On Archie’s 30th anniversary, we salute the world’s first search engine, a pioneer that paved the way for giants to come.
Archie was first released to the general public on Sept. 10, 1990. It was developed as a school project by Alan Emtage at McGill University in Montreal.
According to an interview with Digital Archaeology, Emtage had been working as a grad student in 1989 in the university’s information technology department. His job required him to find software for other students and faculty. He wrote some code to do this, which later came to be known as Archie. Bill Heelan and Peter Deutsch also were key in Archie’s development, as they wrote the script that allowed others to log on and use the search engine.
Archie didn’t exactly look like the search engines we know now. When users logged on, they found a text-based landing page with a couple of search parameter options — no ads or interactive graphics like what we’re used to these days.
In the early days of the internet, Archie (archive without the “v”) was actually just an index of File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites. FTP is essentially a way to transfer files between computers. Once you found what you thought you were looking for with Archie, you’d have to download the file before you could see what was inside.
Archie couldn’t use natural language keywords, so you had to make sure to limit your search to one word that really got at what you wanted. Searching for a photo of Bill Clinton? Better refine that to just “Clinton,” otherwise you might get hundreds of files about financial bills, the Bill of Rights, duck bills… all of which you had to comb through yourself.
Search engines that came after Archie? Jughead and Veronica, of course. (Fun fact: Emtage said he loathed the Archie comic book character.) They gave way to the search engines you’re probably familiar with today, like Yahoo in 1995 and Google in 1997.
While searching for what you want on the internet has become considerably faster and easier since 1990, we wouldn’t be where we are today without Archie.