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Popular Search Engines in the 90’s: Then and Now

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In the heydays of the internet – when Google wasn’t the only search engine people used to seek information on the web – web surfers (I bet you haven’t heard that term in a while) had several options for finding what they needed on the net.

This article harks back to the days of AltaVista, HotBot, and when Ask was still Ask Jeeves. You’ll see how the web designs of ubiquitous search engines of the past have evolved through time. Put your nostalgia hats on as we travel back to the ancient times of the internet!

HotBot

1997

HotBot

1999

HotBot

2009

HotBot

Excite

1996

Excite

1998

Excite

2009

Excite

WebCrawler

1996

WebCrawler

1998

WebCrawler

2009

WebCrawler

Ask Jeeves (now Ask.com)

1999

Ask Jeeves (now Ask.com)

2009

Ask Jeeves (now Ask.com)

Yahoo!

1996

Yahoo!

2009

Yahoo!

The future

Yahoo!

Google

1998

Google

2009

Google

Dogpile

1998

Dogpile

2009

Dogpile

AltaVista

1998

Excite

2009

AltaVista

Lycos

1996

Lycos

1998

1998

2009

2009

MSN Search (now Bing)

1999

MSN Search (now Bing)

2009

MSN Search (now Bing)

AOL Search

1999

AOL Search

2009

2009

Infoseek (now Go.com)

1997

Infoseek (now Go.com)

2009

Infoseek (now Go.com)

Netscape Search

1999

Netscape Search

2009

Netscape Search

MetaCrawler

1996

MetaCrawler

1998

MetaCrawler

2009

MetaCrawler

All the Web

1999

All the Web

2009

All the Web

What was your favorite search engine (before Google)? How did search engines affect you in the early days of the web? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments.

* Screenshots courtesy of the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine

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About the Author

Jacob Gube is the Founder and Chief Editor of Six Revisions. He’s also a web developer/designer who specializes in distance-learning education, front-end development, and web accessibility. If you’d like to connect with him, head on over to the contact page and follow him on Twitter: @sixrevisions.

This was published on Sep 12, 2009

136 Comments

Kimcool Sep 12 2009

Google and Yahoo change best.

Selinap Sep 12 2009

My first search engine, when I was introduced to the Internet back in 1996, was WebCrawler.

Kurashi Sep 12 2009

That’s fun to notice some websites keep their logos after more than ten years (Hotbot for instance)

But I haven’t got the web since enough time to know any of this search engines.

But I think it’d be interesting to put more screenshots of the beginning of 2000′.

Logo bliss Sep 12 2009

Those ate some crazy screens, retro sites!!

AltaVista was definitely my favourite search engine pre-Google.

Zach Dunn Sep 12 2009

I think it’s neat how the “modern design” of less popular search engines look so dated in their latest designs. I’d be interested to see when their latest redesigns occurred.

Interesting, I’ve never had a ‘before Google’ search engine. It’s nice to see how they’ve all gone simple. Wonder if it’s because the search engines are now better at picking up meta data and vice versa.

Ary Mega Sep 12 2009

It’s like looking at 90’s hair style and today’s. I’m curious to see what these sites will look like in a few years. But I gotta say that before Google, I was gettin’ rowdy w/ AltaVista.

Jack Yan Sep 12 2009

I remember how long Hotbot used to take to load on dial-up versus the others. Pity Altavista lost its way—pre-Google, it was a very complete site.

Before google (and even in it’s initial early days) I was a huge fan of http://www.mamma.com/ which I think was sadly overlooked by a lot of the Net. Pre-google, it ended up being the best engine I found for finding quality results for my searches, and managed to avoid a lot of the forum spam (questions + the million answers to that question) that I still at times get in google today.

I had forgotten about some of these (e.g. hotbot). My favorite one used to be vivisimo.

AFAIR, I never use SE besides google, altavista and bing

without search engines, i think i wont find this site…lol
i was googling for wordpress tips, and found this site :D

John Scianna Sep 13 2009

Awesome! Very cool to see the evolution. I love looking at all of my old work and comparing it to the new, amazing difference.

nice one, its the old one. I still remember during the day that i was too crazy using hotbot

daftviking Sep 13 2009

When I first saw names like “HotBot”, “Lycos”, etc. I was sure that the 2009 screenshots would be “site not found” error messages – quite surprised to see so many of them still around, even if many are simply front-ends to Google’s or Yahoo’s searches.

