In the field of Internet, a search engine or search engine (from English Search Engine ) is a computer tool that tracks and locates files stored on web servers throughout the world, based on a keyword or a series of them entered by the user.
In other words, they are digital information retrieval programs that operate automatically, sorting and classifying the identifying labels of the content available on the Internet and in other online storage services. Today, they are a fundamental instrument for any Internet user, since they serve as a link between the information available and those who require it.
Search engines didn’t always exist. During its early years, the Internet experience depended on users memorizing specific addresses, or manually searching online directories, which functioned as a phone book.
This system was not only cumbersome but also slow, which went against the agile and fast spirit we associate with the World Wide Web today. So the advent of search engines solved the need for faster and more focused information retrieval on the desired topic.
History of search engines
The first search engines emerged during the 90s when the Internet began to expand and become popular throughout the world. The very dynamics of growth of the World Wide Web made them necessary and mandatory. The first initiative to emerge was “Windex,” an index made by a mapping robot (the World Wide Web Wanderer) developed at MIT in 1993.
But the first proper search engine on the web was WebCrawler, still in operation since its launch in 1994. Its key feature was that it allowed any set of words to be located on a web page, something that later became the norm for all search engines.
That same year, Lycos, a project of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, United States, appeared, and almost immediately, many other search engines such as Excite, Infoseek, Inktomi, or Altavista. There were also popular directories, such as Yahoo !, with which many of these search engines were later integrated.
In 1996 the most successful search engine in history appeared Google. Fruit of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, this new search engine, initially called BackRub, had a simple and agile interface. Still, its great virtue was its ability to organize the results is presented to the user according to a priority criterion: the number of links received to each web page.
In that way, their results were much more reliable (at least in terms of popularity), and there was a greater probability of showing the user what they were looking for among the first results.
Its success was such that Google launched its PageRank: a ranking of web pages prepared by an algorithm that measured with a score from 1 to 10 the relevance of a page, according to the searches of its users. Since then, the way search engines operate has changed forever, focusing much more on the relevance of the results and providing the user with an almost personalized search experience.
Types of search engines
Search engines can be of several different types:
- Hierarchical search engines, so-called because they have a previous classification of the most relevant web pages for each search, which is reviewed and updated from time to time to keep up to date. That list is given priority when the results show and is possible thanks to the action of a set of subroutines that continuously scan the network, called spiders ( spiders, in English), who made such a database.
- Directories, technologically simple, although in need of greater support and human work. The directories allow simpler searches since they do not review the totality of the web pages (as spiders do). Still, they organize them based on their subject and publication date, without worrying about their relevance. They are typical for specialized searches.
- Metasearch engines, which instead of storing the information of the web pages that are relevant to the search, contain the records of different web search engines, thus proceeding to enter the keywords in each one and making a “metasearch”, that is, a search engine results in search. The results thus obtained are filtered and then presented to the user.
- Vertical search engines, generally dedicated to a very specialized sector, provide the user with advanced search tools, and go to specialized indexes, rather than the bulk of the World Wide Web. There are as many types of vertical search engines as there may be specialized interests: music, science, clothing, among thousands.
Difference between a search engine and a browser
The difference between an Internet browser and an Internet browser ( browser, in English) is fundamental. To begin with, search engines are services available within the Internet, which are offered through the web. This means that to use a search engine, we need to be already connected to the Internet. That is where browsers or explorers are necessary. A browser is a software that allows us to navigate websites.
A browser is a piece of software that, installed on our computer, opens a window to the Internet, so to speak, allowing us to access any URL we want: that of a search engine, for example, to start a search, or that of any other web page.
Most used Internet search engines
The official ranking of the five most used search engines in the world is, according to 2019 data from NetMarkerShare, the following:
- Google (81% of the total), the so-called king of the Internet, is not only the most widely used search engine in the world, but also offers email services, immediate translation, geolocation, and a huge etcetera.
- Baidu (10.11% of the total), a search engine launched in 2000 that concentrates searches in the Chinese market. It is part of the largest Artificial Intelligence company on the planet, and its website is the fourth most searched on the entire Internet, according to the Alexa ranking.
- Bing (5.09% of the total), Microsoft’s attempt to compete with Google, is the default search engine on all Windows-branded computers and smartphones. Its launch occurred in 2009, after the failure of Live Search.
- Yahoo! (2.04% of the total) , a web portal and email service provider, is a company with a long history, whose search engine until 2015 used the results of Bing itself. From then on, instead, he started using Google’s.
- Yandex (0.83% of the total), created in 1997, is the most popular search engine in Russia and several Eastern European countries, where it accounts for 65% of the market for web searches.