Over the years, we’ve loved our popular search engines — AOL, Yahoo in 1994, and Google in post-1998. However, while all of these search engines have existed for quite a while now, none of them have been the first to exist. Instead, the first known search engine has made its place in history with the name of Archie.
Written over two decades ago and with no updates since then, Archie provided a very different search experience than we’re used to today. So how is it different, and could it still be useful today? I’ll take you on a tour of the Archie search engine and give you a perspective of how things have changed over the past 23 years.
Archie, which is somehow short for “archive” because Archie followed the Unix naming standards, was written in 1990 by Alan Emtage, who was studying at McGill University in Montreal at the time. While the World Wide Web didn’t exist yet at this time, there was a much smaller network in place that hosted a number of different files. The Archie search engine was a simple search engine that would keep an index of the file lists of all public FTP servers it could find. This way, users would be able to find publicly available files and download them. This provided a much better way to find files, as previously people could only know about files by simple word of mouth.
One of the places which still hosts an Archie search engine is the University of Warsaw. With this page, you can search for public files available via FTP as well as regular Polish web pages. As Linux files are commonly available via FTP servers, the first thing I searched for was “linux”, which returned 100 results of various Linux-related files at a time as that is the default setting. There is a “More Results” button you can click on to return the next 100 results. However, after looking at the list, I quickly discovered that most files found dated to 2001 so I assume that this particular Archie search engine hasn’t fully updated its index of files since then.
Customizing Your Search
Despite the Archie search engine being very primitive, the search page still offers a number of different features to customize your search experience. For example, besides being able to choose between “Anonymous FTP” and “Polish Web Index”, you can also choose whether your search entry should be treated as:
- a sub string (as long as a part of the filename includes what you searched)
- an exact search (anything that doesn’t match the query exactly is rejected), and
- a regular expression
You can also choose whether the case is sensitive or insensitive. Another option that’s available is the ability to search for strings rather than paths to files or websites. In other words, if this option is enabled, it returns the filenames of what Archie finds, but not the actual place where the file was found so that you can download it. I’m not entirely sure why this feature would be very useful, but I’m sure it was added in for a reason. There are even three options for how the search results should be outputted, including keywords only, excerpts only, and links only.
There are a number of optional search parameters that can help you be more specific with your needs as there are many files on the Internet. These optional parameters include the abilities to:
- change how Archie treats spaces in your search query from “OR” to “AND”
- limit the search results to match a directory path
- exclusive search results that match a directory path you don’t want
- limit the search to certain domains such as .com, .edu, .org, etc.
- set the maximum search results at one time
- set maximum hits per string matched (if using a non-exact search)
- set maximum characters of string matched (if using a non-exact search)
Overall, I feel that an Archie search engine, despite being primitive compared to today’s standards, was still a functional way to accomplish searches. I am surprised, however, about how specific you can still be with it, which can help a lot when looking for a specific file. I still prefer today’s search tools a lot more because it only takes a few keywords to find what I’m looking for without having to fill in a bunch of optional search parameters. Those improvements can be contributed to Ask.com’s ability to use natural language in its searches, and Google’s algorithmic advances. It’s interesting to see how search engines have progressed from Archie to Google, and it makes me excited to see how searches advance even more in the future!