Have you ever heard of Archie? Discover the history of the first internet search engine

If you accessed the internet in the 1990s, you will probably remember with nostalgia Cadê, AltaVista and the persistent Yahoo!. Although they were very popular in Brazil, another search engine gained prominence in the world for being the first in history. His name is Archie and he turns 30 on the next 10th.

Despite its advanced age, Archi is still in the air, if only for the historical record. Even though it is a search engine, its footprint is different from what we know today, with names like Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo: the goal of the first search engine in history was to index and locate FTP files more easily.

This is what Archie looks like these days (Image: Screenshot/Canaltech)

The beginning of everything

Archie’s original code was written in 1990 by Alan Emtage and Bill Heelan, graduate students at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The pair developed a script that allowed user login and host lookup archie.mcgill.ca [132.206.2.3], which contained a listing of files.

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The terminology chosen derives from the word “archive” (archive, in English), in which only one letter was removed to maintain the sound. This makes more sense than a theory of the time that made the association with the comic books of the same name — which the creator said he detested. Despite this, this confusion caused Archie’s successors to be named after comic book characters: Jughead and Veronica.

At the beginning, the research service was a project to help students and employees of the University’s School of Computing to find files on the server via the Internet. Remember that in the early 1990s graphical interfaces were still new and there was no internet released to the public, so a search engine was a concept that had not been created.

How Archie Worked

At that time, the only way to upload websites to the internet was through the File Transfer Protocol (FTP). The pages were created in design applications of the time and then uploaded to the hosts in a very archaic way, with the incredible speed of the time, which was no more than 28kbps.

That was Archie in 1995 (Image: Reproduction/Web Design Museum)

The only way to access this search network was with a local client, which had the same name as the search engine. After some time, the possibility of accessing the server directly through other systems, e-mail queries and, finally, an interface released on the World Wide Web was introduced.

The search engine scanned a list of public websites hosted on FTP servers linked to the world wide web. Every time a page was updated, it was necessary to update this listing, called “index”, but this only happened from time to time so as not to waste server resources. Thus, the pages could take up to months to be put online, as people let them gather a minimum amount of them to do everything at once.

The search was done by the title of the file stored in the database, because the system did not identify the content. There were also no descriptions or other metadata to aid in indexing. If you didn’t know exactly the name of the website you were looking for, the chance of finding it was zero.

Evolution to look like the current model

In 1992, the young people obtained financial support from McGill University to create Bunyip Information Systems, the first company in the world dedicated to providing information services over the Internet. It was this company that was responsible for taking Archie out of the academic environment and into the commercial world.

The search engine’s success made the business grow and the Archie Group emerged. With new partners and a focus on the market, the database has been updated to contain many more files and web pages.

In 1993, the search engine was very active and had about 50,000 queries per day from users around the world. This meant that the project’s creators needed a dozen servers to replicate an ever-evolving 150MB database with about 2.1 million records. The search result could range from a few seconds on a Saturday night to several hours during a typical weekday afternoon.

Although it was not a search engine as it is known today, the importance of the model created by Archie is undeniable, as it became an inspiration for the systems that succeeded him – notably Yahoo!, in 1995, and Google, in 1997.

Currently, an Archie server is still kept active in Poland, at the Interdisciplinary Center for Mathematical and Computational Modeling at the University of Warsaw, as a way to keep alive the memory of the first web browser. You can stop by and try to relive how people searched for things on the internet in the early 1990s.

Source: Archie, HuffingtonPost, StackScale

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