As for my favorite pre-Google, I’d have to say AltaVista was my go-to site, but I do remember using Metacrawler as well.

designvore Sep 13 2009

It’s like going back to middle-age, isn’t it? Actually, I’ve never used another search engine than Google! In fact, I’ve never liked yahoo or other ones and always stuck to Google.

chlankboot Sep 13 2009

I used to use yahoo (before google), played a lot with excite, hotbot. I loved yahoo’s 1996 screenshot, thanks for the post.

wow, there’re some name in your list i never know before :P
thanks

Webdesign Genève, Toopixel Sep 13 2009

Seems everyone’s tend to copy Google, and for those who don’t the search engine nowadays is not appealing to use… Google still rules!

Vlad Dumitrica Sep 13 2009

The first engine I used is HotBot way back in 1999.

It’s interesting to notice many of the search engines today are either “Enhanced by Google” or “Powered by Yahoo!”

M Verhoeven Sep 13 2009

I used Altavista in the day, damn that’s a long time ago!

Cool to see, websites have become much nicer looking.

I used to use MetaCrawler a lot. And if I were going to use just a single search engine I often used InfoSeek.

Before The Google it was AltaVista for me all the way baby!

So many of them just say “Powered by Google/Yahoo” now…haha

Drew Smith Sep 13 2009

What? No Northern Light?

Gaming Notebooks Sep 13 2009

I miss Ask Jeeves. ):

1)Yahoo! 2)DogPile 3)AltaVista 4)Excite 5)Overture 6)Go 7)HotBot
Also liked Geocities and Webring

Here’s a link to an evolving Search Engine relationship chart.

Copy Editor Sep 13 2009

It should read: “In the heydays of the internet…”

I used to use Snap. But that one’s long gone.

I haven’t thought about many of those search engines for a long time. When I first got online (around 1997) I used HotBot quite a bit as well as AltaVista.

That was cool, blast from the past, used to love web-crawler and infoseek, nice work…

xOrion73x Sep 13 2009

What was your favorite search engine (before Google)?

What makes you think I like Google? I still use Altavista, and have done so since I started using it when it was a subdomain of digital.

I abhor the new “search engines” they probably ought to be referred to as “self customizing Advertisement Engines”

If I am missing anything because I use AV, I’m just not that worried about it.

dhiean kukuh Sep 13 2009

same as Matt, First time in `98 I use Yahoo and Altavista, I like Altavista more…bcause they can search better than yahoo..but early 2000 until now… I used Google…. nice info…

Ask, Dogpile and Lycos had the best changes of all the above.

Google just changed it’s logo, dropped some ugly colors and added a top bar.

easy search Sep 13 2009

nice work! i loved that collection, it reminded me of the days you could do copy paste with uni assignments and no one knew about the search engines : )

Used to love alltheweb back in the day. Yahoo, was my main search engine before it. But when google was discovered everything else seemed pointless. I forgot some of these even existed, been so long.

Maxime Perron Caissy Sep 13 2009

Definitely cool to see how search engines have evolved over the years…

Design wise, I think Ask Jeeve would be my favorite,
function wise I would go for Google (with Gmail, Analytics, Calendar and Documents). I was an Altavista user from 1997 to 2001 and Google user from then on….

Definitely Dogpile and Anzwers till Google came along. Dogpile was great because it did all the major search engines.

Used to use hotbot because it had a date filter so I could get only recent results.

Fun article.

To the grumps, lighten up dude.

Tezdoll Sep 13 2009

i used to use mamma.com and dogpile.com a lot…

SadistiX Sep 13 2009

Excite is as ugly as ever. Why won’t they update their layout to a more sleek design? I doubt it’ll cost them over 1000 to do so.

Jude Anderson Sep 14 2009

Great to see the evolution of search engines, has resurfaced some bad memories.

I was a huge fan of Infoseek back in the day because you could run a search (with a general term like “sound cards”) then search within those results (with an otherwise ambiguous term like “Creative”). I could find anything.

I was reluctant to switch to Google at first because while it had a “search within” function, it didn’t operate the same way. Regardless, I was getting roughly the same results from either engine, and for a while Google even had “try your search on AltaVista/Infoseek/Etc” links which made it easy for me to head back to Infoseek if their results weren’t working for me. Needless to say, they were.

this really brings me back to when the Internet was still young. Great article :)

I never knew Dogpile still existed, I used to love it!

Before Google I used AltaVista and Lycos. Got to stop using them because they were blocked in China while I was studying there. So I had to start using Google.

