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Jonathon Fletcher: The Forgotten Father of the Search Engine

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the original-search dept.

The Internet 95

PuceBaboon writes "If you were under the impression that Brin and Page invented the search engine while working out of a garage somewhere in Silicon Valley then think again. The first practical web-crawler with a searchable index, JumpStation, was running out of Stirling University, Scotland, twenty years ago this year, long before Google came into existence. In a tale all too typical of the U.K. tech industry through the years, JumpStation's creator, Jonathon Fletcher, was unable to find funding for his brainchild and commercial exploitation of the idea fell to others. Jonathon, who was a panel member at the ACM SIGIR conference in Dublin earlier this year is now quite serene about the missed opportunity, despite his frustration at the time. Meanwhile, Stirling University is quoted as 'now looking at a way to mark' Jonathon's achievement."

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Tribute (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764413)

How about with a Google Doodle?

Re:Tribute (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764465)

but what has that got to do with niggers?

It doesn't pay to be the first (4, Interesting)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about a year ago | (#44764415)

It pays to be the first when critical mass is achieved. Who remembers JCR Licklider?

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764811)

We are society obsessed with priority and intellectual property. In the real world ideas are cheap and what's hard is following them through. The idea to search the web came to many people at that time. Altavista had a decent implementation by 1995 running on powerful hardware which ensured it's success by sheer vastness of it's index, as compared to other engines of the era. Google came with better algorithms and changed the game. It doesn't matter who's the first, what matters is who does it right.

A perfect example of the fetish for innovation we have is the romanticized story of Steve Jobs, who is credited with inventing every Apple product. And when you look at the reality, you see that most of those things were already invented. Steve's great merit was that of driving execution, finding the talented technical people like Woz who were actually able to accomplish what everybody else were merely fantasizing about.

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44766053)

It very much matters who was the first. Only idiots would be bothered to give credit when necessary.

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (1)

Gr8Apes (679165) | about a year ago | (#44766511)

Geez - just Alta Vista? Lycos, Yahoo, and a host of others existed at the time as well.

You've got Jobs wrong, he didn't drive execution and find Woz. He and Woz were members of a club and they worked on some things together and Steve saw the value in it and drove it from there. You make it sound like Steve had a plan. He didn't. He fell into a situation where he saw the potential, and he was smart and lucky enough to be able to execute on it and pull in others as needed.

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (1)

doom (14564) | about a year ago | (#44767487)

Geez - just Alta Vista? Lycos, Yahoo, and a host of others existed at the time as well.

Well, clearly the definitive history needs to be written -- I don't remember about Lycos, off the top of my head -- but I'm pretty sure altavista, then a project at DEC, was the first automated web-crawler index of the web (It was the idea of a friend of mine, who died in 2006: Paul Flaherty) . Altavista was up and running when Yahoo was still a hierarchical list edited by human beings.

Some history of Altavista: http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2067142/Happy-Birthday-AltaVista [searchenginewatch.com]

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about a year ago | (#44771207)

And when Google was new it was not better than the others, or not obviously so. Maybe there was something better behind the scenes or had a better way to monetize the search, but to the average user you couldn't tell that. What seems to have happened is that the other search engines fell behind, they were slower to use, went out of business, whatever. I always felt that Altavista was the better engine. Google ended up being my search engine because it was the only one left when none of the others I remembered were around anymore or had changed to promote more ads on the front page.

The big win for Google in my mind was the simple search page not cluttered with HTML-itis.

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (1)

coolsnowmen (695297) | about a year ago | (#44781919)

The big win for google, if I recall, was that it was a lot faster.

