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My favorite was Altavista, because of the Babelfish.
September 17, 2009 9:01 PM   Subscribe

Popular Search Engines from the 90s, then and now
posted by sugarfish (92 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
i miss blue links.
posted by Mach5 at 9:04 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah? Who's sparse now, bitch?!
posted by fatbird at 9:05 PM on September 17, 2009


Ahhh, the old days. Sometimes I miss dial up. The slowness made you really think about each click. Plus, usually you were using a line that was also used to place phone calls, so spending more than an hour or so online at a time was not really practical. These days I never feel disconnected, and I'm starting to think about a sabbatical to a log cabin somewhere.

There are a couple early versions of Yahoo missing.
posted by autodidact at 9:09 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


MetaCrawler! Eff yes. Oh, how can I have forgotten you?
posted by Mizu at 9:15 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow. I am amazed that some of these still exist. Hotbot, who knew?
posted by Artw at 9:17 PM on September 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm not going to dredge up all of the links (assuming they are still available online), but back when those search engine companies were viable, I recall reading in a number of mainstream tech related publications that In-Q-Tel had invested in pretty much every name on that list.

In-Q-Tel allegedly divested itself from Google, but in my opinion, you'd really have to possess a special level of naiveté to think United States intelligence services (of which the CIA is but a small component) do not have a very significant interest and control in a search engine of Google's scope and magnitude.
posted by Brosef K at 9:17 PM on September 17, 2009


Man, I remember the days when the internet was exciting and not just an extension of consciousness.
posted by Turkey Glue at 9:20 PM on September 17, 2009 [35 favorites]


Goddamnit, I wish Google would have picked up the NEAR operator from AltaVista. The current hack to get something vaguely similar to it sucks.

Infoseek wasn't bad. If you had the Ultraseek software you could take a peek under the hood and it wasn't too terrible.
posted by adipocere at 9:21 PM on September 17, 2009


Webcrawler was the very first website I ever visited...not including, I suppose, whatever the university lab computer's homepage was.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:21 PM on September 17, 2009


Sometimes I miss dial up.
going back to it puts paid to that very quickly. I just moved, and in the week before broadband was activated, I got a nightmare vision of the web. Once I managed to get all my apps to stop updating themselves and choking what few bits there were, I was left watching in horror as sites downloaded 800k of JavaScript and a ton of CSS to do their thing.

In the end, it was mobile google that saved the day. Faster than any of the old school designed-for-modem sites ever were.
posted by fightorflight at 9:23 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh man, Infos-

[Stricken in mid-sentence by apprehension of own mortality. Spends next forty-seven seconds staring at hands, then shakes self back to life.]

-eek! More like Infosuck, amirite?
posted by Iridic at 9:23 PM on September 17, 2009 [9 favorites]


I remember AltaVista. Originally hosted by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) if I recall.

My first impression of the Web (~1995) was "it's 1,000 miles wide and an inch deep."

Things have changed a bit since then.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:24 PM on September 17, 2009


Ahhh Webcrawler. And hotmail when it was owned by hotmail, not microsoft. Good times. Geocities chat, how many hours we spent together!
posted by smoke at 9:25 PM on September 17, 2009


I can't believe some of these are still around. Lycos used to be my main search engine, then Yahoo!. Now I can't imagine searching on anything other then Google.
posted by lilkeith07 at 9:26 PM on September 17, 2009


I used to use metacrawler. Until one time I was at my school's computer lab and punched in "metacraler" by accident, which was totally a booty site. To my school's lab geeks a decade on: SEEING MARKY-MARY AND HIS "FUNKY BUNCH" BY ACCIDENT WASN'T AS FUNNY AS YOU THOUGHT IT WAS. I'm turning a little red just rememering it. Also there was an embedded midi. OF FUCKING "GOOD VIBRATIONS".
posted by supercrayon at 9:27 PM on September 17, 2009


I remember using Yahoo when it was off of somebody's personal site on a Stanford server.

And the way I found Yahoo? Using an Internet Yellow Pages. Made of paper. That's right, once upon a time, you could buy a book with listings of websites organized by category.
posted by kmz at 9:28 PM on September 17, 2009 [17 favorites]


Oh, no, you need to keep dial-up in the past where it belongs.

