WWW FAQs: What is a search engine?

2004-08-02: since no one is in charge of the Web as a whole, there is a business opportunity for anyone to create an index of its contents and an interface for searching that index. Such interfaces are known as search engines. Typically the user will type in a few words that relate to what he or she is looking for and click a search button, at which point the search engine will present a links to web pages which are, hopefully, relevant to that search.

While some early indexes of the web were created by hand, modern search engines rely on automated exploring, or "spidering," of the web by specialized programs that behave somewhat like web browsers but do not require a human operator.

As of this writing, Google remains the most popular search engine by a large margin. MSN Search is also a significant player.

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