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (1)

smallfries (601545) | about a year ago | (#44782423)

Google had two big improvements over AltaVista (which at that point was the market leader by far). Relevance and speed. By that stage SEO was alive and well (although probably not called that). The big trick for fooling search engines of the time was spaff filler at the bottom of a page that contained search terms to make the page seem more relevant. When Google started page rank was mostly immune to this technique so it returned much more relevant results, and that is why it spread so quickly and overtook AltaVista. The fast loading simple front page really helped as well. Of course now SEO is mainly aimed at Google's algorithm of the week and the relevance and quality of the results has gone downhill since those early days. Of yeah, and their various AJAX / caching technologies have broken the web completely and are the reason that every machine I've seen recently has a bunch of semi-permanent connections to Google edge points.

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (1)

doom (14564) | about a year ago | (#44784611)

+1

Yes, google beat altavista by using "Page Rank" (i.e. analyzing the graph of the way pages were linked together, to estimate popularity). It was pretty remarkable, altavista was clearly more flexible (like other people here, I remember the "NEAR" keyword fondly), but you had to read through a page or two of links to find what you wanted, and google had a knack for putting it up top in the first few links (hence the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button, for when you were pretty sure you wanted just the top link).

(Why do we need to explain things like this? Is everyone on slashdot these days really this young, or do you guys have no memory at all?)

What was interesting about this is the moment google became really successful, it choked off the behavior that Page Rank relied on: why bother linking to relevent stuff when you knew everyone could just google it up if they felt like it? (And it doesn't help that wikipedia opted-out of this to discourage spam links). And so, ever since then, google has had to keep dancing to different ranking techniques (e.g. relying on user click data) to try to stay ahead of the SEO scum. So yeah, google no longer seems quite so wonderful (and myself, I'm more inclined to use blekko.com [blekko.com] or duckduckgo.com [duckduckgo.com]

And now we're stuck in a world where you always get shown the popular stuff that you're expected to want to see, so the popular stays popular, and struggling upstarts have to struggle even harder...

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44767915)

Luck is also under-appreciated. For most of the big successes out there, there is someone else with the same idea and talent at about the same time who didn't happen to know anyone with the resources to carry the idea through or get it noticed. The subsequent successes are not necessarily due to the nature of the person so much as being able to build on the first success and the resources it brings.

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44768117)

In the real world ideas are cheap and what's hard is following them through.

The last time I followed through was after 6 pints of Wife Beater, a chicken vindaloo, pilau rice and tarka dahl and 4 bottles of cobra. Wasn't hard at all. They call it a Bombay Bed Bath in educated circles.

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (1)

hinckeljn (2829683) | about a year ago | (#44775837)

Will somebody with the mod points, mod this up?

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#44766909)

"It pays to be the first when critical mass is achieved. Who remembers JCR Licklider?"

Except Google didn't do that, either. "Critical mass" was achieved with Yahoo! Search, Dogpile, and others.

Search engines were alive and well, and getting millions of hits a day, long before Google came along. The only thing different about Google was that they had a better way of telling which sites were more popular. So their results were better.

So it wasn't a matter of "being first when critical mass is achieved" at all. It was a matter of "doing it better than the big players" at the time.

Too bad they haven't managed to "do better" than others at the other things they've tried. What other successes they have had have largely been due to their existing size.

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (1)

Grant_Watson (312705) | about a year ago | (#44767547)

They also weren't a portal. Remember what the Excite home page came to look like?

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44768741)

Too bad they haven't managed to "do better" than others at the other things they've tried.

You're right, WM8, BB & iOS are all so much better than Android, it's a good thing Google is big enough to carry their crappy OS.~

Re:It doesn't pay to be the first (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year ago | (#44767039)

No, it pays to be the best.

Short memories (5, Insightful)

w_dragon (1802458) | about a year ago | (#44764417)

Google wasn't the first search engine - not even close. Yahoo, Lycos, Altavista, and others already existed. JumpStation would have probably been crushed by Google just like all the others, even if it had found funding.

Re:Short memories (5, Informative)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#44764489)

Google wasn't the first by a long shot. By several years in fact.

But, they were one of the first ones to solve the problem of all of those web sites which had polluted every search by adding random words to meta tags or whatever they did.