Mike Panic Sep 14 2009

It’s interesting to see that the majority of them have moved to the “less is more” interface, ala Google – except for Yahoo, which still tries to put EVERYTHING on the homepage.

louis gubitosi Sep 14 2009

hey, great post. Check out this site to show you what any website looked like at any date! pretty cool stuff:

Television Spy Sep 14 2009

A longer historic version of yahoo’s design can be seen here

daepheus Sep 14 2009

Hah! Before Google, I used the library!

I used Yahoo! back in the day, and still do. Everyone doesn’t use Google.

Metacrawler was my jam back in the day.

Related and also worth the read is an SEOmoz post SEO Since 1999.

Weird to include Dogpile but not Profusion. I’m pretty sure Profusion was my go-to until Google got up to speed.

There was a time when I found Infoseek the most useful, until it became “part of the GO! network” and suddenly became useless overnight. What they did to it and why, I don’t know, but the look of the site changed, and all of a sudden the search results it returned weren’t useful to me anymore.

sanyaldk Sep 14 2009

wow!!! great work…

Craig Wann Sep 14 2009

This is awesome! Great Job! I used web crawler in the early 90’s. This is a perfect example of the evolution of web design – THANK YOU CSS!

Wow, this brings back memories. I remember back in 2000 getting students to write reviews of their experience of Ask Jeeves, Netscape, Google, HotBot et al as an exercise. One of the rationales behind it was that they wouldn’t all slavishly suck up all their information from Google. Now that really worked didn’t it?

Roberto Sep 14 2009

Dogpile made a great facelift.

Simon Jarosz Sep 15 2009

it’s amazing to see how all of these have matured over the years as the content people search for has!

ReverendTed Sep 15 2009

My first search engine was Yahoo!, though I quickly learned that AltaVista was superior for my needs. (Babelfish is still my go-to for translation.) MetaCrawler rang some bells, but for the life of me I can’t recall where it fits in my search engine history.

My favourite was Altavista back in around 1999…at the time it seemed great…then I tried Google in 2000 and never really looked back…Bing looks interesting though…

Have to add another vote for altavista – before google, I used to love the speed and ease of use (and low number of keystrokes!) to get to av.com

I also used to use some software called webferret which searched many different sites at the same time and combined results.

Ahh, the memories, and all mostly gone under the mighty reign of google…

I remember when Altavista was located at altavista.digital.com and was a simple Google-like search bar and because of that it was incredibly fast. Then they added the Yahoo-like categories, then they added the portal crap and it became really slow and useless.

Tim @ TabDesk Sep 15 2009

Great. Takes you back.

Jaan Kanellis Sep 15 2009

Amazing how they all essentially copy Google in the 2009 version.

M.-J. Taylor Sep 15 2009

I must say, I miss Alta Vista sometimes. You could make a change to a page, and see the impact in the SERPs within a day or two.

AltaVista was the best “search” engine prior to Google. Yahoo had the best directory, followed closely by dmoz.org. Dogpile was the best meta-search but the results weren’t particularly better than every other search engine. Ask Jeeves was certainly the most entertaining to use.

Google changed the game. Back when no one knew what Google was, everyone used to think I was “so smart” because I could find the answer to basically any question in under 60 seconds. Sigh. Those were the good old days.

Used Yahoo back in the day the most although do remember AltaVista. Recenly have been taking a liking to Bing.

I don’t see much difference…it’s the results that count…duh

Play mario games Sep 16 2009

A lot has changed now. Today most people only talk about Google if they want to search for a details. Earlier people only talked about Yahoo and MSN.

We hope there is more competition so that we can get better search results.

Vitezslav Valka Sep 16 2009

Where are those nice times when AltaVista was helping me to find things. Those times full of Napster and MP3.com… :-) Oh yeah…

Wow, I’m amazed that some of these are still around. I’m not so surprised to see a lot of them are now powered by Google.

RaulJones Sep 16 2009

My first experiences online were through BBS (bulletin board systems)…no search engine at all. Then, I graduated to Prodigy (using a monochrome monitor and a Hayes plug-in 1200 baud modem). 8088 processor, dual 3.5″ diskette drives, 640K RAM, and no hard drive. I was uptown back then.

Good times.

Hao Doan Sep 16 2009

Look at how many are powered by Google now!

Online 1996

used Excite, AOL search & lycos( i liked the dog)in the early years

Pre Google I was a die hard dogpile, ask jeeves ( I thought it was cool to have a butler) & Yahoo user.

Yahoo I used until 2002

AtWeDes Sep 16 2009

Time really goes by, I’m thankful of how far we all have come in this Information Era. I remember looking at yahoo, and altavista in Windows 2000, it seems like it was yesterday, I’, exited to see what the future will bring.

