Search Engine Birthdays

Google’s only five, and even online veterans like Yahoo and AltaVista are comparative toddlers. In fact, it’s only been a little more than ten years ago that the first web search engines were born.

Tracking down the exact date that each search engine came into existence isn’t easy. Many of the earlier services were projects created by individuals, quietly announced in Usenet newsgroup postings. Others, even those created by larger organizations, have multiple “birthdays” depending on who you ask, or whether you consider prototype versions vs. official launch dates.

The list below is part of an ongoing project here at Search Engine Watch to capture the history of the major search engines and directories. We’ve already written a number of “happy birthday” articles; those are linked below.

For the others, we’re researching their histories, and will run articles in SearchDay as we can complete them. Be sure to also check out Danny Sullivan’s Where Are They Now? Search Engines We’ve Known & Loved.

WWW Wanderer
June 1993

WWW Wanderer is regarded as one of the first crawlers, launched by MIT student Matthew Gray. It wasn’t a true search engine — its purpose was to help estimate the size of the web. But its pioneering crawling process is widely used by search engines today.

November 1993

Aliweb wasn’t a full-text search engine. Rather, it read special “index” files created by webmasters that described the contents of their sites. These index files followed a format suggested by the Internet Anonymous FTP Archives Working Group.

February 1994

Yahoo’s How It All Started page says: “The two founders of Yahoo, David Filo and Jerry Yang, Ph.D. candidates in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, started their guide in a campus trailer in February 1994 as a way to keep track of their personal interests on the Internet.

February 1994

JumpStation was one of the first crawler-based search engines, one that quickly faded away, however, after its student-creator, Jonathon Fletcher, graduated and went to work in the “real world.”

World Wide Web Worm
March 1994

Another crawler-based engine, developed at the University of Colorado by professor Oliver McBryan. This crawler was purchased by in December 1999 and formed a key part of what has evolved into Overture today.

June 1994

Created by University of Washington student Brian Pinkerton, Webcrawler subsequently was purchased by Excite, AOL, Excite again, before finally ending up in the hands of InfoSpace, which uses its name (but not technology) today.

July 1994

Most early search engines were either research or personal projects, made freely available without thought of profit. Infoseek corporation had a different idea: It would create business for its “full text information retrieval service,” and charge users for access.

July 1994

On July 20, 1994, Lycos quietly launched with a catalog of 54,000 documents. Less than a month later, the crawler had amassed more than 390,000 documents in its index. While that number may seem small compared with today’s 3+ billion web pages, at the time it was a notable achievement for a search engine.

March 1995

Created by Colorado State University student Daniel Dreilinger, SavvySearch was one of the first meta search engines. It was purchased by CNET in October 1999, and renamed

July 1995

Another University of Washington engine, Metacrawler is now operated by InfoSpace.

September 1995

Excite’s founding and early days is the stuff of Internet legend. The company was founded by six Stanford students who wanted to hang around together after graduation. One evening at Rosita’s Taqueria in Redwood City, CA, the group’s Graham Spencer suggested they build a search engine, because information retrieval seemed like the easiest place to “make progress.”

September 1995

When Inktomi made its public debut on September 26, 1995, you could search it directly on its servers at the University of California. When it first came online, Inktomi created quite a stir, largely because it pioneered the large-scale, parallel processing techniques that are commonplace among today’s search engines.

December 1995

On December 15th, 1995, AltaVista opened its virtual doors to the public, with an index of 16 million documents. It was an immediate hit — more than 300,000 searchers used the engine on its first day. AltaVista is now owned by Overture, which will be acquired by Yahoo later this year.

Ask Jeeves
April 1996

Ask Jeeves was the brainchild of venture capitalist Garrett Gruener and technologist David Warthen. From the start, Jeeves was different than the other search services of the day. The idea behind Jeeves was not to create yet another search engine or directory, but to offer a question-answering service — a virtual online concierge.

May 1996; reborn December 2002

Launched in May 1996, HotBot was initially powered by Inktomi and backed by Wired. Now owned by Terra Lycos, HotBot searches Inktomi, Google, AlltheWeb and Teoma.

October 1996

LookSmart was founded by Tracey Ellery and her husband Evan Thornley. Ellery conceived the idea for the search directory while pregnant with twins and homebound in Australia. In its earliest incarnation, LookSmart was a unique, Java powered directory that was unfortunately ahead of its time for personal computers of the day.

December 1996

Research attorney Aaron Flin created Dogpile when he got frustrated with the state of web search in 1996. He found that subject-oriented indexes like Yahoo returned too few results, and yet search engines like AltaVista claimed to find thousands of results for the same query.

Overture (
February 1998

GoTo debuts a pay-for-placement service allowing web site owners to bid for placement. Those willing to pay more can appear higher in the search results. Though not the first to try this model, GoTo (not Overture) was the first company to successfully implement pay-for-placement.

May 1999

Norwegian company FAST launched claiming it had the largest index of web pages. AlltheWeb is now owned by Overture, and will soon be integrated with sister search engine AltaVista.

April 2001

A group of computer scientists from Rutgers University founded Teoma in April 2000, determined to build a search engine that looks at the Web in terms of subject-specific communities. In April 2001, launched, and Ask Jeeves, Inc. acquired Teoma on September 11, 2001.

September 2001

Wisenut was founded by Yeogirl Yun, the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of mySimon, one of the first comparison-shopping sites on the web. Wisenut was acquired by LookSmart in April, 2000.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication’s search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

Marshall Field’s to Showcase Yahoo
Media Post Sep 8 2003 10:49PM GMT
Judge Rules in Favor of Pop-Ups
Wired News Sep 8 2003 10:17PM GMT
Overture’s Got a Research Site, Too
Research Buzz Sep 8 2003 8:11PM GMT
Record Industry Sues Hundreds of Internet Music Swappers
New York Times Sep 8 2003 6:48PM GMT
PIR: .org Domains Now Modify in Five Minutes
theWHIR Sep 8 2003 5:29PM GMT
Overture thinks local (almost) acts global
Computer Shopper Sep 8 2003 4:12PM GMT
It’s High Five for Google
High Search Engine Ranking Sep 8 2003 7:02AM GMT
Competition fierce for search engines that get to specifics
Boston Globe Sep 8 2003 6:36AM GMT
FTC, NASA Web Sites Lead Latest Nielsen//NetRatings Roundup Sep 8 2003 5:13AM GMT
Lycos recovers from outage
Australian IT Sep 7 2003 11:26PM GMT
New Kids’ Domain Open for Business
eWeek Sep 7 2003 6:05PM GMT
Web site to help searchers for art stolen by Nazis
San Francisco Chronicle Sep 7 2003 2:53PM GMT
Promotion Tip: Big Changes At Yahoo and GoTo
Net Mechanic Sep 5 2003 4:23PM GMT
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