When I first discovered Google, Yahoo had devolved into pretty much nothing but spam and irrelevant search results. It had become somewhat useless to use most search engines, because they never actually retrieved anything relevant to the search, just stuff which showed up due to those SEO idiots.

Google's page ranking managed to discard a lot of unrelated crap and actually get you something useful, and I never used Yahoo as a search engine again.

Of course, since then, Google's adherence to their own "do no evil" mantra has become a bit of a joke [pressherald.com] , and they've become really annoying about trying to force you to use more of their services even when you don't want to.

So much so that if I was ever within a few feet of Sergiy Brin he might get a kick in the nuts just for the fun of it. You know, just to show him what it's like and to show we care.

Re:Short memories (3, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44764593)

I wish I could use the Google I first found. It now ignores all kinds of information and meaningful symbols.

Google code search should be an interface to normal google.

Re:Short memories (3, Informative)

swillden (191260) | about a year ago | (#44765043)

I wish I could use the Google I first found.

You don't, actually. That version of Google was way too susceptible to gaming, er, SEO.

It now ignores all kinds of information and meaningful symbols.

Have you tried verbatim mode? That doesn't help with searches that include less-common symbols, but it does help with a lot of searches. AFAIK, Google always stripped special characters from searches and from its index, though, so I think you may be remembering an engine that didn't actually exist.

Re:Short memories (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44765145)

Valid, but I wish quotes would work correctly.

I don't think I have tried that. I just wish it did not strip things inside of quoted strings. If I wanted it to strip them I would not have put it in a quoted string. I might be remembering something that never existed or combining attributes of search engines here.

Re:Short memories (2)

wmac1 (2478314) | about a year ago | (#44766095)

and the minus sign. It almost never works for me when I need to remove useless links from the results.

Re:Short memories (2)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year ago | (#44766897)

I just wish it did not strip things inside of quoted strings

Back when it was at google.stanford.edu, the tokenizer simply threw out certain symbols and stop words. So, you could never search on those, which was immediately frustrating on the 'linux search'! If they've changed things, then they're actually indexing all that stuff now and deliberately throwing parts of your search query out just to return worse results. I guess that's possible, but it seems more likely that they're modifying your string for you to show you what they do have that matches as much of your query as possible.

It would be useful if they'd start indexing strings including symbols - heck in a Unicode world it seems harder not to; why have an ASCII-hostile tokenizer?

Re:Short memories (1)

swillden (191260) | about a year ago | (#44770855)

I don't actually know, but I don't think most symbols are indexed. There are a few [google.com] , but I don't think the others are present in the index, so searching on them isn't possible. They could be indexed, certainly, but I'm sure plenty of testing has been done, and it works better for more people the way it is.

Re:Short memories (1)

ediron2 (246908) | about a year ago | (#44768023)

You may already understand this, but a good method for map-reduce optimization is token combination (combining synonyms and misspellings and such). I'm not a googler, but have presumed that is behind google being good at similar terms (merging tokens) and poor with quoted strings.

If I'm not wrong, you'd in effect be saying 'damn the specialized system for not allowing an impossible output'.

Re:Short memories (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44777547)

Yes, but for many of my searches that behavior is near useless. I really do want to search for ntop, not top or nettop or anything not related to ntop.

Re:Short memories (1)

0111 1110 (518466) | about a year ago | (#44764875)

And what was your problem with Altavista?

Re:Short memories (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764979)

^ What he said. Altavista was pretty amazing for its time, and had some really interesting tools that went in a different direction than Google ended up going. Google went down the path of "our algorithm is magical, you will like our list of results". Altavista had a lot of neat algorithms correlating things, but they gave the user more insight. They had a graphical search-map app, for instance, that let you visually see clusters of related topical areas relevant to your search and drill into them...

Re:Short memories (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year ago | (#44766869)

And what was your problem with Altavista?