Since my office is in the Stone Age, we only have dial-up. It takes me THIRTY MINUTES to print a label from the USPS. Thirty long minutes, enough to make an entire list of things you could have done in thirty minutes if you weren't waiting for the page where you schedule a pickup.
posted by sugarfish at 9:29 PM on September 17, 2009


From the comments: "Interesting, I’ve never had a ‘before Google’ search engine. "

Sweet Zombie Jesus. If that doesn't make you feel old and impendingly dead, I don't know what in hell will.

I'm remember no internet at all. I remember when virtually no one had a pc.

I'M NOT EVEN THIRTY!

Christ.
posted by smoke at 9:29 PM on September 17, 2009 [58 favorites]


Oh yeah. Webcrawler and Metacrawler were excellent at least way back when.

For some reason the switch to Google feels like slush puppies to 7-11 slurpees to me. Infinitely better, and obscures my memory of long ago, but what there was for the time felt pretty damn good.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:32 PM on September 17, 2009


"Interesting, I’ve never had a ‘before Google’ search engine. "

Jaysus. That there is a different web.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:32 PM on September 17, 2009


"I wish Google would have picked up the NEAR operator from AltaVista"

Oh, HELL yeah. I loved me some NEAR.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:33 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I kinda miss designing for dialup. I was awesome at hand-editing gifs to get good RLE without visibly screwing up the dithering. Save a few bytes here, a few bytes there, trim the unnecessary whitespace out of your HTML and now your site is blazing fast. By comparison. To other sites on dialup.

YOU CYBERKIDS GET OFF MY INTERLAWN OR I SWEAR I WILL BEAT YOU DOWN WITH MY OBSOLETE SKILLS
posted by ook at 9:38 PM on September 17, 2009 [18 favorites]


Nah, real search went something like this. Back in the day:
ftp wuarchive.wustl.edu
user: anon
pass: nobody@
421 There are too many connected users, please try later.
ftp> dir
Not connected.

posted by b1tr0t at 9:40 PM on September 17, 2009 [14 favorites]


No iwon.com?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:40 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, Bing is not altogether horrible.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:41 PM on September 17, 2009


I remember the days when knowing hot to use hotbot made me a prouser. Then I discovered usenet. And now I know I was never cool.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:44 PM on September 17, 2009


Oh, man. Infoseek.

I somehow got signed up to help alpha test that engine while they were developing it, and sort of got a sideways education in keywords. That engine molded my searching habits, and I miss it still. Google has amazing indexing ability, but I miss the intuition I had with Infoseek. Three keywords and I could find anything.

Of course, I have to admit, the size of the online universe has expanded tremendously since then, so who knows how useful that would be, even if they hadn't been swallowed by Disney and then switched off.

I guess the technology still exists out there, something called Ultraseek?
posted by hippybear at 9:46 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


archie, jughead, veronica! (the absence of betty is telling, no?)

I remember Metacrawler from early in library school, it always made me feel smart. I'd love to see these same search engines with a timeline of who their corporate masters are/were.
posted by jessamyn at 9:46 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'M NOT EVEN THIRTY!

Born after Star Wars was released. And feeling old??? Oh just wait.
posted by hippybear at 9:49 PM on September 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


I think this Google thing is going to catch on.
posted by Mike Buechel at 9:53 PM on September 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


The rise and inevitable fall of bevels.

We hardly knew ye.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:01 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yay, wuarchive! I remember feeling a bit naughty after being taught that it would accept "username@" instead of requiring an actual email address to log in. :-)

I kind of liked gopher. It's a bit hostile, and text-only, but it was very efficient on dialup.

For a long, long time, the only major Internet provider in my area offered strictly dialup shell access. They didn't support PPP for a ridiculously long time. They just didn't figure out that having everyone run programs on their incredibly slow and expensive Sun boxes, instead of running them at home on their relatively fast PCs, meant that they could support far fewer users with the same hardware. So I bought a program called 'SLiRP' (hmm... SLiRP might have been free, but I bought a program LIKE it) which was more or less a faux-PPP program that let you browse the limited web of the time with actual graphics and stuff.

I remember being absolutely floored by Travels With Samantha, which had these really neat pictures interspersed throughout his travelogue. It was dirt-simple HTML, but I was mesmerized and stayed up all night reading it. I'd spent days getting X Windows running on Linux (my only access to a PPP client at the time), and that was the first thing I tried, having heard it was good. It was just so neat to see such beautiful pictures and text from some random guy out in the aether somewhere.

