What was the First Search Engine?

The History of Search Engines: What Was the First One?

When we talk about search engines, the first thing that comes to mind is Google. But do you know that Google was not the first search engine? The first search engine was actually created in 1990 by two students at Stanford University. It was called Archie and it only indexed pages that were on the public internet.

The grandfather of all search engines was Archie, created in 1990 by Alan Emtage, a student at McGill University in Montreal.

Quick Facts:

First Search Engine: Archie, short for “Archives.”
Release Date: 1990
Developed By: Alan Emtage, a student at McGill University in Montreal.

What was the first search engine on the Internet?

While many people credit Archie as the first search engine, how did he originally operate? It didn’t have any of today’s search engines’ capabilities, but it did allow you to look at the internet if you knew the name of a file you were seeking for.

Archie didn’t index the content of the text files. That capability came in 1991 with the development of another search, known as Gopher.

A paper from 1992, A Comparison of Internet Resource Discovery Approaches, looks at some of the early indexing programs on the web, including Archie, and a standard for searching called X.500.

X.500 was “a distributed directory service standard” developed by The Consultative Committee on International Telephony and Telegraphy (merged into the International Telecommunications Union in 1992) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). However, this standard doesn’t appear to allow the type of searches that Archie did, and it required much more work on the part of the hosts of files.

Whois was also around before Archie but looked at people, network numbers, and domains on the Internet. It was more of an information directory about the net, which could be searched to find files on the internet. The paper describes some other interesting early directory and search mechanisms.

The book The daemon, the gnu, and the penguin: A History of Free and Open Source, tells us a little about the size and scope of Archie: “In 1992 it contained about 2.6 million files with 150 gigabytes of information.” For the time, that was pretty significant. A paper from 1993, Research Problems for Scalable Internet Resource Discovery (pdf), tells us that Archie was pretty active then but seeing some signs of strain in handling searches:

The global collection of Archie servers process approximately 50,000 queries per day, generated by a few thousand users worldwide. Every month or two of Internet growth requires yet another replica of Archie. A dozen Archie servers now replicate a continuously evolving 150 MB database of 2.1 million records. While it responds in seconds on a Saturday night, it can take five minutes to several hours to answer simple queries during a weekday afternoon.

Of course, the popularity of the World Wide Web changed lots of things. One early method of indexing the web, created by Martijn Koster, who was one of the chief architects of the Standard for Robots Exclusion, was ALIWEB. The name is short for Archie-Like Indexing in the Web. ALIWEB didn’t quite take off the way other search engines would. But Martijn Koster’s work on robots would become an important part of those future search engines’ growth.


Archie was the first search engine, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Since 1990, there have been dozens of new search engines created and most of them have failed. But a few have managed to stick around and become quite popular. We hope you found this information helpful.

Posted in SEO

Published on: 2022-06-20
Updated on: 2022-06-20

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Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands is the SEO Director at SEO North, a company that provides Search Engine Optimization services. As an SEO Professional, Isaac has considerable expertise in On-page SEO, Off-page SEO, and Technical SEO, which gives him a leg up against the competition.