…every which-a-way. (The Coasters, 1957)
When we were all just first hearing about the “web” in the early 90s, I worked in the software business in Palo Alto, California, then and now the heart of Silicon Valley. Tim Berners-Lee had invented the World Wide Web (aka www.) and Univeral Resource Locators (url’s) as a way to find documents stored away in large-scale database networks.
Innovators in the Valley and elsewhere rushed headlong into search engine research and started businesses as fast as they could. In 1994 or so, a front-runner was WAIS (ways), or Wide Area Information Systems in Menlo Park. A colleague and I watched as the WAIS founders demo’d a search engine we thought we might want to embed in our enterprise software development system to help find code and other bits hidden away on corporate hard drives.
Later, but still before Google, the dad of our son’s friend showed us Surfwax, with its “practical tools for harnessing today’s information.” It was another search engine cum research system looking for a natural audience and a ticket to the big time. And there were many others. Search engine technology leveraged earlier work in artificial intelligence and decision support systems. Everything has roots.
Within a few years, Google gave us its eminently simple front end that worked to let us discover the exploding universe of resources we might locate, and a behemoth was born.