We do it all the time now, of course, and TWS is pretty much shrug-worthy by modern standards, but at the time, for me, fresh on a PPP link after a year or two on a text-only shell account, that single site was a major redefinition in how communication could work.

In retrospect, there was one thing that I was completely, incredibly stupid about.

At the ground floor of the biggest revolution in communication at least since the printing press, and maybe ever, I utterly missed the commercial implications. I didn't realize that the Internet could be used to make money. It just never crossed my mind until Netscape went public. The sheer scale of that miss boggles me, looking back.
posted by Malor at 10:02 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Is Jeeves gay?

Actually, I prefer the term jovial.


I miss all the easter eggs on Ask Jeeves. Also, remember actually using the categories on Yahoo! to find sites by type instead of key words?
posted by K5 at 10:08 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Totally A Booty Site

I was an AltaVista fan. But then I was also a DDialer, so grain of salt &c.
posted by mintcake! at 10:09 PM on September 17, 2009


I'm remember no internet at all. I remember when virtually no one had a pc.

I managed to survive a couple years of engineering school using a slide-rules, and I still have my IBM cards from "Math Lab". Later, one guy had a HP-65 calculator, which cost $800 as I recall, and came equipped with a bicycle-type cable lock to deter theft.

But then I come from an alternate universe, where I accessed the web the first few years via OS/2 Warp and whatever its IBM add-on browser was called.

I never could get Lycos and Altavista to find what I wanted to find, but Webcrawler seemed to work OK for me at the time. It allowed me to find OLGA, suck.com ("a fish, a barrel, a smoking gun. . . "), dozens of fan-built "home pages" for my fave cult teevy shows -- and that other stuff, before it all went pr0.

Also, seconding love for the NEAR operator.
posted by Herodios at 10:12 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


So I bought a program called 'SLiRP'

I hope you didn't pay for SLIP, which preadated PPP.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:14 PM on September 17, 2009


Heh. I used to use HotBot. Then some period of time for which I kept switching in search of the least suckage. Then Altavista when, when everyone was talking about how they indexed A HUNDRED MILLION PAGES.

On the Altavista era, we had a running competition of who could come up with a word pair that would NOT yield some porn link before the 100th result. Really, you'd search for "cyborg platypus", and by the third page all links would be like "Extreme cyborg platypus fisting scat watersports XXX".
posted by qvantamon at 10:17 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I honestly barely remember what the web was like before google. It's kinda like the web didn't really exist before google indexed it. Altavista was my 'goto' search engine, but I didn't use it that often, since the results were usually shit. I had a few sites I read a lot, and just bookmarked them, for the most part.

It wasn't until the advent of Google and Wikipedia that search became worthwhile.
posted by empath at 10:18 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Remember when search engines and users were naive enough to not realize that advertisers, spammers, and pornsite managers wouldn't just stuff meta tags with false keywords?
posted by adipocere at 10:24 PM on September 17, 2009


Remember when search engines and users were naive enough to not realize that advertisers, spammers, and pornsite managers wouldn't just stuff meta tags with false keywords?

A clever touch was when they put lines of keywords at the very bottom of a page and hid them in the same font color as the background.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:26 PM on September 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


last night google DNS was screwed or something. Before I figured out i could search from Safari's google text field, it was very scary not being able to access Teh Google homepage.
posted by Palamedes at 10:27 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm only 20, but was a bit precocious web-wise, and I distinctly remember hearing about google and thinking nothing could improve on altavista. I think I started using it because it loaded faster on my dialup connection.

I also remember when javascript was used solely for annoying purposes, like popups and text-that-followed-your-mouse. Back in the day you could safely disable it and not miss out on anything.

Back then bookmarking was so much more important, because if you lost a page you'd probably never find it again.

posted by phrontist at 10:27 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


>It wasn't until the advent of Google and Wikipedia that search became worthwhile.

half my searches have "wiki" appended to them. With no TV in the 70s, I read the World Book encyclopedias cover-to-cover growing up, but the 24/7 access to Wikipedia I enjoy now is something scary. I sometimes feel like I know more factual background stuff than random samples of millions of people combined :) Now I've just got to figure out how to monetize it -- is Millionaire still on?
posted by Palamedes at 10:30 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Later, one guy had a HP-65 calculator, which cost $800 as I recall, and came equipped with a bicycle-type cable lock to deter theft.

