Practical Technology

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Searching the Internet B.G. (Before Google)


When I started using the Internet in the 1970s, it didn’t look anything like it does today, and our search tools were primitive. But when all you have is stone knives and bearskins, you make do.

Before I began writing for a living, I put myself through graduate school by doing research on the very first online database systems: NASA RECON, Dialog, and OCLC. These systems, which are still around, are part of what’s called the Matrix, and, no, I don’t mean the movies. The Matrix, as defined by Carl Malamud, is the superset of all interconnected networks. Today, unlike back then, you can get to these networks over the Internet, but you’ll be blocked from venturing deeply into them without permission.

As for the pre-Web Internet itself, it didn’t have search tools at first. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the Internet became searchable. When I started, we had to go through ftp file directories screen by screen and hope that the file was in there somewhere.

The first major search advance was Archie, which beginning in 1990 made it possible to search through a site’s file directories. Archie was painful to use, but compared to what we had been dealing with, it was wonderful. Archie was quickly followed by the University of Nevada System Computing Services’ Veronica, which tried to provide Archie-style searches for plain text files.

Searching the Internet B.G. (Before Google). More >

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