Updated on 27 November 2023
Google was established in 1998, and within just four years it debuted as a new and innovative tool on prime-time US television. It took just eight years for Google Search to become so ubiquitous in Western society that Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English dictionaries officially added it to their rosters as a transitive verb, capitalized or lowercase.
Today, the phrase “Google it” has dethroned any variation of “do an online search,” and jokes about misinterpreting the root word fell out of vogue years ago.
According to Engadget, Google is the default search engine, homepage, and online landing pad for people around the globe. This is not to mention the fact that it ranked as the No. 1 site in the world by analytics company Alexa. The search engine giant is so ingrained in an online culture that it feels as if it has always been there.
A Rich History
In the late ’90s, dozens of online search engines were vying for attention, offering cute mascots, clever branding and technically distinct solutions for navigating the World Wide Web. Google the search engine went live in September 1997, one year before Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google the company, and it quickly took hold.
Their advantage was a patented algorithm called PageRank, which sorted websites by relevance, or the number of times they were cited by other pages. Most other search engines found results based on keyword density, but Brin and Page’s method focused on the human input nestled between websites. Google quickly devoured the competition.
Meet the RIP Search Engines
Ask Jeeves/Ask.com – Ask Jeeves was a character-driven search engine if ever there was one. Founded in 1996, Ask Jeeves featured a well-dressed valet who supposedly fetched search results and was able to understand questions posed in everyday phrasing. Natural language processing is still tricky for developers today, so this was a daunting pre-Y2K goal.
Ask Jeeves lasted until roughly 2005, when it was rebranded as Ask.com. The company attempted to invade Yahoo Answers’ territory by focusing on a real-person Q&A site, but Ask.com ended its foray into search engineering in 2010.
Dogpile – If humanity’s knowledge is a series of books, Dogpile is an attempt to let people read more than one volume. The site, founded in 1995, is a metasearch engine that collects results from a range of sources. The site’s mission is driven by data – in 2007, Dogpile partnered with the Queensland University of Technology and Pennsylvania State University to study results from the four most popular search engines of the day, Google, Ask.com, Yahoo and Windows Live.
AltaVista – AltaVista was the site best-situated to actually take on Google. Founded in 1995, AltaVista came from researchers in the labs of Digital Equipment Corp. and featured a fast and expansive crawler plus an advanced back-end search system capable of handling more than 10 million queries a day. By 1997, AltaVista was the most popular search engine around, bringing in millions in revenue and becoming the exclusive backbone of Yahoo search results.