Thursday, August 27, 2009

What is a Search Engine?

Which of these statements are correct? Google is a search engine! A search engine is a software application. A search engine is a category of software. Until 1990, CERNs “What’s New” page was the web’s search engine, then Archie contributed in 1990 and Gopher came along in 1991. The first web robot in 1993 was Wandex’s World Wide Web Wanderer, and one of the first full-text, crawler-based search engines was WebCrawler in 1994 noted as being the first search engine that allowed users to input keyword searches, After that came Magellan, Excite, Infoseek, Inktomi, Northern Light and Alta Vista. Yahoo was very popular by now but served listings base on a directory listing instead of inputted keywords. In 2000 Google came along and has dominated the market since. So, what is a search engine? Is Google a search engine? Are web directories and search engines the same? Knowing this information will help with a better understanding of what a search engine is.

The term search engine refers to a class or a category of software applications. Software from this category usually provides pre-made keyword queries or allows the user to enter a keyword or keyword phrase. This software searches proprietary data based on the keyword phrase and returns the user a list of hyperlinks or documents where the keyword phrase was found. Today’s search engines result lists usually direct users to the information via the Internet. The actually information returned that lets the user know where data exists on the Internet about the keyword they searched is returned from data held in the software’s (search engine’s) database.

Technically, people incorrectly refer to information systems like Google, Yahoo, and Alta Vista, to name a few, as search engines. These systems use and create highly complex, cutting edge networking systems and architecture which create a user experience similar to and usually better than software found in the search engine software application category. Because, English, no matter how technical, is dynamic, we see the term ‘search engine’ grow and change as well as include many different meanings.

Search engines are not the same as web directories. Once again, English being dynamic, many web directories are referred to as search engines. Some web directories include, JoeAnt, Open Directory Project, World Wide Web Virtual Library and, of course, Yahoo. The main differences are how the results are displayed to the users and how the data in the results are obtained. Search Engines use spiders to get data, indexers to create indexes and various databases to use to store and search the information. Web directories’ list results are based on categories and not user-inputted keyword phrases. The web sites address’ that show in lists are added by web owners and validated by humans unlike a search engines spider.

The term search engine has changed not only in meaning and usage, but also what data and the way data is returned to the user have changed. What use to be a search engine might be called something different today as well, something that is not a search engine might be called a search engine. The main difference between web directories and search engines is how the result lists are displayed and how that data is obtained. In a nut shell, Today, Google is a search engine; a search engine is a software application and a search engine is a category of software applications.

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