My problem with it was that it wasn't really a search engine. It did no web crawling and sites were added by hand -- and it was damned hard to get your site on it. I was on all the rest of them, and I argued with them about the poor selection of Quake sites they had, some of the worst, content-free crap out there, while mine was actually excellent (other webmasters listed by Altavisa told me "your site puts mine to shame").

Infoseek was IMO the best one before Google came along. I fell in love with Google when I discovered it mostly because a search for just the word "quake" brought my site in something like third place. Of course, lots of folks linked to me.

Re:Short memories (1)

smallfries (601545) | about a year ago | (#44782443)

Are you confusing Yahoo with AltaVista?

There was a link on the AltaVista front page to add a site that was not in the index, and its robot spidered all the links from that starting URL. Their big boast at the time was they had a bigger index than any other search engine (something like 8 billion pages). That was one of the reasons that Google used to crow about how many pages they could spider in their first few years.

Re:Short memories (3, Insightful)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about a year ago | (#44764881)

From what I recall of those days, I don't believe Yahoo wasn't really a search engine at all. Website operators had to submit their sites to Yahoo, who would then manually review the site and then decide whether or not it should be included in their "best of the web" listings.

Lycos, AltaVista, Webcrawler... those were search engines.

Re:Short memories (1)

wmac1 (2478314) | about a year ago | (#44766131)

If I remember correctly they had a directory (which was fee based and free) and a separate crawler. For the crawler you just needed to enter a seed URL while for the directory you were required to enter more information.

Re:Short memories (1)

BigZee (769371) | about a year ago | (#44765571)

I can remember using an application that consolidated results from several engines so that you got results that were a bit more relevant.

Re: Short memories (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44766407)

Google was the first to index newsgroup archives, which many relied on for fast answers to IT and programming problems at work.

Re: Short memories (1)

CptNerd (455084) | about a year ago | (#44771967)

Actually DejaNews was the first to index Usenet, which persuaded Google to engulf/devour them.

Re:Short memories (1)

cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) | about a year ago | (#44768749)

Though google was better at searches, I think where it was really better was its search input parameter processing.

Altavista back in the day was an engineering exercise. (Remember how long it was before they had Altavista.com). As such, it's full of nice geekisms like boolean operators and parenthetical constructs. Most people couldn't understand that.

Google was always more of a natural language input system. The only "operators" most people use are + and -, and use their algorithms to kind of guess the rest.

Don't underestimate how much a good UI can help. Think of how many people use DVRs to record vs how many people used recording features on their VCRs. VCRs have the advantage of being able to back up and share recordings easily, but the DVR has taken over TV recording, because no one could get them to work as they wanted.

Re:Short memories (1)

cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) | about a year ago | (#44768733)

HTDig. I remember trying to get it work on my site, then my boss went a new direction.

There were various spiders. There was even URouLette, which was a random-link-from-a-web-spiders-db. You couldn't do that now, with all the porn and driveby malware sites.

There were various web frontends to WAIS [wikipedia.org] , which never really caught on.

And if you want to expand search engine past web search engines, there was Archie [wikipedia.org] for ftp. Oh, you mean searching a Hypertext-ish system? Well there was Veronica and [wikipedia.org] Jughead [wikipedia.org] , for little used gopher.

Yes, but... (4, Insightful)

rodrigoandrade (713371) | about a year ago | (#44764435)

Brin and Page were the ones who made a profitable search engine.

Henry Ford didn't invent the automobile (that award went to Karl Benz a few years earlier), but he was the first to make a fortune building automobiles.

Re:Yes, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764477)

Yahoo was a pretty profitable search engine before Google. Google just did it better. Perhaps a more appropriate analogy is that Yahoo is to Ford as Google is to Toyota.

Re:Yes, but... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44764709)

Henry Ford didn't invent the automobile (that award went to Karl Benz a few years earlier)

Don't say it out loud, or Cugnot will be steaming with rage in his grave.

