Early Search Engines: Look Back at Early Search History

Some old search engines are still around

In the early days of the internet, new search engines were a dime a dozen, seemingly popping into existence with a loud splash and then very quietly fading into obscurity once more.

Very few search engines actually made it through the dot-com boom/crash times to the present day, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve their own page in history.

Below is a list of just a few of the web's earliest search engines, ranging from quite useful to search engines that are incredibly niche-focused.

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Google Search

Google home page

Started in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google now runs the most widely used search engine on the internet. From quite austere beginnings to the world's most used search engine in a short span of time, Google Search is one of the very few search engines from the early days of the World Wide Web that actually made it through.

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Yahoo! home page

Yahoo! has gone through many, many iterations since it first got going in the early 1990s, and shows no signs of stopping. From web portal to search engine to peripheral services, Yahoo! has kept a large, loyal user base through decades of web history.

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Excite home page

Surprisingly still around today — and looking much like it did in 2005 — Excite is one of the web's oldest surviving portal/search engines.

Talk about throwback; Excite is one of the only web portals that still offers a downloadable toolbar for easy access, as well as the ability to customize the look and feel of what searches want their Excite to look like.

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Ask.com (Ask Jeeves)

Ask.com home page

Ask.com (previously called AskJeeves.com) has been around in various forms since the late 1990s. Users seemed to be devoted to the butler who would gather search engine results based on natural language search technology, a concept that at the time it was introduced was considered absolutely revolutionary. 

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Lycos.com home page

Lycos has been around a long time in internet years, and has evolved from providing its own search results to piggybacking on Ask.com.

The Lycos home page offers quite a few options. The main search bar is centered at the top of the page. Underneath the search bar are links for weather, Lycos Mail, news headlines, job search, and some of their other services like Tripod, Lycos Domains, Lycos Chat, and Angelfire.

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Picsearch home page

Picsearch is a search engine dedicated solely to finding images — photos, clip art, black and white content. It only provides thumbnail copies of the original images, but if you select one, you'll be given a link to find the full version on the source website.

Finding pictures with this search engine is easy — just navigate to the home page and type a query. Popular searches are rotated on the home page; these usually pertain to movies, celebrities, or current news events.

Search results are organized in a table layout. Hovering the mouse over any picture shows its dimensions and the site it's being pulled from.

Advanced search options include filtering by color, size, orientation, and type (i.e., animations or faces).

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Mamma.com search engine home page

The Mamma search engine is no longer available. It evolved into a coupon code and discount website in 2016, and while the domain name, Mamma.com, is still active today, it's being used by Trust Mamma, a website with business reviews.

Mamma was a really early search engine. It was introduced as the world's first meta search engine in 1996, and called the "mother of all search engines" because it pulled search results from several popular search engines of its time.

The home page was free from clutter and easy to use. You could search for web pages, news, images, videos, and local information. There was also a recommended articles link you could follow.

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AltaVista home page

AltaVista was purchased by Yahoo! in 2003, and since 2013 has redirected to Yahoo!'s search page.

Altavista.com was a crawler-based search engine, meaning that it sent out software programs called spiders, or crawlers, to search the web and index websites.

AltaVista had the honor of being one of the oldest search engines on the web. It launched in 1995 with the internet's first web index. For an age comparison, Google started in 1998, and Yahoo! began as an internet guide in 1994.

Here are some other "firsts" and notable highlights of AltaVista, according to their About page:

  • Delivers internet's first web index (1995)
  • First multilingual search capabilities on the internet
  • First internet search engine to launch Image, Audio, and Video search capabilities
  • Most advanced internet search features and capabilities: multimedia search, translation & language recognition, and specialty search
  • Awarded 61 search-related patents, more than any other internet search company

You can view AltaVista as it was in 2013 from this link on the Wayback Machine.

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a9 home page

A9's search portal was discontinued in 2008.

A9.com was an elegant search engine put together by Amazon and powered in part by both Google and A9.com itself. When you executed a search, at the bottom of the page in tiny print, you'd see this statement: "Search results enhanced by Google. Results also provided by a9.com and Alexa."

Right off the bat, you had quite a few search options offered in the form of checkboxes. Web and Images were checked by default, but you also had Movies, Your Bookmarks, Books, Blog Search, Wikipedia, Yellow Pages, Your History, Reference, and Your Diary.

In addition, there was a drop-down menu titled More Choices that gave you, well, more choices: New York Times, PubMed, NASA, Flickr, and others. Selecting any of those boxes would let you search those sites from A9.

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MagPortal home page

MagPortal quit adding new articles in 2016.