If you google HP-65 calculator, the first link that comes up is to a page where the images aren't embedded--instead, they're linked, and the size in K of each image is noted in case you might think "oooh, I'd like to see a picture of that bad boy, but it's 80K".

It's like your father reminiscing about your grandfather's mad skillz.
posted by fatbird at 10:37 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also remember when javascript was used solely for annoying purposes, like popups and text-that-followed-your-mouse

Right click? You're trying to steal MY images [that I lifted from some other lame webpage]

[InputBox] Please input your name. [MessageBox] Hello null, in MY part of the world, it is now 10:36.
posted by qvantamon at 10:37 PM on September 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


Our prep school had a computer room, mostly stocked with Macintoshes and a few (apparently) LC's. Heady days.

I remember trying to find good search engines - I think Ask Jeeves and Mamma were quite popular.
posted by djgh at 10:50 PM on September 17, 2009


Discovering google was kinda like the scene in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy walks out of her house and all of a sudden everything is in color. People take it for granted, but that initial amazingness is why I'm willing to cut Google a lot of slack. It's not easy to create a goddamned miracle.
posted by empath at 10:53 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


At least someone remembers Archie and Veronica.

Now get off my internet lawn.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 12:08 AM on September 18, 2009


So the story of search engines in the last ten years is that basically everything eventually came to look like either Google or Yahoo.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:09 AM on September 18, 2009


Discovering google was kinda like the scene in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy walks out of her house and all of a sudden everything is in color.

I was struck by its blankness. The world seemed to fall away around me -- the animated GIFs, the eyeball-searing colour schemes of HotBot, Yahoo's oceans of blue links -- and all that was left was me and my search results. Clearly, I had reached nirvana.
posted by emeiji at 12:19 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yahoo!'s category system allowed me to become a pioneer in the "browsing internet porn in the library" field.

The computers in the public library near my elementary school were the first that could connect to the web that I had access to (they could also connect to usenet, but I didn't really understand what that was). The only website I knew was http://www.yahoo.com. I understood that it was a search engine, and that a search engine searches the web for what you're looking for, but I couldn't search on it.

The computers were green-screen terminals hooked up the the library's mainframe, and were of course text-only. The web browser, a (probably customized) version of Lynx, worked fine for many of the sites around at the time -- one frame, hardly any images, and nobody would even think of using Java for a critical element of their site. And it was all keyboard-based control: Page Up and Down to scroll, Tab to cycle through links, Enter to follow a link, and Backspace to go back. Just about everything you needed. But there was one huge, glaring, maddening failure of the browser: it didn't display text-entry fields. No searching.

Fortunately, the one website I knew had a functional category system, with hardly any junk on it at the time. I could get my cheat codes for Dark Forces, look up the specs of various fighter planes, find pornographic vignettes (and the maddening tease of "CAPTION:"), and browse related subjects without even getting out of my seat! I was hooked.

I'd hate to know where I'd be if it wasn't for Yahoo!'s categories.
posted by clorox at 12:41 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it was Metafilter that got me on the google, people were saying "look how pretty, now blinking ads and it's a great engine" and I thought just you wait. Now google has ads everywhere. Sneaky, aren't they?
posted by dabitch at 1:05 AM on September 18, 2009


anyone notice all the 2009 editions tend to resemble google except for those which resemble iGoogle ?
posted by infini at 1:08 AM on September 18, 2009


Ahhh, AltaVista. I remember discovering its mp3 search in '97 or '98 and being absofuckinglutely blown away that I could just get songs for free. FOR FREE! I had probably five or six and thought that was big shit.
posted by Roman Graves at 1:21 AM on September 18, 2009


I used to go to the library to look for something interesting to read and I had to flip through paper cards with my fingers until I found the title and then I had to write down its number and walk to a shelf to get a book. Something you kids today wouldn't understand.

And this was after walking twenty miles through the snow.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:10 AM on September 18, 2009


I remember flipping between Infoseek, Lycos, and Webcrawler. If I recall, AltaVista never really worked for me. I always HATED Yahoo! Seriously, it looks like someone barfed onto the webpage.