Thanks for this information, this is really good for knows Popular Search Engines, before Google..!

javimarrero Sep 17 2009

Nice post!
In Venezuela http://www.auyantepuy.com was a nice and powerfull tool before google.

Online around 1994. My first job as an intern was to “explore the possibilities of the Internet” for a then offline software company. I remember building a demo website in HTML (no JS or CSS at that time) straight into the notepad.
Yahoo in 1994, then HotBot & Excite, Altavista circa 1996, Google since 1998.

Amílcar Tavares Sep 18 2009

I’m online since ’96 and I remember them all! Thank you for this moment of remembering the old days.

Felix Goode Sep 18 2009

My search engine trilogy was Yahoo! AltaVista and NorthernLights (am I remembering the name right?). I always found Ask/Jeeves worthless.

Mark Mathson Sep 18 2009

Great post Jacob, I can certainly recall seeing those web page screens. Wow, brings back memories.

I remember how exciting it was to download 1 mp3 file. Times have become boring. Now downloading an entire discography feels lame …

Sharing mp3s was a hassle in a pre USB stick world though … i remember splitting them up with .zip archives and storing them on several different floppies couse CD Drives for p.c.s where fancy and expansiv…

***

anyway I used AltaVista. Every once in a while, when google starts to annoy me I still do…

David Ramirez Sep 18 2009

I remember using Northern Light a lot, also an aggregator called mama.com

polywogger Sep 19 2009

I came onto the net scene in 1997 I used yahoo, altavista, Geocities, and angelfire. the last two where for making our own websites..remember that? I had so much fun it was all by HTML codes at that time.. then Geo upped it and made it easier by copy paste. I can’t believe my homemade free website is still floating around on the web too! lol check this out! http://www.angelfire.com/ok/polywogger/index.html this was my angelfire webpage back in 97 everything was done by HTML. haha that background I remember making on my disney program on my old computer.. and uploaded it to the net. haha awesome!

I still use Altavista… screw the new ones… too much advertising.

Clearly illustrates what made Yahoo great: browse. Yahoo’s strength was browsing the directory. It’s a shame they abandoned it. Yes, I’m sure it was a pain to maintain, but it’s what made Yahoo Yahoo.

Kris the Retired Sep 22 2009

Pre-Google dominance, Hotbot became my preferred dialup browser on days I worked from home during CSUN’s 5+ recovery years after the Northridge Earthquake (Jan. 1994). It loaded fast and allowed very focussed search statements to yield good results lists. Librarians’ Internet Index, http://lii.org/ , is still the best source for many kinds of reference lookups.

Noor Mustafa Sep 23 2009

This is good to know the history of web giants…got inspired by google because they are maintaining their logo

This is really interesting. We have much more global access, information overload maybe, but the most successful and appealing search engines are minimalist, like google’s homepage. How do we understand this?
I’m working on a blog and could really use some feedback on the content of the graphic design posts my company has been posting lately.

Nexuslab Sep 24 2009

Really a great post. I liked it a lot. I compared the sites “before” and ‘after’, and really enjoyed the process. Thank you.

Joomla2xs Sep 24 2009

I am certainly seeing a strand of continuity amongst the redesigning of some of these over the years…

I almost forgot Lycos and Netscape existed, certainly a blast from the past! (;

Love it! :)

Parketi Sep 27 2009

Very interesting! Most of them seem to evolve to the minimalistic graphic / one search field…

iskandrany Sep 29 2009

That was cool, blast from the past, used to love web-crawler and infoseek, nice work

Very nice work!

Igor Zabotin Oct 04 2009

Altavista and HotBot was popular in Russia. We had 30 computers with internet from George Soros in our Siberian university.

The sad part about all of this is I showed the page to teenager and they were astonished anything existed before Google. Then we told them a very long story about beepers being the coolest thing and they asked what a pager/beeper was. Technology is making me seem like an old man much faster than I should.

Mark Carter Oct 19 2009

wow ….. didn’t know some of these guys were still around. Still remember from way back when that Hotbot won a ‘shoot-out’ of best search results ….

Andreea Oct 19 2009

Metacrawler used to be my favourite.

WOW….flashback!

Aijalyn Kohler Nov 01 2009

I used Metacrawler and Ask Jeeves until 1999 when I started using Google…haven’t used much else for search since.

Michael Nov 05 2009

I have already forgotten AltaVista. Too bad really ^ ^ Was a very nice search engine.

Tanya McSwam Nov 15 2009

HAHAHAHA I remember some of those shockers!