Re:Yes, but... (3, Interesting)

aix tom (902140) | about a year ago | (#44766147)

The most credit to the success of Benz, that resulted in the big Mercedes-Benz thing that is still very much relevant today basically goes to his wife.

There is somewhat of a startling co-incidence with Apple Products. There were a lot of people who build "cars" before Benz.

The "Patented Benz Motorcar" was basically a failure with no customers, until his wife loaded their two kids on board (without telling him) and went on a 212km (132 miles) round trip. That was basically the "Hey, a motorcar is not just a toy for geeks, even a mom can drive one" moment that started the commercial success.

Re:Yes, but... (1)

krigat (1253674) | about a year ago | (#44766153)

Henry Ford didn't invent the automobile (that award went to Karl Benz a few years earlier)

Don't say it out loud, or Cugnot will be steaming with rage in his grave.

Yes, it should read "the modern automobile". Then the above statement is correct.

Re:Yes, but... (1)

swillden (191260) | about a year ago | (#44764969)

Brin and Page were the ones who made a profitable search engine.

Yahoo, Lycos, even Altavista (in its way) were all profitable search engines before Google.

Brin and Page just created a search engine that was an order of magnitude better than its competitors.

The 2002 Barrack Obama - Updated (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764439)

What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Samantha Power and Susan Rice and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like David Axelrod to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income - to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression. That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics. Now let me be clear - I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein Bashar Assad. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He's a bad guy. The world, and the Syrian people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Assad poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States or to his neighbors, that the Syrian economy is in shambles, that the Syrian military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

Google won because it was BETTER... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764453)

... not because it was first.

Re:Google won because it was BETTER... (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about a year ago | (#44764485)

Better at understanding the global needs of the US gov?

That's true (5, Informative)

Chrisq (894406) | about a year ago | (#44764541)

Google won because it was BETTER ... not because it was first.

I remember when I first tried google. I had been using AltaVista and I was amazed at how much more relevant the Google results were. Primitive search engines seemed to just bring up any page that had a lot of the words in, Google's page ranking, and looking up related terms (you ask for "secured lending" and also get pages that say "mortgage") made a real difference.

Re:That's true (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764931)

I was also amazed at the relevance of the hits, but I still missed AltaVistas "near"-operator. It allowed you to find only results where one term was close to another.
Nowadays the releated terms are a nuisance, they never seem to guess what it is I am searching for.

Re:That's true (4, Informative)

swillden (191260) | about a year ago | (#44765109)

I was also amazed at the relevance of the hits, but I still missed AltaVistas "near"-operator. It allowed you to find only results where one term was close to another.

Google does support wildcard searches. You can search for "foo * bar" (the quotation marks are part of the search string) and you'll get pages that have "foo" followed by some stuff followed by "bar". In that order, so it's not exactly the same as "near", but pretty close. You can also use OR, so:

"foo * bar" OR "bar * foo"

is pretty close to "foo near bar".

https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/136861?hl=en&ref_topic=3081620

Re:That's true (1)

swillden (191260) | about a year ago | (#44764987)

and looking up related terms (you ask for "secured lending" and also get pages that say "mortgage") made a real difference.

Google does that now, but it didn't originally. It seemed like it did, though, because if there were a lot of pages with "secured lending" on them which all referred to one page about mortgages, giving it a high pagerank score, then that mortgage page was likely to be in the results.

Re:That's true (1)

Princeofcups (150855) | about a year ago | (#44765779)

I remember when I first tried google. I had been using AltaVista and I was amazed at how much more relevant the Google results were. Primitive search engines seemed to just bring up any page that had a lot of the words in, Google's page ranking, and looking up related terms (you ask for "secured lending" and also get pages that say "mortgage") made a real difference.

That's one of my frustrations with google. If I wanted to search for mortgage, I'd have searched for "mortgage." Just give me the words that I specify and I'd be happy.