MagPortal.com was a great research tool that let you find magazine articles on the web from a variety of publications. You could use the MagPortal.com search engine to research a particular query or browse the categories to get a feel for a particular subject.

This search engine indexed a long list of magazines, and most of the content from these magazines were all available within MagPortal.com (sometimes, certain date issues would be missing or publishers wouldn't make all articles available online).

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Podzinger home page

The PodZinger domain name now exists as a Japanese adult website. You can use this Wayback Machine link to explore PodZinger.com as it existed in 2007.

PodZinger was an audio and video search engine powered by speech recognition technology from BBN Technologies.

The PodZinger search engine was unique in that it actually peeked inside the spoken words of the medium itself to find what you were looking for — and then your search terms were highlighted in the results.

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Spock.com home page

Spock is no longer in business. It was available to the public in 2007 and then purchased by Intelius in 2009. It's domain name, Spock.com, now redirects to a similar website at US Search.

Dubbed "the world's leading people search engine," Spock was a uniquely formatted search engine that focused only on finding people.

You could search by the person's name to get results pulled in from other web sources like Wikipedia and social media sites. It was a central location you could use to find people using just their name.

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Ljseek.com home page in 2015

LJSeek dropped its search capabilities in 2015. The domain name exists today and is still marketed as a LiveJournal search tool, but it doesn't work like it used to.

LjSeek.com was a very targeted, niche search engine dedicated to sifting through the LiveJournal blogging community. If you were a dedicated LiveJournal user or were looking for information on blogs, you'd find LJSeek handy.

Using LJSeek was simple, and pretty much like any other search engine. However, instead of searching through the vast majority of web content, you'd get results only from LiveJournal.

You could search someone's name, a key phrase, a particular topic, etc. The Advanced Search page let you check a box called exact phrase for that kind of search, and there were sorting options to customize the results page.

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Daypop home page

Daypop closed its doors in 2008.

Daypop was a current events search engine. It crawled websites that are updated frequently in order to bring searchers the latest news. Included in its index were newspapers, blogs, and online magazines. At the time of its closure, Daypop indexed over 100,000 websites.

A drop-down menu to the right of the Daypop search box let you choose the type of content you wanted to search for: news and weblogs, news only, weblogs only, RSS news headlines, or RSS weblog posts.

You could also submit sites to Daypop if they weren't already included. Another option was the Advanced Search page, which let you search sites in a specific language and/or from a certain area of the world.

Another customization you could make with the search engine results, which was useful considering it was a recent news finder, is only show web pages that were published recently, anywhere from the last three hours up to two weeks old.

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Babelgum home page

Babelgum.com currently redirects to a website on how to find movies online.

Babelgum was a fantastic source for free, high-quality, and independently made videos, music, and films. It was a bit different from other movie sites, mostly because it was full of independently made content that you might not be familiar with.

The easiest way to find something you might be interested in was to browse the Babelgum Channels, then drill down into the sub-categories, like Film, Music, Nature, etc.

You could also check out what Babelgum called Passions: Indie Film, Underwater, and Indie Music. There was a handy Babelgum Most Popular page, too, plus you could browse Branded Channels, which were channels sponsored by a specific brand, or see what's shaking at the Competition, an ongoing series of music or film contests.

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Turbo10.com home page from 2006

Turbo10.com is no longer available as a deep web search engine. It eventually became a pay-per-click advertising network before finaling shutting down.

Turbo10 was a search engine that crawled the invisible/deep web for results. It connected you to information from niche-specific search engines, and let you access databases (such as government, business, and university databases).

Basically, Turbo10 cut out some of the middleman work you'd have to do to get to these resources on your own. At its prime, this search engine was handling tens of millions of searches per month, and gathered invisible web content from hundreds of Deep Net search engines.

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boardtracker home page

BoardTracker is no longer in service.

BoardTracker was a search engine dedicated to forums and online message boards. It was a highly targeted search engine that brought back relatively good results.

Each result had the icon of whatever particular message board or forum that result was from (if it had one), the date the message was originally posted, how many replies it had, its view count, the poster's name or nickname, and a very brief annotation.

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AlltheWeb.com home page

AlltheWeb has been shutdown since April 4, 2011. The search engine was bought by Overture in 2003, which was purchased by Yahoo! in 2003. AlltheWeb.com now redirects to Yahoo!'s website.

AlltheWeb (also called FAST or FAST Search) was a search engine that launched in 1999. According to some, it even rivaled Google, having indexed over 2 billion pages by 2002.

