast and headline news. Various categories are available for search e.g., art, science, business, technology etc. Users have an option to search the EU, UK or the World. In addition to all above mentioned features free email is provided to members of Ezilon.

Canadian Search Engines

Introduction

As of July 1, 2004 estimated population of Canada is 32,247,874 with 16,19,000 internet users (24). Canada today stands at the number 7 position among countries with internet users (25). There are 13 provinces and territories in Canada and the usage of search engines varies by these provinces and territories (26). This section will focus on only two of the top five most commonly used Canadian Search Engines: AltaVista Canada and AOL Canada (27). The following sections will provide a brief history, general information and information about the homepages of these two search engines.

History of AltaVista Canada

AltaVista, which means “a view from above,” was inspired by the creation of big ideas from a team of experts with fascination for keeping track of information (28). During the spring of 1995, scientists at Digital Equipment Corporation’s Research lab in Palo Alto, CA, devised a way to store every word of every HTML page on the internet in a fast searchable index (28). This led to AltaVista’s development of the first searchable, full text database on the World Wide Web (28). Compaq became the owner of AltaVista after it purchased Digital in 1998. AltaVista was later spun off into a private company, controlled by CMGI. Overture, purchased the AltaVista in April 2003, eventually Overture became part of Yahoo which led to the ownership transfer of AltaVista to Yahoo (29). AltaVista Canada was launched in January of 1998. Over 1,500,000 unique users visited the site and traffic to the site grew by over 300% within the first year of its launch. AltaVista Canada was a result of an agreement between TELUS advertising Services and Compaq Computer Corp.’s AltaVista Search Service (30).

General Information

AltaVista was the first to deliver internet’s first Web Index in 1995. It was also the first in offering multilingual search capabilities on the internet and to launch image, audio and video search capabilities. It has been awarded 61 search-related patents, more than any other internet search company (28). AltaVista is great for international sites. It will find sites not only in English on a topic, but in just about every language imaginable. In case the user isn’t bilingual, Alta Vista also includes a very handy translation tool (31).

AltaVista Canada Homepage

The homepage of AltaVista offers users various convenient and easy to use features. The homepage houses Canadian web index of more than 14,000,000 pages. It allows you to search worldwide or within Canada. For the convenience of its users, AltaVista Canada provides a feature to select a language in which to present the results of its search. AltaVista provides a toolbar which is free, customizable and gives the user the research tools to perform searches and translations from their own browser anywhere on the web. Popup blocker feature on the toolbar gets rid of annoying pop-ups. The “Web search” searches within all AltaVista indexes, including the best image search on the web. The homepage also provides specific features that help you narrow your search for only images, music files, videos, news and directory based on specific topic. “Advanced search” option provides different features for search options e.g., phrase, keywords, date, file type, location and sites per page option.

History of AOL Canada

AOL Canada Inc. is a leading interactive service company focused on enhancing Canadians online user experience. The company is a strategic alliance between American Online, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner and RBC Royal Bank, the personal and commercial banking division of RBC Financial, one of North America’s leading diversified financial services companies. This alliance took place on July, 1999. The company operates three interactive online services tailored to the Canadian marketplace, AOL English and French services, CompuServe and Netscape Online as well as several leading Internet brands including AOL.CA, AOL Canada Search, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Netscape.ca and MapQuest (32).

General Information

Members of AOL Canada Inc. have an added advantage. In addition to regular Web access, clients may choose to surf inside of the AOL environment, which is only available to AOL Canada Inc. members. Inside the AOL environment, members receive a great deal of Canadian content that has been streamlined to meet their needs. Surfing on the World Wide Web can sometimes be overwhelming and frustrating due to the excessive amount of information available. AOL Canada Inc. has chosen the most popular channels and listed them on the Channel Menu, each channel offering an abundant amount of information provided by AOL Canada Inc. and their partners on that particular topic (33).

Homepage of AOL Canada

AOL Canada’s homepage presents a variety of features to make search and web surfing easier for its users. Some features presented on its main page are: a sign in for AOL instant messenger, mail, parental control, reminders and calendar etc. It has a section for “Shopping online” which gives its users an option to choose the specific item they are shopping for. “Web channels” feature gives users a chance to search the web for careers, auto, entertainment, health news, sports etc. It also contains a section for yellow and white pages search. Users can search for people or places in this section. AOL Canada search, which is powered by Google, gives users a chance to search by topic or key words. The “Advanced search” feature only has options for words and phrases rather than file type or specific sites e.g. .edu or .org. Search results include “Sponsored links” and matching sites. It also has a “devices” tab where AOL offers Palm Organizers. Other information included on the homepage is company information, news, pricing plans, employment and contact information.

Australian Search Engine

Introduction

Although the internet is globally accessible, the majority of its users reside in the more developed nations where computer usage is most common. Australia has a high percentage of computer usage which resulted in increased usage of the internet and development of search engines. The Australian population is currently 20,141,793 (34) with 10,600,000 (35) computer users. Of which 9,240,000 (24) have internet access.

