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Search engine

A search engine is a program designed to help the user access files stored on a computer, for example on the World Wide Web, by allowing the user to ask for documents meeting certain criteria (typically those containing a given word, a set of words, or a phrase) and retrieving files that match those criteria. Unlike an index document that organizes files in a predetermined way, a search engine looks for files only after the user has entered search criteria.

In the context of the Internet, search engines usually refer to the World Wide Web and not other protocols or areas. Because the data collection is automated, they are distinguished from Web directories, which are maintained by people.

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How search engines work Web search engines work by storing information about a large number of web pages which they retrieve from the WWW itself. These pages are retrieved by a web crawler -- an automated web browser which follows every link it sees. The contents of each page are then analyzed to determine how it should be indexed (for example, words are extracted from the titles, headings, or special fields called meta tags). This data about the web pages is stored in some form of an index database for use in later queries. Some search engines, such as Google, store all or part of the source page (referred to as a cache) in addition to the information about the web pages.

When a user comes to the search engine and makes a query, typically by giving some key words, the engine looks up the index and provides a listing of best-matching web pages according to its criteria, usually with a short summary having at least the document's title and sometimes parts of the text.

The usefulness of a search engine to most people is based on the relevance of results it gives back. While there may be millions of Web pages that include a particular word or phrase, often particular pages are more relevant, popular, or authoritative. Most search engines employ methods to rank the results to provide the "best" results first. How a search engine decides which pages are the best matches, and what order the results should be shown in, varies widely from one engine to another. The methods also change over time as Internet usage changes and techniques improve.

Most Web search engines are commercial ventures supported by advertising revenue, and as a result some employ the controversial practice of allowing advertisers to pay money to have their listings ranked higher in search results.

Internet History The first Web search engine was Lycos which started at Carnegie Mellon University as a research project in 1994.

Soon after, many search engines vied for popularity and gained and lost top standing, such as Lycos, WebCrawler, HotBot, Excite, Infoseek, Inktomi, and AltaVista. In some ways they competed with popular directories such as Yahoo!. Later, the directories integrated or added on search engine technology for greater functionality.

Search engines were also known as some of the brightest stars in the Internet investing frenzy that occurred in the late 1990s. Several companies entered the market spectacularly, recording record gains during their initial public offerings.

Prior to the Web, there were search engines for other protocols or uses, such as the Archie search engine for anonymous FTP[?] sites and the Veronica search engine for the Gopher protocol.


In around 2001-2002, the Google search engine rose to prominence. Its success was based in part on the concept of link popularity and PageRank. Each page is ranked by how many pages link to it, on the premise that good or desireable pages are linked to more than others. The PageRank of linking pages and the number of links on these pages contribute to the PageRank of the linked page. This makes it possible for Google to first present pages that are highly linked to by quality websites.

Researchers at NEC[?] Research Institute claim to have improved upon Google's patented PageRank technology by using web crawlers to find "communities" of websites. Instead of ranking pages, this technology uses an algorithm that follows links on a webpage to find other pages that link back to the first one and so on from page to page. The algorithm "remembers" where it has been and indexes the number of cross-links and relates these into groupings. In this way virtual communities of webpages are found. [1] (http://www.nature.com/nsu/020304/020304-8)

Challenges faced by search engines

  • The web is growing much faster than any present-technology search engine can possibly index (see distributed crawling).
  • Many web pages are updated frequently, which forces the search engine to revisit them periodically.

  • The queries one can make are currently limited to searching for key words, which may results in many false positives.
  • Dynamically generated sites, which may be slow or difficult to index, or may result in excessive results from a single site.
  • Some search engines do not order the results by relevance, but rather according to how much money the sites have paid them.

See also

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