A History of SEO - The First Search Engines

Chris Reece takes a look at a history of search engine opimisation


Wall suggests the early primitive search engines as merely non-discriminate file name matchers [Wall 2004]. Optimisation on which did not exist purely because the simplicity of engines made it unfeasible.

The first example was the aforementioned 'archie' developed by Alan Emtage, Bill Heelan, and Peter J. Deutsch, at McGill University in Montreal, USA. Created in 1990, this was even before the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1993. As such, with the absence of the WWW, the primary way people shared data was via the File Transfer Protocol (FTP). However, such activity could not be found or discovered and file holders had to advertise their server by word of mouth, usually a notice to an e-mail mailing list or bulletin board. The introduction of archie put an end to all that [Wall 2006].

Archie worked by regularly requesting such files on a predefined list of known FTP webserver addresses (this action was later developed into a more automated process and became known as 'spidering' the web). The results of these regular visits (usually about once per month [Sonnenreich 1997]) were stored in local files and were searched upon using the Unix grep command, a utility (which takes a regular expression on the command line, reads a list of file(s), and returns the lines containing matches for the expression). Variants developed and what started as a local tool became a popular resource available remotely by means such as SSH (Secure Shell) or by email requests. And so the search engine was born. [Sonnenreich 1997]

The next 3 years saw a flurry of activity as the early Internet users began to see the potential of archie and the idea of the search engine. Whereas archie used FTP, a new program named 'gopher' was produced as alternative to FTP and it was programmed to specifically make documents available to the user. Subsequently two further programs, Veronica and Jughead, combined the search facility of Archie with the new Gopher transfer technology. With acronyms like Veronica (Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computerized Archives) and Jughead (Jonzy's Universal Gopher Hierarchy Excavation and Display) it seemed the developers of search engines in this early period were largely pre-occupied with creating imaginative names for their software! However despite this busy period of new technology, SEO was still not discovered at this point in the early nineties.

Unlike the guessing game of SEO, this search engine history thus far and the immediate text that follows appears to be consistent amongst a number of papers.

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