Search engines get better with time, be it the results or be it the appearance. Great to see this.

Tell me about it. It is just amazing how far they have come in such a short amount of time. The transformation of algorithm and crawler is also interesting. Different things are more important to the crawler now (ie content, description and structure)

Google is soo minimal today – i love the old nostalgic google-look. this fade-in effect ist so lame…

I used to love Altavista, especially being able to just type av.com I saved thousands of keystrokes each year :)

Lea Charlton Feb 07 2010

Interesting to see the changes. I think that Yahoo did an excellent join with their reface and there is no reason to transition to the future design. I like how Google has always had the minimalistic design though crept up with the Products over the years.

Google? I don’t use google. I’m still an ask & excite fan…I do miss Jeeves though…LOL

Hilarious – I remember each of these Search Engines because I was still in school and would try to find research, articles for my papers (In lieu of having to go to the library). Yahoo’s future design is already current, and it’s clearly obvious that Bing is desperately trying to mimic Ask.com – another failed attempt by MS to remain relevant.

Bharath Reddy Apr 22 2010

OMG..I haven’t heard about some search engines which have been listed here..LoL!! Thank god I came to know about them atleast now…jajaja

I love this – I used to be devout to infoseek, before they became go.com… webcrawler was the next best thing, but if I remember correctly they didn’t offer descriptions, or the formatting put the results one on each line so it was difficult to read… what was the big advancement that happened in search engines before google? I remember that infoseek did something that was “revolutionary” at the time, making your searches all the more relevant…??

Richard Sorge Jun 10 2010

lol… i remember some of the old ones

Konstantin Jun 21 2010

and today theres only google…..

sweety gaur Jul 15 2010

hahaha… i don’t care about it…

Way cool, i love the thumbnails lycos uses. Even if google does power the search, i love its presentation…. I used to love the commercials with the lab that fetched too. Its sad though. Go is discontinuing its email service, lycos charges now, and some have indeed closed. All of theme so promising at one point, and struggling merely to survive today… Im going to start using lycos. I like them hahahaha

I used Altavista & AOL all the time, sweet memories :)

David Groves Sep 05 2010

Why are you all saying “I used to use AltaVista pre Google?” AltaVista is still freakin’ aweseome, even if it is ran by Yahoo =-\ Still thought this brings me back to those good ole days, thank you!!

Yuri Suarez Nov 21 2010

Great screens, i remember some of them. I never see Google 1998.

Thank you

Jolly Good Dec 02 2010

Thanks for helping me to remember “AltaVista”, my preferred search tool in the late 1990s.

I worked at Infoseek 96-00. Our sales department sold our homepage to anyone willing to pay for it. After awhile it became unusable and people moved away to the SE i.e. Google that still understod why people came to the sites in the first place which is to search and find relevant information. Search was boring at Inforseek and all the money we earned went to create a portal that nobody liked especially after Disney bought us at the end and put Disney content all over the place.

PrivateJoker Jan 30 2011

From 1994-1998 I used a variety of search engines. 1998 to present pretty much 100% Google. Yahoo sucked when it was launched and it sucks today.

Those pictures are awesome! Search engines have changed alot in 10 years, i bet everyonve is using Google nowadays? Its so cool, so full of information that I just didnt know. Please keep it up.

Infoseek and Hotbot where the ones I used to start with, and Northern Light, that was an excellent one which tended to be overlooked. I used to use Yahoo a lot but I think they’ve gone downhill a bit.

I used yahoo and altavista back before the age of google. funny how all those extra buttons and tabs never felt compelling enough for me to try. hahaha

Melissa Jul 10 2011

Altavista was my pre-Google search. I started using Google in 1999. For a while, I searched on both and compared. I still go to Altavista as a backup, but that is rare.

Something is missing from the Go.com website pic. When I had the internet in the mid/late 90’s the goal search had a big orange or red button that you pushed with the letters goal written on it… Where is the image of that?

ianlordwin Oct 20 2011

those were the days…. btw altavista, infoseeker were my pre-google search engines….. ;)

everyone should stop copying google and be themselves

Loweded Wookie Jun 14 2012

Anyone remember Dogs Bollox?

Nice seeing those old designs. AltaVista was always my search engine of choice before Google. It’s amazing seeing that some of those old engines still exist.

really cool! i remember some of the search engines from back in the day. some of them i’ve never even heard of or forgot over time, overall really cool site this is!. thanks for the memories!.

I used to use ALta Vista back in the mid 1990’s The Searches used to come back as blue highlighted text only. Google really came out on top, though.

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