Also, looking back, it seems like Google lifted its design from the first incarnation of Lycos.
posted by molecicco at 2:14 AM on September 18, 2009


In early 1996 I set up a pay account with Inktomi to let myself and colleagues run web searches. That's right - their business model was initially to charge their users for each search. The very early days of web search engines were characterised by quite a lot that had been created as an experiment by various Computer Science departments. They tended to be slow, unreliable and of limited scope. Indexing the web via a reliable service was clearly going to be expensive to do and thus charging users for a premium service was clearly the way to go...

(Also: for early search engines it was pretty much mandatory that your name had to have something to do with spiders. Even Inktomi.)
posted by rongorongo at 2:18 AM on September 18, 2009


I found God using Altavista. I got that good at it. It spoke to me in the language of my soul and with it I could navigate to the end of the web. It took a lot of convincing to get me to give it up.

I really miss the ten minutes when all you would ever get back from an Altavista image search was public domain images from Victorian vintage clipart catalogues. I loved those. I could use them for any art project I liked (big on bricollage at the time) without worrying too much about attribution.
posted by Jilder at 3:18 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember going over to my friend Daniel's house in the very early 90's and him showing me how you could get weather conditions from all over the world on his computer. They charged by the hour and more of something called baud was good. It took about 5 minutes for the screen to print, pixel by pixel. I thought, "Fuck this is useless, I can just check the newspaper".*

Hell, a decade before that I had a (actually the) computer class in high-school where we would write out our programs in Basic on a piece of paper and give them to Maria, that girl that could type. She would type them out on a industrially loud machine that was the size of a desk. It spat out our programs, all 40 or so lines of input, on punch-cards. We would band each program and send them off to the local University where they would load up the cards and run our programs. The U would send back the results on fanfold paper and sometimes a program had a loop error so we'd get back an embarrassing stack of 500 printed pages of nonsense.

The NBC Peacock? That's because NBC, one of the 4 channels (5 if the weather is right), now comes to you In Living Color.

I have vices that are older than most of you.

*I am available to give Bizarro investment advice.
posted by vapidave at 3:33 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember being absolutely floored by Travels With Samantha

Me too! I even emailed the guy (we just called it "mail" then, with no 'e') and he wrote back. What did we use to see it, Mosaic? That's when I first started to believe this web thing might actually catch on.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:42 AM on September 18, 2009


Travels With Samantha

<nostalgia> I loved this page so very much, and still remember sitting in the computer lab, starting up this newfangled 'Mosaic' thing, and thinking 'Good God, I don't have all night - who the hell needs pictures, I just want to read the story'. So I went back to Lynx and finished reading. This is why I never became an internet millionaire.

Also missed: Lurking in Callahan's Saloon on GEnie.
posted by Flannery Culp at 4:53 AM on September 18, 2009


empath: Discovering google was kinda like the scene in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy walks out of her house and all of a sudden everything is in color. People take it for granted, but that initial amazingness is why I'm willing to cut Google a lot of slack. It's not easy to create a goddamned miracle.

Yeah... I remember going between search engines, trying to figure out who got the best results (I liked HotBot best, though Yahoo was good for general overview of categories) and then someone told me about a new search engine put out by a couple guys from Stanford called "googol" and I went over to googol.stanford.edu and tried a few searches and fell instantly in weblove.

Back when I first got online the web was fresh and the interesting stuff was on usenet and IRC. I remember scrolling through lists of usenet groups wondering out which one would be interesting. The first website I came across that really made me realize that the web was fast approaching wondrousness was links.net, the protoblog.
posted by Kattullus at 5:31 AM on September 18, 2009


wuarchive was great, along with laUNChpad (which was more of a telnet-accessible BBS with zmodem download support, but it had Full Usenet Access and you could find anything you needed, provided you loved uuencoded binaries.)

I loved me some Altavista back in the day. I can't remember when exactly I decided to start using Google like all the cool kids, but it was inevitable. AV's front page became portalized and was a pain in the ass to look at. Google, on the other hand, was sleek and simple. Eerily so.

And a little while after that, http://altavista.digital.com stopped redirecting to http://www.altavista.com. Sometime around 2001, I think.
posted by Spatch at 5:37 AM on September 18, 2009


Damn, I was good at Altavista keywords. It was my go-to until Teh Google came along and blew my mind.

