evolution of search engines: past, present, future
Origin and Evolution
The history and evolution of search engines can be divided into distinct periods. The first period begins from the development of Archie, which was a search engine program launched in 1990 by a group of university students. The Archie program worked by scanning files on scattered servers connected to the Internet and retrieving them for users using FTP protocol. A few years later, Veronica and Jughead search engines were launched that could search and retrieve documents using the Gopher protocol. An important breakthrough took place with the launch of the first robot search tool, the Wanderer. This was the precursor to the modern day web crawlers and worked by scanning the World Wide Web and indexing data from servers as well as URLS on a database. However, it was quite inefficient and required a lot of improvement. ALIWEB was a modification of the Archie engine because it could search and retrieve files in HTTP, the protocol used for modern day files on the Internet. In 1994, Yahoo! emerged as the first online directory that also provided short descriptions of the search results, similar to modern search engines. At about the same time, the WebCrawler was launched as a unique program that not only scanned the URLs of the web pages but also their complete text. Other innovations were Lycos and Alta Vista. These early search engines developed the advertising-based revenue model for search engines where advertisements were displayed on the top or the right side of the search results page. In the words of Van Couvering (2008):
"The first period of search engine history is characterized by technological innovation within research centers followed by commercialization using advertising and licensing as business models and capitalization through venture capital and the stock market. The market was competitive, consisting of multiple companies with different technologies."
During the next period, the dot-com bubble burst left behind only a few search engine companies to compete effectively. Many of the companies like MSN and Yahoo developed into web portals offering a search engine feature as one component of their services. But it was Google that became popular from 2000 onwards as a dedicated search engine. Its focus on the search engine service allowed it to gain credibility as a reliable and efficient search engine. It developed a unique search algorithm and page ranking techniques to improve the relevance of its search results. While the popularity of Yahoo declined as a search engine, it continued to acquire websites like Flickr to improve its service package. MSN continued to retain its search feature with MSN Search and modified it from time to Live Search and ultimately Bing. Bing now operates separately from the MSN portal as a separate search engine, similar to Google's search engine.
In recent years, the competition between Google and MSN has intensified with Google developing Google Desktop that combines desktop applications with a search feature while MSN has also developed Bing as a dedicated search engine to compete with Google. With the development of portable computing devices like the Smartphone, search engines are developing new interfaces for compatibility with mobile devices. One important feature that Yahoo and MSN have adopted is the question answering feature where users may post questions to be answered by others. This reflects a fight for "content and market share in verticals outside of the core algorithmic search product (Wall, n.a.)."
Examples of Search Engines
A number of search engines are used today with each offering some common and some unique services and features. The leading search engine is Google that has continued to enjoy growing popularity since 2000. Yahoo and MSN also provide search engine features as part of their portal services. Alta Vista is an important earlier search engine. I introduced many features that are popular today. It used a web crawler similar to many modern websites. It also scanned full text sites instead of just the URLs. It also had a simple uncluttered interface, which was the inspiration for Google's clean interface that makes searching easy and less distracting. Ask.com is also a popular search engine that was earlier names AskJeeves.com.
Distinguishing Features of Search Engines
Bing is the latest development in the search engine arena. It is the latest competitive action made by MSN to capture market share from rival Google by providing a dedicated search engine with an interface very similar to that of Google. What distinguishes Bing from Google is that it serves as a meta-search engine. According to Wells (2008):
"This type of search engine searches several major engines at one time. These search engines do not have their own databases. Instead they act as a 'middle person'."
Google is still able to retain its edge over the competition. One distinguishing feature of Google that others have not been able to replicate is the Google Books feature. Under this feature, Google provides a limited number of scanned pages of books published in UK, USA and Australia to users for free. Although this has become a highly controversial issue from a copyright point-of-view, Google is still considering its application where it will provide a database of complete scanned books to its users. Other features include advanced search options and date search features that other rivals do not possess.
Yahoo has adopted a distinct strategy to deal with the competition offered by Google and Bing. Being a web portal, Yahoo has access to a rich variety of content ranging from news to music and shopping. This gives it the advantage of being able to pair its search results with related content. This provides the users with access to a variety of data and suggested links that may be relevant to the user.
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How Search Engines Operate
Search engines are able to respond to search requests by users by the use of web crawlers.
"The crawler module typically establishes the first and only contact of the search engine with the World Wide Web data (Lieberam-Schmidt, 2010)"
This is the first step in the searching process. A web crawler is a browsing program that crawls over the World Wide Web and scans the web pages into the database maintained by the search engine. This database is then accessed by other components of the search engine architecture that process it and present it to the user. There is so much information on the Web that one web crawler cannot scan all of it. Therefore, search engines operate a number of web crawlers in parallel. Once the web crawler has scanned its designated area of the Web, it has to repeat the process to keep the database up-to-date.
The second step in the process is indexing. The database created by the web crawler is accessed by the indexer which scans the data and organizes it in a form that makes related data available in one place and makes it easier for the search engine to retrieve it as soon as the user requests for a search item. When the user enters an item search, the search engine accesses the index and searches for the item or information that most closely satisfies the criteria entered by the user. Some search engines store web pages as part of their cache.
The third step in the search engine process is searching. The search engine program searches the data according to the criteria entered by the user. The searcher processes instructions such as the use of Boolean operators such as AND, OR and inverted commas entered in the search box. Another special type of search function is that of a proximity search. Proximity search allows the user to specify the distance between the keywords entered. Some search engines also rank websites in order of number of visits or relevance to previous searches by the same user. This ensures that the user is provided with a list that reflects their needs most closely.
The search engines generate revenue through a number of means. The traditional mode of revenue generation has been through providing advertising space to businesses on the search page. This does not disturb the experience of the user because the advertisements are displayed in a separate area of the page to be unobtrusive. Earlier the pay-per-click model was used but this resulted in fraudulent clicks. Some search engine companies earn revenue from companies for presenting links to their web pages among the top searches relating to their content.
Benefits of Search Engines
There are several benefits of using search engines. Because of the growing sophistication of search engines, it…