Search Engine: From History to Present

How the search engine's oligarchs dominate the world?

World Map of Dominating Websites.
Jacionis P.(2012). World Map of Dominating Websites. Webempires October 1st 2018 Available at


This thesis will explore the “search engine” as the historical development of the internet invention and related social context. Although the search engines are frequently thought of as began from 1990s only, it quickly dominated the current access to information on the Internet and naturally organized an oligopoly. Through a close examination of opened academic journals and the long-term statistics, I will take a historical approach to answer the following questions: What is the earlier historical trend of the search engine? Who owns key business in this field? How the search engine influence the political economic, social and cultural fields? My findings suggest that the modern search engines started with Archie and quickly transformed into oligarchs around the advertising industry in the 2000s; although engine users benefited from information acquisition, they suffered heavy social and cultural losses.


The Genesis of Search Engine

(1) The genesis of search engine based on the demand to effectively control information. First search engine is Archie, one original database made by Alan Emtage ‘to save his own time’ while he is a systems administrator at McGill University in 1989 (Samuel,2017). According to Danny Stieben (2013), the Archie user through the page in the University of Warsaw, he described the Archie as ‘a simple search engine that would keep an index of the file lists of all public FTP servers it could find’.

A screenshot of Emtage’s tool for indexing FTP servers: “ARCHIE.”, Alexandra Samuel, All rights reserved

(2) Another important component is ‘spider robots’ software programs which automatically request pages for indexing. According to Aaron Wall (2006), the first crawling robot created by Matthew Gray in June 1993, and later, the fledged spiders are provided by JumpStation, the World Wide Web Worm, and the Repository-Based Software Engineering (RBSE). In the history of search engines, these three engines are been described as primitive web search.

(3) However, above search engines are all replaced by Google through the development in algorithm later. In 2000, The New York Times provided one comment about the performance of search engines, editor Lisa Guernsey recorded how ranks Web pages based on the algorithm to authoritative link data. The improvement of algorithm extremely relies on the data collection. According to Ian Lowrie, a sociocultural anthropologist at Portland State University, he cited an example of search engine Yandex to describe the importance of user’s data, and algorithm would be inert without database (Lowrie, 2017). Therefore, one completed modern search engine consists of three components: indexing system, crawling spider, and digital algorithms.

(4) This trinity system (Indexing, Crawling and Algorithm) also contributes to the commercialization of modern search engines and directly provides search engine advertising revenue. According to Paško Bilić, the research associate in the Institute for Development and International Relations (IRMO) in Zagreb, he pointed out Google’s ideologies is exploiting users and keeping the full context hidden (Bilić, 2016). This commercial motivation also encouraged other search engine, Yandex immediately ‘attracted more than 2,500 advertisers’ (Yandex, 2018); and Baidu even early charged for advertisement than Google as part of historical trends in media (Costill, 2014).


Oligopoly and Independent Market

(1) Who owns key business in this field? In the industry of search engine, the answer is clearly directed to Google, Baidu, Yandex, and Yahoo (Japan). They dominated the local search engine industry through their working language or cultural background. According to the Stat Counter (Global Stats), we find out the search engine hegemonies in different cultural clusters:

Search Engine Market Share Worldwide, Stat Counter, All rights reserved

(2) The statistic described the September 2018 market share allocation as: Google (90%), Yahoo! (2.51%), Baidu (0.85%), Yandex Ru (0.61%). How about Bing (2.27%)? Why it is not one search engine hegemony? Because there is Google as one better substitution in English world. The definition of hegemonies refers one oligopoly market in global search engine market; according to Mary Hall, the editor of Investopedia, she explained the oligopoly market as ‘a small number of relatively large firms that produce similar but slightly different products… there are significant barriers to entry for other enterprises’ (Hall, 2018). In the Australia Financial Review, Google is described as ‘superstar’ and ‘abusing power’ through its high market share by Rana Foroohar (2018), he stated Google occupied 90% Europe market now. And earlier, Baidu had occupied 79% Chinese market share (Costill, 2014). Those hegemonies separately dominated each market rather than the global competition, that is, oligopoly.

(3) Meanwhile, it is almost impossible to expect one new search engine break the market share due to the stable distribution. According to Statista, we can find one stable market allocation in long-term viewpoint:

Worldwide desktop market share of leading search engines from January 2010 to July 2018, Statista, All rights reserved

It shows one clear tendency about this search engine ‘competition game’ around fixed characters in long-term. And there is no new player (company) that participated in meaningful market share from 8 years ago. Therefore, we can define Google, Baidu, Yahoo!, Yandex and [maybe] Bing are consistently own key business in the field of search engine.