Browsing graphically was also just nuts to me the first time I accessed the net with an early Netscape of some flavor. Prior to that my only online experiences had been telnetting in to check email, or a BBS, or watching my friend using free AOL trial disks to get online so he could download Usenet porn one incredibly slow line of pixels at a time. (The best memory of that was the look on his face that one time when the anticipation of a new porn image turned to horror as he realized that the last line of pixels was beginning to draw a scatological addition to the scene that he did NOT expect to see. He almost spilled beer on his keybaord trying frantically to stop the download.)
posted by caution live frogs at 5:50 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


I remember being absolutely floored by Travels With Samantha

It's a side note but I am still amazed by the number of great articles by Philip Greenspun I have come across in entirely different areas - that one on travel - but also "SQL for Web Nerds", his "Guide to Early Retirement", his advice on investing and his photography work - notably photo.net. All still worth a read.
posted by rongorongo at 5:50 AM on September 18, 2009


Ah, Metacrawler: when it used to take a minute or so to collate answers, it was so worth it. And who could for get their Ahoy! The Homepage Finder, back when home pages were everything: http://www.institution.edu/~user ...

But somethings don't change. I've had an account at CIX for 20 years, and you can still telnet in ...
posted by scruss at 6:33 AM on September 18, 2009


In December, 1994, I used the web a little bit then -- a lot more than most people did, certainly. I loved the brand-new "Netscape Navigator" web browser (the name had just changed from "Mosaic"), and -- get this -- IE hadn't come out yet at all. Yes, it was a simpler time.

Anyway, I thought the web was cool, and had some interesting stuff on it, but finding things was pretty hard. These guys at Stanford had this Yahoo page on their stanford.edu website, and it was pretty good.

So it was, as I say, December of 1994. I took a business trip out to the San Francisco area, and met up with a guy I'd known for a while -- he wasn't a close friend, but the son of a good friend of my family, and he was a brilliant computer scientist -- much better than I was, to be sure. We met in a restaurant in San Jose, near where he lived, as he was working at Digital Equipment Corp. We chatted about a bunch of things, then he casually asked "So, what do you think about a website that would let you search the World Wide Web?"

We chatted about it for a while, batting ideas back and forth about how the search terms could work, and how the site would have to be sparse to make sure it wouldn't take too long to load on dialup connections. He told me he was on a team of guys who were building such a tool, and that I should keep my eyes open for it.

A year later, AltaVista appeared, and I knew it was the subject of our conversation. It was really the first search engine I found consistently useful. IIRC, I didn't really stop using it until some other guys at Stanford created a search engine on the school's domain called "Google."
posted by cerebus19 at 6:43 AM on September 18, 2009


I used to really like Dogpile. Also, back in the day, before Google just sort of appeared... (I recall first seeing it as the default homepage on my school's library computers; at the height of the browser wars, we were running Macs, with Netscape, with then-unknown Google as the homepage.)

I'm sure I used every available search engine at some points; Excite, Hotbot, AltaVista, WebCrawler, Yahoo, etc. I probably missed some; the name escape me. Now "search engine" may as well be a synonym for Google. Ah, how times change.

I'm getting all nostalgic; maybe I'll fire up mIRC and download some warez.
posted by Dark Messiah at 6:50 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I vaguely remember, sometime around 1995 or 1996, using some software which existed to do multi-search-engine searches. I'd start it up, enter "Metallica mp3", and it would get search results from Infoseek, Lycos, Altavista, etc. and combine them into one big list. I don't remember if clicking a result would launch your web browser, or if you did copy-paste, or what. I just remember: using a separate, dedicated application to search the web.
posted by Bugbread at 7:39 AM on September 18, 2009


Ahhh, AltaVista. I remember discovering its mp3 search in '97 or '98 and being absofuckinglutely blown away that I could just get songs for free. FOR FREE! I had probably five or six and thought that was big shit.

Oh my, yes. Then came Napster. I used it to download live versions of Barenaked Ladies songs. Shortly after, my dad discovered what I was doing. He eventually found full length albums from UseNet. Next he got a server to host all of his MP3s.

Now he copies movies from Netflix.
posted by soupy at 7:47 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metacrawler, bugbread?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:53 AM on September 18, 2009


I miss MacSLIP. I had to beg my parents to sign me on, then pray they left the control panel open so I could click 'Remember Password' and get infinite Internet access.

