“Let me Google that for you.” A few of us still remember life before Google. Turns out that even before there was an Excite or a Lycos, there was a W3 Catalog.
Making its debut on Sept. 2, 1993, the W3 Catalog was one of the first attempts to create a searchable catalog of web resources. Professors at the University of Geneva, inspired by a Tim Berners Lee seminar on the World Wide Web, set out to index internet resources. It was easy to envision the potential of the online world; navigating it was another matter. Professor Oscar Nierstrasz wrote a program that downloaded human-curated website directories and compiled them into the W3 Catalog.
The fall of the W3 Catalog
Although the W3 Catalog was designed to be self-sustainable, in truth it was tedious to maintain, Nierstrasz admitted on the W3 Catalog history page. Someone had to track and ensure links to directory websites continued to work. Plus, the popularity of the W3 Catalog sometimes overloaded the server on which it was housed.
Most of all, though, search engine technology had evolved, and sites including AltaVista and HotBot had begun crawling the entire web, not just directory pages, and returning search results that ultimately proved much more useful. Then two guys named Larry and Sergey introduced a website that forced everyone’s favorite butler into retirement, and the rest, as they say, is history.
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