Political economic analysis and Free-Labor (Political Economic Perspective)

(1) The advertising industry may be the most important beneficiary in the development of search engine. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), search engine provides one high value advertising channel, ‘Whether in search or display, new advertisers can gather feedback that is immune from the biases that plague observational methods’ (Lewis, Rao & Reiley, 2013, p.22). The editor of Investopedia, Rosenberg (2018) described ‘The bulk of Google’s $110.8 billion revenue in 2017 came from its proprietary advertising service, Google AdWords’. How about other search engines? One example cited by the America business news channel CNBC about Baidu, that shows one strong growth in its online advertisement business, ‘revenue for the segment rose 25 percent… in the second quarter’ that reported by Reuters in 2018. Advertiser absolutely enjoys the profit with search engine together.

(2) However, people are worried about the search engine’s free labor/ hidden labor problem due to their unconscious losses. According to the Boston Business Journal, A Massachusetts woman has launched a potential class-action lawsuit against Google due to the free labor problem, the suit states that Google’s ReCAPTCHA program requires users to type two separate words displayed as distorted imaged for program processing, it may force search engine user to answer question for continuing service. These losses are consistently hidden from 2001, the author of Big data’s hidden labor, Malmgren (2017) stated ‘Google finds mass data harvesting operates best in a concealed and indirect manner’. Anyway, the ordinary user could not been benefit from the free/hidden job.


Surveillance and the Risk in Search Engine (Social Perspective) 206

(1) With the improvement of information collection in search engine, it rapidly benefits the national intervention. In 2013, the Guardian provided one video about the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, that described how America government collected personal privacy:

The Screenshot of video: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: ‘I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things’, the Guardian on Youtube, All right reserved

Yahoo! published one statement by Ron Bell (2014), the General Counsel later, that described how government threatened ‘the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply [with government’s need in privacy]’. In the case of PRISM, both search engine and ordinary users are losers, but the winner in government’s viewpoint.

(2) It’s that means users can cooperate with search engine companies? Not really. Search engine followed commercial benefit to some extent, it does not respond the internet users perfectly. In 2008, America government invited a career con man David Anthony Whitaker in one test about whether Google was helping illegal pharmacies, finally, Google really contributed to illegal behavior for advertising income (Pearson, 2013). We can conclude the search engine benefits government through administrative power, benefits related enterprise through economic profit, but exploited the ordinary netizens through individual rights.


Cultural Cluster and Stereotype (Cultural Perspective)

(1) It’s is necessary to understand search engine users would acquire different return depend on their cultural background or even just working language. According to the Internet World Stats cited by Holly Young in the Guardian:

Internet World Users by Language: Top 10 Languages, Internet World Stats, All right reserved

Both English and Chinese language users are providing higher numbers of search result, Young (2015) stated ‘And if your language is endangered, it is possible it will never have a life online. Far from infinite, the internet, it seems, is only as big as your language’. Language’s distribution directly decides the allocation of benefit and loss.

(2) The search engine may also apply the bias in stereotype in accordance of language clusters. One research estimated how the impact of local and global Images on the formation of female physical attractiveness stereotypes, the finding suggests that ‘…results from search engines are biased towards the language used to query the system…’ (Magno et al., 2016, p.5). The stereotype not only the collection of bias from user, but also the influence from algorithms depend on cultural background.



The genesis of search engine starts from the demand of information management: crawling, indexing, and algorithms. Google, Baidu, and Yandex are all shows the hegemony trends in their own language cluster; their oligopoly market forced internet users contributed personal data to search engine optimization. In political economic perspective, search engine’s income mainly comes from the advertisement/online promotion; it is not only benefited the data collection for search engine evolved but also exploited user as free labor/hidden labor. In social viewpoint, search engine stimulus the surveillance/censorship from government; although meaningful advertisement is provided to individual users but increased potential consumer risk at same time. In cultural field, Search engine constructs one inequality in search return and contributed to stereotyping based on information bias.


Reference List


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Internet World Stats (2017). Internet World Users By Language: Top 10 Languages. [Image] Miniwatts Marketing Group October 9th, 2018 Available at


Jacionis, P. (2012). World Map of Dominating Websites. [featured image] Webempires October 1st, 2018 Available at


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Chi-Ching Wang
About Chi-Ching Wang 2 Articles
Bachelor of Arts...and I want to be one doctor

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