Also, I swear there was a brief period of time during Netscape's beta phase where the browser was the search engine: you typed in a query, and Netscape searched the Internet. All of it. You were given a comprehensive bulleted list of results, hundreds of pages long, which you infuriatingly couldn't bookmark.

Yeah, that feature lasted thirty seconds.
posted by spamguy at 8:08 AM on September 18, 2009


"Metacrawler, bugbread?"

Looking at the Wikipedia description, no. Metacrawler is a web site that searches multiple web sites, right? The thing I'm thinking of wasn't a site, it was an actual software tool. Like, you couldn't browse web sites with it, but you started it up next to and separately from Netscape exclusively for doing searches.
posted by Bugbread at 8:14 AM on September 18, 2009


altavista had (until just recently) a wonderful function: search for just audio files. I found so much good music that way, a bunch of it even put legitimately online for download by the band themselves.
posted by jb at 8:30 AM on September 18, 2009


I miss all the easter eggs on Ask Jeeves.

"Where are my pants?" took you to a hilarious website about people who had their pants stolen by aliens. There were dozens of testimonials and things. I think this is all that's left now.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:38 AM on September 18, 2009


altavista had (until just recently) a wonderful function: search for just audio files. I found so much good music that way, a bunch of it even put legitimately online for download by the band themselves.

A lot of people may not know, but if you search Google with the term "filetype:", you can search for only that type of file. So for example "filetype:torrent" or "filetype:mp3", followed by your query, i.e. "filetype:torrent metallica" or whatever. It's pretty useful, especially "filetype:torrent" for finding lesser-known BitTorrent trackers.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:54 AM on September 18, 2009


I know I shouldn't be, but I'm always amazed at how much people rely on Google, and how weak their Google-fu is.

As a transhumanist I see Google as an extension of our brains and memory. It's not democratic though. Not everyone with computer access is being augmented to the same degree. Your ability to exploit the resource is pretty much a reflection of your net access, intelligence level, and semantic acuity.

For instance, I don't know if I know anybody else in real life who knows you put a dash in front of a word in Google if you want to filter pages with that word out of your search results. This basic trick will save the average Google user a tremendous amount of heartache on some searches. And so on...
posted by autodidact at 9:44 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


The best thing about the death of all these different search engines is the people behind them have moved on to do something other than search. This is a good thing.

The next generation of useful, non-advertising revenue based software products are taking the lessons learned from search and actually doing something interesting with that stuff - particularly with respect to efficiency and scaling.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:33 AM on September 18, 2009


It seems like there have been at least a dozen of these nostalgia blog posts floating around on reddit/digg/meta using screenshots from archive.org with half the images missing.
posted by wcfields at 12:04 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


My favorite 'get off my lawn' story to tell the younger folks in my industry (internet advertising) lists many of these old search engines and ends with "and we ran banners that showed up with the keywords and we paid CPMs and WE LIKED IT".
posted by superkim at 12:45 PM on September 18, 2009


I remember using Yahoo when it was off of somebody's personal site on a Stanford server.

akebono.stanford.edu, which used to be Jerry Yang's project server. Named for the American sumo wrestler.
posted by dhartung at 3:31 PM on September 18, 2009


Think about that for a second:

Yahoo was attempting to categorize every single website on the internet manually. There was a time when this was a conceivable project.
posted by empath at 4:09 PM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


No wonder Google became so compelling. It was the first to realize that the search page didn't need to be about trying to sell you something. A clean, peaceful white field, organized around the blank box in the center where you expressed your wish. They realized that the selling could come after they had mastered the aggregation of data - and that they didn't need to plaster the search page with a chaos of links like an animated Times Square billboard.

Smart, that. So smart that their version of 'clean' became an aesthetic, forcing everyone to think about what was for sale here in quite a different way.
posted by Miko at 7:56 PM on September 18, 2009


I know I shouldn't be, but I'm always amazed at how much people rely on Google, and how weak their Google-fu is.

Ask Jeeves came out when I was in middle school and I remember watching the commercials and having my mind totally blown. I'd used the Yahoo site listing before then because I had no idea how to use keywords in a search engine, and then Ask Jeeves let you type in a full-sentence question and through some magic I could suddenly search the internet. I clung to my Ask Jeeves training wheels for years until one day I finally recognized that it was just filtering out the non-unique words. It wasn't until I started reading askme questions a few years ago that I consciously realized there was strategy to Googling.