The AlltheWeb search engine offered standard search tools: images, news, directory, people, etc. You also had FTP searching capabilities to find audio and video files, plus the opportunity to search in dozens of different languages.

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WiseNut home page

WiseNut went out of business in 2007. The domain name, Wisenut.com, now redirects to a Korean AI chatbot.

Launched in 2001, WiseNut was a no-frills general search engine that offered a solid search experience. There wasn't much in the way of fancy search options, but what they had did seem to be done relatively well.

You could open the site preferences to choose how many results to display on one page, pick which languages to search through, and enable or disable WiseGuide (for search-related categories) and/or WiseWatch (to filter adult pages).

Another option you could turn on or off from the WiseNut options page was called result clustering. What this would do is group all relevant web pages from the same site under one result, drastically cleaning up the results. 

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Kartoo home page

The Kartoo website is still accessible at Kartoo.com, but it hasn't been functional since 2010.

Kartoo was a visual meta search engine. This is how the site described how it worked:

When you do a search and click on OK, Kartoo launches the query to a set of search engines, gathers the results, compiles them and represents them in a series of interactive maps through a proprietary algorithm.

The results screen contained three columns: the first included all the topics Kartoo found that had anything to do with your search query; the second had the actual map generated by your search; and the third column gave you the option to print, send, or save the results map.

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Quintura search engine home page

Quintura quit working as a search engine in 2012. It's domain name, Quintura.com, redirects to a hotel booking service.

Quintura was a search engine much like Kartoo in that it presented information in a visual manner, rather than a straight text presentation.

With the Quintura search engine, you could search within a "tag cloud", which was a collection of terms, usually related to each other in some way either by context or links.

At first glance, Quintura worked just like any other search engine: you type a search term and get results. However, where Quintura was different was how it worked after the initial search.

Your search term generated other related search terms that were represented all together in one big tag cloud, and then your actual search results from the web were presented below the tag cloud area.

If you hovered your mouse over any of these search terms, the results would change. When you selected a tag within the tag cloud, that particular term was added to your original query.

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FoodieView home page

August 15, 2012, was FoodieView's last day. Foodieview.com currently redirects to an unrelated website. You can see how FoodieView used to work when it was online through this Wayback Machine link.

FoodieView was a recipe search engine founded in 2005 that let you find recipes from all kinds of sources, including (but not limited to) AllRecipes.com, The Food Network, Epicurious, BBC Recipes, and Martha Stewart Recipes.

This search engine was useful for finding recipes by dish name, ingredient, cuisine, or chef, and it would organize recipes and restaurant reviews in one convenient place.

They released their restaurant guide in 2007 to showcase their "Best Of" lists, such as the best pizza in Chicago. You could browse by city to find other lists.

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ixquick search engine home page

Ixquick was merged with Startpage in 2016 and now redirects to Startpage.com.

Ixquick was a search engine that pulled results from many different search engines and directories and presented them on one simple page. It's defining characteristics that set it apart from other search engines were its intriguing privacy features.

The ixquick search engine was committed to not storing iP addresses, not passing personal information onto third parties, and not placing identifying cookies in your browser. Ixquick also offered secure SSL encryption, a proxy option that allowed anonymous web surfing, full third-party certification, and numerous other privacy features.

Although ixquick.com is now forwarded to Startpage.com, many of these features remain, plus others. Startpage.com is called "the world's most private search engine," stores no personal data, supports "Anonymous View" for all links, doesn't track search habits, and prevents ads from following you around the web.

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Mahalo search engine home page

Mahalo is no longer a search engine. It's now part of Inside.com, a network of email newsletters.

The Mahalo search engine was the first human-powered search engine. It used to be quite active when it first debuted in 2007.

Here's how it worked, according to the site:

Our Guides spend their days searching, filtering out spam, and hand-crafting the best search results possible. If they haven't yet built a search result, you can request that search result. You can also suggest links for any of our search results.

The Mahalo home page provided a couple search options. You could search by category, narrowing down your search query simply by choosing things like music, food, New York City travel, pets, etc. Or, you could use the search box much like any search engine.

Mahalo search engine results

All Mahalo results were quite nicely arranged on one page. This is what made Mahalo so addictive, because the editors did a fantastic job of compiling the most relevant results for you, and you got to reap the benefits of this practice.

For instance, say you were looking for information on a medical issue. If you used Google, you'd get the standard page of results with lots of links, any of which you could visit individually and evaluate whether or not they served your purpose.

Mahalo was different in that if you searched this same query, you'd get one page of results, all of which would have been vetted and summarized for you in one convenient location.

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