27 March 2006

Searching for an Answer

I have always been fascinated by search engines. Back in March 1995, I wrote a short feature about the new Internet search engines - variously known as spiders, worms and crawlers at the time - that were just starting to come through:

As an example of the scale of the World-Wide Web (and of the task facing Web crawlers), you might take a look at Lycos (named after a spider). It can be found at the URL http://lycos.cs.cmu.edu/. At the time of writing its database knew of a massive 1.75 million URLs.

(1.75 million URLs - imagine it.)

A few months later, I got really excited by a new, even more amazing search engine:

The latest pretender to the title of top Web searcher is called Alta Vista, and comes from the computer manufacturer Digital. It can be found at http://www.altavista.digital.com/, and as usual costs nothing to use. As with all the others, it claims to be the biggest and best and promises direct access to every one of 8 billion words found in over 16 million Web pages.

(16 million pages - will the madness never end?)

My first comment on Google, in November 1998, by contrast, was surprisingly muted:

Google (home page at http://google.stanford.edu/) ranks search result pages on the basis of which pages link to them.

(Google? - it'll never catch on.)

I'd thought that my current interest in search engines was simply a continuation of this story, a historical relict, bolstered by the fact that Google's core services (not some of its mickey-mouse ones like Google Video - call that an interface? - or Google Finance - is this even finished?) really are of central importance to the way I and many people now work online.

But upon arriving at this page on the OA Librarian blog, all became clear. Indeed, the title alone explained why I am still writing about search engines in the context of the opens: "Open access is impossible without findability."

Ah. Of course.

Update: Peter Suber has pointed me to an interesting essay of his looking at the relationship between search engines and open access. Worth reading.

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