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Do you Google, Bing or Yahoo?


I honestly don’t know what I would do without a search engine. It is my constant go-to for, “Mom, when was the first ice cream made?” or, “What color were Saladin’s army uniforms?” It’s my right arm for nearly all first-stage research on books, genealogy and articles … not to mention a replacement for those spendy 411 calls I used to make.

It seems like they’ve always been around. As we know them today, only in the last nine or so years.

The first tool for searching the Internet was created in 1990 and was called "Archie". Aside from the graphic and user-friendly approach by present day search sites, Archie merely downloaded lists of searchable filenames. A year later "Gopher" was created. It indexed plain text documents. "Veronica" and "Jughead" came along to search Gopher's index systems. The first actual Web search engine was developed in 1993 and was called "Wandex".

In the fall of 1998, Microsoft launched MSN Search using results from Inktomi.

It wasn’t until the year 2000 that Google made itself known to the online world. Also in 2000, Yahoo came on the scene also using Inktomi until they acquired them in 2002 along with a host of other search technologies in the few years following.

In June, 2009, Microsoft rebranded its search technology in the form of Bing. Now, Yahoo Search uses the Bing technology to deliver its search engine as well.

How do they stack up? According to Hitbox, Google's popularity peaked at 82.7% in December, 2008. July 2009 rankings showed Google (78.4%) losing traffic to Baidu (8.87%), and Bing (3.17%). The market share of Yahoo! Search (7.16%) and AOL (0.6%) were also declining.

In our age … information is as essential as cash, credit, and connections. So many of our new industries are dependent on information, and on how quickly you can assimilate it into something meaningful. One of the fastest sources of information is, of course, search engines. Does it deliver only credible information? Well … that’s another matter.

Our effort to acquire information reminds me of the frenzy to acquire gold. While some undoubtedly became wealthy overnight, some estimate that less than one in twenty prospectors profited financially from their California gold-seeking. An interesting question would be how much of the information on the web could be considered reliable or profitable? One in twenty? I’m not sure.

As concerning to me, however, is not only the reliability but the privacy issues we’ve all read about.

Because most of us use the Internet in the privacy of our homes and offices, it sometimes feels like we are in a cocooned world occupied only by ourselves and our computers. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Everything we do on the Internet is public. Really, no different than loitering on a busy city street, loudly announcing your plans and thoughts to the world. Email is even more so.

Scary? It can be. Dangerous? Yes, as well. Enough to change the way we live …? We really can’t if we want to live and compete in the world in which we live. Retreating to an unrealistic, non-computerized world makes about as much sense as retreating from the virtual world and living only amongst the safe and secure four walls we call home. The same standard applies, though. Remember Mom’s adages she called to us as we left that safe haven in the mornings? Those about watching where we went, who we talked to, and most especially what we said? The same standards should be applied to the Internet and most especially Search Sites.

What we should know: During each visit to any Internet site, your computer reveals its IP address (everyone has one) to the site. That site can store your IP address, along with the date and time of the visit. Companies like Amazon, AOL, and many others are constantly signing up new members who willingly hand over personal information, sometimes including income levels, credit card numbers, etc. Why do they want this? Marketing, marketing, marketing.

Search Engines: If you don't log in to search engine's site, or a partner service like Google's Gmail, etc., the company probably doesn't know your name. But it connects your searches through a cookie, which has a unique identifying number. Using its cookies, which expire sometimes years later, Google and others will remember all searches from your browser. It might also link searches by a user's IP address.

If you sign in on Google's personalized homepage or Yahoo's homepage, the companies can then correlate your search history with any other information, such as the name that you give them. In fact the company could correlate everyone you've e-mailed, all the websites you've visited after a search and even all the words you misspell in queries.

Alarming? Not really if you consider that everything you do on the Internet is for public consumption … every store you visit, every business you patronize or research, every neighbor’s home you visit. It really isn’t that different from our everyday world. We just need to be aware of what information the public or companies or perhaps … the government can and will gather and store about us. We need to view the Internet world as a busy, exciting, unfamiliar city where we are carefully watchful. Not only of ourselves, but especially of our children.

We need also treat the Internet as our own PR sheet. What do you want the world to know about you? Be aware, be careful, be wise … but have fun.

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