Search engine shakeout: article from 1998 on birth of Google.

Way back in 1998, Salon co-founder Scott Rosenburg took a look at this thing called the Internet and didn’t much like what he saw. He lamented the ugly inefficiencies of the new web portals and mocked their efforts to homogenize the individual experiences we all have when we’re online. And he was frustrated by the poor performance of search engines.

But he also identified a bright light in cyberspace: the oddly named Google. He begins by describing the shortcomings of the other search engines.

When you conduct a general search on a broad term like, say, “President Clinton,” you never know whether you’ll actually find the White House Web site — or some homely page chronicling an eighth-grade class trip to D.C. (Infoseek does a decent job returning the Oval Office site at the top of the list, but Excite sends you to an impeachment poll on Tripod and the Paula Jones Legal Defense Fund — the president’s page doesn’t even make it into the first 10 results. Hotbot’s top result is a site called Tempting Teens — “All the Kinky Things that make our Government what it is.”)

This is an everyday problem familiar to anyone who uses search engines regularly. So here’s some good news for us — and bad news for the big portals: There is a better way to build a search engine. And a Silicon Valley start-up company with the unlikely name of is showing the way. started as a research project by a couple of Stanford grad students — which, of course, is just how Yahoo, the directory site that has become the Web’s most popular service, began. […]

Google gets remarkably smart search results by using a mathematical algorithm that rates your site based on who links to you. The ranking depends not simply on the number of sites that link to you, but on the linking sites’ own importance rating. The result is a kind of automated peer review that sifts sites based on the collective wisdom of the Web itself.

The program is complex, but the proof is in the results. Since discovering Google a few weeks ago, I’ve been so impressed with its usefulness and accuracy that I’ve made it my first search stop.

— Scott Rosenburg, Salon

Read Scott Rosenburg’s Let’s Get This Straight: Yes, there is a better search engine at Salon. 


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