I think in all my years of school I've only ever had one short lesson on how to search the internet, and that was 2 minutes of my capstone seminar senior year of college. And I took a fair number of computer classes in middle and high school. Hopefully that's changing, but I think Google-fu is one of those skills nobody ever really thinks to consciously teach. Like double-clicking a mouse.
posted by lilac girl at 8:23 PM on September 18, 2009


I think in all my years of school I've only ever had one short lesson on how to search the internet,

Hah, in all my years of school, this sentence wouldn't have made sense. And i'm not even that old.
posted by empath at 8:41 PM on September 18, 2009


Malor wrote: So I bought a program called 'SLiRP' (hmm... SLiRP might have been free, but I bought a program LIKE it) which was more or less a faux-PPP program that let you browse the limited web of the time with actual graphics and stuff.

SLiRP was a SLIP emulator. I was jazzed the first time I figured out that I could run it on the shell account I dialed up to and use Trumpet Winsock to run a Windows Usenet reader and the incredibly crappy Windows 3.1 port of ircii.

I went back to the shell account until I downloaded some Slackware disks and installed Linux. It was so cool to me to be able to run all those programs on my own computer. My first web browser was Mosaic on Linux in X-Windows.

Later, after I got a dial-up PPP account (that could do both PPP and shell!), I was super excited that my computer had its own IP address!

Needless to say, I found Windows 95 and its built in dial-up capability to be a significant advancement. Figuring out how to do all that stuff with nothing but FTP and gopher was challenging. (Nobody I knew on IRC had any clue about making TCP/IP work on Windows) Mosaic for Windows came out a couple of months after I had switched to using Linux most of the time.

Roman Graves wrote: Ahhh, AltaVista. I remember discovering its mp3 search in '97 or '98 and being absofuckinglutely blown away that I could just get songs for free. FOR FREE! I had probably five or six and thought that was big shit.

Prior to that, there was a company that ran a search engine that indexed all the files on the internet accessible over SMB. That's where I got most of my early mp3s. I didn't even know of the existence of such things until a friend on IRC sent me an MP3 of some Candlebox song. It took me a while to figure out how to play the damn thing. I don't remember if amp was around then or if I had to use something else before switching.
posted by wierdo at 11:56 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


(Nobody I knew on IRC had any clue about making TCP/IP work on Windows)

The Windows 3.1 answer for that was a third party program called Trumpet Winsock. Win95 had it natively.
posted by Malor at 2:03 AM on September 19, 2009


google fu for design research online (secondary research)
posted by infini at 2:39 AM on September 19, 2009


Spatch: I loved me some Altavista back in the day. I can't remember when exactly I decided to start using Google like all the cool kids, but it was inevitable. AV's front page became portalized and was a pain in the ass to look at. Google, on the other hand, was sleek and simple. Eerily so.

At some point a school buddy of mine pointed me to a special version of the altavista search page at [SOMETHING].altavista.com, that had just the search input field, the button and some links, and was free of any other clutter. I used it ever since, until discovering Google which simply found better results. Does anyone remember what the page was called?
posted by Anything at 4:04 AM on September 19, 2009


There was a time when this was a conceivable project.

And back then, it was a laughably small project.

I think Yahoo! was one of the reasons why I thought "yeah, right. no" when I thought about applying to Stanford in 1994. I wish I had known what I know now about that school.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:52 AM on September 19, 2009


Altavista was why I got into my alma-mater. A friend of mine was trying to access its website and wasn't getting through; at which point, I offered to help him using this new search engine instead of the _web-catalogue_ that was Yahoo back then. I found the website, decided I'd also throw in an app, and... the rest was history.

Also, the kid back then eventually chose another university because my alma mater offered "only" a biz-admin degree. He wanted Comp Sc. Yeah. Dot-com boom. Fun times.
posted by the cydonian at 1:42 AM on September 23, 2009


The Windows 3.1 answer for that was a third party program called Trumpet Winsock.

And the Mac answer to that was a program called ButtTrumpet, which instantly took down a windows-user's connection.
posted by springload at 1:53 PM on September 23, 2009


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