Naga Chokkanathan

Why Not? — Intelligence

Posted on: September 2, 2011

Before Google, world’s premier search engine was Altavista.

Today not many know about Altavista. But they deserve more credit than being a mere footnote in the history of internet. Actually they were the first company to bring so many innovations in the art of ‘searching web pages’ and made it main stream.

When Altavista was launched (1995), They had 16 million documents in their search index. And this size was growing day by day, people at Altavista were very proud of this achievement. They wrote articles, white papers, research papers and gave interviews to tons of journalists about the millions of web pages they were indexing everyday and boasted about the power of their search engine, which can easily retrieve the required results from all this information pile.

One problem which Altavista failed to notice was, they were very much focussed on the raw power – after all, their operations were promoted by a hardware company and they believed more computing power means, better search results.

Unfortunately, it was not true – Imagine a ‘Book Robot’ which reads all the books in the world and can spit out information when you need it, that was Altavista, raw power to store and scan millions of web pages fast. They didn’t really care if the results provided were relevant / useful to the end user who is searching for some information.

Same was true with most of Altavista’s competitors. They all focussed on size, power – they tried to index more documents than Altavista, tried to provide results faster than Altavista and believed that will help them win the ‘search war’.

Enter Google, From day 1, their focus was on software – intelligence. Of course, they had enough hardware to scan and store data, but the way they mined the data and presented the results made all the difference.

Imagine we make a second version of the same ‘Book Robot’. This time the robot not only reads and remembers the books’ content, but also knows the links / relationships between various books. Because of this intelligence, it is able to suggest us the right books / chapters that we are looking for, instead of blindly reading out the results.

This was the difference Google brought to the table. They not only scanned and stored the web pages, but also focussed on the inter-relationships between these pages and used it to rank them. Then they presented the top 10 ranked items for any given search and users loved it.

To use an anology, Altavista had a gold mine (millions of web pages), but they were simply using it as a farming land. Google was able to go deep into the data and extract value – It was not a simple query engine, but an intelligence engine.

Manytimes, when we fight our competitors, we need to take a call, ‘Should we use raw power, or intelligence as our weapon? May be a combination of these will be most effective?’



N. Chokkan …

02 09 2011


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