History of Web Wombat

As computers were being integrated into Australian businesses and homes, companies, such as Web Wombat, began to develop search engines to make information more accessible to Australians and the world. As the internet grew and more pages began to be indexed, Web Wombat turned its focus inward on Australia (36). This strategy proved to be very successful as evident by the fact that today Web Wombat’s spiders crawl the web for new sites to add to its already vast cache of 100,000,000 web sites, making it Australia’s leading search engine (37).

Homepage of Web Wombat

Web Wombat indexes and stores a tremendous amount of information and the way in which they chose to present it is slightly different than other search engines. The lay out of Web Wombat’s home page is initially dominated by advertisements. To the left of the home page there is a box titled “Premium links” which are not organized in any specific order. An example of this is the fact that, of the twenty one listings within the box, there are three separate links to car rental sites, two to hotels, and miscellaneous links to things such as online dating. This information would be more useful to consumers if it were categorized in some fashion within a directory or if it were displayed to the side of a related search. Under the “Premium links” box is the “Daily resources box” which provides links ranging from links to world newspapers to Grumpy’s humor. At the top of the page there are a number of headings ranging from careers and education to auctions. The interesting thing is that when you click on auctions it takes you directly to ebay.com.au. However, the careers and education tab is far more objective. This link provides a menu on the left with a variety of helpful links and then articles with links in the center of the page. The “Search” field is displayed in the center of the page however; it is not very prominent once barraged by ads, premium links and advertisements. The “Advanced search” has an interesting feature which enables people to search by “nice to have words”, “must have words”, “nice to have phrase”, and the ability to eliminate certain words. This feature becomes very convenient when a user wishes to narrow the results to a desired city under “nice to have words”. By focusing the search in such a way, the information delivered is made more relevant without eliminating too many possible matches. Another nice feature is that “Advanced search” enables people to specifically search all Australian pages, Australian government sites, or Australian educational pages.

UK Search Engines

Introduction

The population of UK as of July 2004 is 60,270,708 with 25,000,000 internet users (24). There are approximately 40 top Search engines in the UK; some of them are familiar to the United Stated such as Google, Yahoo and Overture. These search engines are custom suited to have optional searches, whether regional searches within the UK or on the Entire World Wide Web. Some search engines within the UK are more specialized; where you have to pay a subscription to use that particular search engine, for example UK Plus and UK Index. And some search engines like Great British Pages, only search for British websites (39). Being a developed country, it is not surprising that the UK has a large number of search engines. The following section of the paper is focused on UK originated search engines.

History of Excite

Excite was originally formed in 1993 by five Stanford university graduates who called their search engine Architext. This was further developed by students attending Stanford and in 1994 Excite Inc. came about and was launched in 1995. Excite only acquired a web crawler in November 1996 and over the years they added features and software and the option of search on the World Wide Web. Regional search engines such as Excite UK were added to their search engine. Excite has an index of 250,000,000 pages and multimedia items in 2000 and about 19,000,000 monthly users (40).

General Information

Using a specific UK search engine such as Excite UK can be beneficial. Excite UK will limit your search geographically and the users results will come out in a smaller scale providing more relevant results (41). If a user in the UK wants to find out about local news or check the stock of UK companies a regional search engine will provide more relevant information.

Excite Homepage

Features of Excite UK are different compared to the usual “dot com” American search engines. The Excite UK search engine homepage has the search box in a prominent position at the top of the page with options located below to search the World Wide Web or only UK sites. In this respect it is a dual search engine (UK and World Wide Web) (40, 42). Excite UK has a General User Interface (GUI) which is very busy, meaning that it has a lot of information on its homepage ranging from UK news headlines and images, UK stocks, UK online shopping, UK stores, standard horoscopes, local weather, a directory, and various other services targeted for people living in the UK (42). The Excite homepage is also customizable, in that you are able to change the color of the homepage (skins) according to your favorite color or to the colors of your favorite football team. Besides just searching the web on Excite, you can search using “Categories” for images, videos, mp3s, news, and people. The excite UK homepage also has a currency calculator under the “Tools” section. Excite UK displays minimum advertising. When a user clicks on the “More” button different subcategories within a search can be selected (43).

Conclusion

Search engines have become an integral part of internet use for the average computer user. As more information becomes accessible on the internet, the need for credible search engines increases. As Professor Krishnamurthy stated in class, the amount of content available on the internet has grown exponentially in recent years and as it grows people’s search cost will increase unless search technology improves (38). Throughout the world, internet users are provided with various search engines that offer different features depending on their user needs. The fulfillment of these needs result in the success of search engines around the world.

Anastacia Chetty

George McNiel

Joel Ennis

Julie Wartes

T.J. Tiwana

University of Washington

Julie Wartes & Joel Ennis