Re:That's true (1)

Kyont (145761) | about a year ago | (#44765939)

This exactly, 100%. The youngsters don't believe me when I tell them about that revelatory experience of using Google for the first time and getting WAY more relevant results than all those clunky late-90s search engines. The only reason the complete switchover to Google didn't happen faster is we just couldn't believe at first how good it was by comparison.

And you know what? It's still really good. Not perfect, they'll probably get their lunch eaten by some clever startup one of these days. But right now still years ahead of anything else, including most sites' own search bars for their own content.

Re:Google won because it was BETTER... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764611)

And it's gone downhill ever since.

Yet, they keep being better than the competitors. Sometimes I wonder if the competitors are going downhill just as fast, or they have always been that much worse.

And yes, every time I get sufficiently p*ssed off about google, either about their search results getting ever worse (which is likely a problem caused by SEO, but from a user point of view, that still makes Google worse), or their more and more complicated UI (remember when Google UI consisted of one image, a text field and two buttons?), I try some of the alternatives. None of them can even compete with the current crappy incarnation of Google.

Re:Google won because it was BETTER... (3, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#44764963)

AC brings up a legitimate point: All search engines are involved in a race between themselves and those trying to spam the results.

In the very early days of the WWW, there were a smattering of sites, with actual content, so the basic word-counting approach was fine. Then the spammers showed up, saw the potential of spamming search engines, saw that they were doing word-counting, and just filled their pages with search terms repeated about 300 times, and poof, those search engines were useless.

Then Google came in, and for the first time focused not on what the contents of the page were but instead on what the links to that page said. This was vulnerable too, to Google bombing, but it was far less vulnerable to SEO spammers, so it was a big improvement. As Google grew, it put a lot of resources into trying to prevent SEO spamming. It's not wholly successful, but the fact is that it's better at it than anyone else.

Re:Google won because it was BETTER... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44765805)

For those of you too young to remember the Web Before Google, Google was the first search engine that reliably returned ibm.com as one of the first matches when you searched for "IBM"! Yes, life was that bad.

Learn your history fools! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764537)

And Linux Torvalds didn't invent Unix or "open source."

Thats about right (2, Funny)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about a year ago | (#44764557)

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman each have an idea
The Guy from the U.S. funds, markets and makes the money.

Re:Thats about right (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764697)

Yes. Because there are no businessmen in England, Scotland or Ireland. Those are the magical lands of innovation. It's the rotten Americans who are making business happen at their expense. Throw in some orcs and ents and we're well on our way to another Lord of the Rings.

Re:Thats about right (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about a year ago | (#44772831)

I submit to you the life story of Mr Tommy Flowers. Inventor of all that be digital; but couldn't get funding. Built the equipment to help win the war himself with colleagues. All innovation kept secret and nothing made of it apart from listening to communications after the war. The UK could have been the number one in computers in the 40s- betting IBM with everything. We also have the bedrock of coders from the 80s. No shortage of top skills in the UK; but most billionaires seem to be Americain. And not many UK top 10 billionaires are in I.T. - Investment and a Can-do attitude makes the septics awesome.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Flowers [wikipedia.org]

Re:Thats about right (1)

haruchai (17472) | about a year ago | (#44775143)

What about Konrad Zuse?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konrad_Zuse [wikipedia.org]

Re:Thats about right (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about a year ago | (#44776049)

I think he would also of had a problem getting UK funding in the 40s.
and thank you for posting that. They never talk about him on the BBC...

Re:Thats about right (1)

haruchai (17472) | about a year ago | (#44776431)

Zuse's accomplishments, especially in the privations of war, were remarkable.
He could theorise, build and deliver in a way that very few are capable.
I don't think he has a present day equivalent of whom I'm aware. Perhaps only Danny Hillis comes close but Thinking Machines didn't succeed.

Re:Thats about right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764903)

So the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman walk into a bar...

Re:Thats about right (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about a year ago | (#44772843)

The Englishman looks and the price of a pint and loudly complains about the cost. "£5 for a pint ...I fakin'ate London!" he says.
The Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman all agree.

That how expensive it is getting!

Re:Thats about right (1)

micahraleigh (2600457) | about a year ago | (#44767723)

England, Ireland, and Scotland governments say "Hey! Our people have extra money to waste on business! Let's use confiscatory taxes to make sure more people have government pensions to do nothing and regulate everything else (in the economy) to a halt."

The US government says, "Hmm, we'll let them keep a little bit extra of the money *they earned* to invest in business".

America succeeds and Europe gripes.

archie (3, Interesting)

redelm (54142) | about a year ago | (#44764559)

While not for HTTP resources, I believe the first search engine (for FTP) was `archie` at McGill.

Re: archie (2)

kevinbr (689680) | about a year ago | (#44766221)

Veronica?

Re: archie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44766695)

...was after archie and was for gopher.

that feeling.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44764575)

when you look at the first link on slashdot at the start of the day, and its already been visited.... :(

20 years ago there was barely any web to index (1)

Viol8 (599362) | about a year ago | (#44764689)

So unless his engine indexed a load of other services such as gopher and ftp servers too then it really was too far ahead of its time so you can see why it didn't garner much interest. Also I wouldn't be surprised if people didn't just think it was archie on steroids so why bother?

doesnt really count... (1)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about a year ago | (#44764707)

...but a software company I started, right out of collage, developed an online search engine (for BBSs) called MagiSearch in 1989 or so. It could crawl up to 32000 (i think i remember that number was related to how big the stack memory was in relation to our data structure in pre 32bit days) text files and pre-index every tokenized word and phrase into an btrieve "database" (pre-RDBMS and SQL) for lightning fast online searches and retrievals...the tech was pretty primitive but the damn thing worked really well. There is no doubt that no other product was out there at that time as we sold a bunch of these systems.

yeah i get it blah blah blah WTFCs... but the article reminded me about the whole experience and makes me question exactly *who* really created the first online search engine.

Re:doesnt really count... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44764759)

Dumb question anyway because what you really want to know is who created the first crawling search engine. That's what we're really talking about here, web crawlers feeding search engines.

Re:doesnt really count... (1)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about a year ago | (#44766043)

well i guess but it a web page is nothing but a text file (with markup of course) connected with some pipes...there is no doubt that the moment we connected to the WWW through a gateway (this tech was just being developed at the time...Mosaic hadn't been created yet) we would have started to figure out how to start crawling the webpages it was such an obvious need...

Re:doesnt really count... (2)

Bigbutt (65939) | about a year ago | (#44764791)

Yea, I created the 'Classroom Door' for BBS's back in the 80's. It was a display of 12 or 16 virtual desks with space for 10 or so lines. So you could post a short, 2 line message on your desk or put messages on friends' desks. The older messages would scroll off the virtual desk as new ones were posted.

Precursor to Twitter maybe? Facebook?

[John]

Re:doesnt really count... (2)

Chris Pimlott (16212) | about a year ago | (#44766449)

Not to detract from your accomplishment, but to clarify, 1989 was not pre-SQL; SQL dates back to the early 70s and became an ANSI standard in 1986. Commercial RDBMS's based on SQL were available as early as 1979. There might not have been any open source SQL databases back then, though.

Page Rank? (1)

satuon (1822492) | about a year ago | (#44764725)

Was his first search engine using page-rank or something like that to bring relevant searches, or was it just a web crawler + grep?

Re:Page Rank? (1)

Pope (17780) | about a year ago | (#44765023)

"Page Rank" (get the capitals right) is Google's secret sauce, named after Larry Page, not web pages.

Re:Page Rank? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44765677)

It's actually "PageRank" (get the lack of a space right).

Couldn't make money in 1993? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44765111)

Twenty years ago was 1993. I remember using the internet then, it was a bit Les profitable back then. There might have been a web browser that had images, but Usenet was where you downloaded them primarily. As in, download the file and open in another program. The web was almost all text (the T of html).

So, in a time when no one but hardware & software companies could make money on the internet, this guy couldn't make money off a website. This is not surprising in the least. Gas stations soul be a hard sell is the 1700s.

Also, there really wasn't much content to search back then. I'm fairly sure it would be less than a reasonable rounding error of the web today, scaling it up would likely be problematic. And it's doubtful the results were very good, one of the reasons Google dominated search was that it was much better at finding relevant information than Yahoo.

Congrats, good for him, and an impressive accomplishment with a novel idea. But it was way too far ahead of the market.

At least he was only denied because of funding. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44765167)

If it had been a matter of computer technology or public key encryption, all his work would be stifled under the Official Secrets Act and would not have seen the light of day until many others had independently discovered/created his epochal invention and financially benefited from it.

Sometimes it really does suck to be British....

Others, too... (1)

Alioth (221270) | about a year ago | (#44765283)

The first search engine I used was the World Wide Web Worm (probably in 1994, I think). Before that, I used to use Archie quite a lot, which was a search engine for FTP sites (which you accessed via telnet).

The World Wide Web Worm found me a quite a few research papers which I needed to read to prepare the dissertation we had to do in the final year of our degree course. It saved many many hours of shuffling through paper in the library.

The First Indexing, Crawling Search Engine? Archie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44765873)

I'd argue that Archie was the real breakthrough. Everyone else just took that idea and applied it to other protocols like http.

Software patent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44766017)

Now THIS guy should have had a software patent... just saying.

sp0nge (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44766261)

schemes. F8ankly

Ain't that the history of "inventions" ? (1)

Phiu-x (513322) | about a year ago | (#44766529)

Same story .... A couple of people in a few different (and unrelated) places discover something within the same timespan, say a couple of months to a couple of years (I've seen even days apart). And then its a rush to a brevet (patent) . Also, many invention have been re-discovered over the years. Why is this a story anyway. I'ts been like that for ever.

by what definition? (1)

stenvar (2789879) | about a year ago | (#44766739)

There were many attempts to index the web and create search engines around that time. I find it a stretch to call JumpStation "the first practical" search engine.

In any case, the article is right that trying to get a high-tech company off the ground in Europe is an exercise in frustration. The UK is probably still better than the rest of Europe.

Gopher,Archie,ftp (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44767131)

Yup, that is what I use to use to get around. And for "social networking" Usenet(1st rn then tin)

Who was first in page ranking? (1)

Baldrson (78598) | about a year ago | (#44767313)

The important innovation that let Google leap-frog the rest was page-ranking based on crawled content.

So the real question is:

Who wrote the first page ranked search engine and if they weren't Google then why didn't they end up dominating?

And the first web-crawler was... (2)

snsh (968808) | about a year ago | (#44768813)

Didn't mkgray code the Wanderer like four months before JumpStation? That's eons in Big Bang time.

When you go back in time past net.Genesis, hours can seem like days.

Time for your afternoon nap, chillen.. (1)

doccus (2020662) | about a year ago | (#44779421)

cause this article was written for them yung 'uns.. Brin and Page were latecomers, actually.. I still remember Mosaic, and crashy web pages, and a who;e lot of different search engines. If one couldn't find it, there was a completely dfferent algorithm that could, on one of the others like Jeeves or Altavista.. problem was they started loading up with so much advertising, badly written Javascript, and proprietary plugins like whatever flash was called before it was Flash... that when Google came along with that completely blank page, except for the search box.. it was an instant coup...

Search before the Web (1)

dcrocker (616479) | about a year ago | (#44779929)

The Web and its attendant facilities, such as search, came as the culmination of decades or formative work. For Internet search milestones, check out Archie and Veronica. Anonymous FTP was the public document access method for the 70s and 80s. Archive indexed that world.

hah, me too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44793435)

I had the idea in college to write a search engine, in 1990 or 1991. But I thought it would be "impolite" to go sniffing around on port 80. Just goes to show you how poor I am at making money. :-)

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