Life before Google

At one time the TV show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” was so popular, it was on TV every night. And it turned out that anyone could play along with the game in real-time on their web site, and we were determined to try it.

Online, we could answer the questions right along with the contestants, and we got more points if we answered faster. And there was a wonderful brand new search engine that should get us the right answer more quickly. And no, it wasn’t Google, but I think Google might have been part of it. This search engine used several other search engines and showed a bar graph of all the results it got. Surely we’d get the right answer faster using all those search engines instead of just one.

Unfortunately, all that using multiple search engines seemed to do was make the search very slow. In a timed game, slow searches didn’t help us.

It was quite a bit later before one of us discovered that Google found the right answer most of the time in a fraction of a second. Sitting and waiting 20 seconds or more for all those search engines seemed pointless. If the answer didn’t come up in Google the first time, we could try a second search query, and still get our answer before that other multi-pronged search engine had found anything.

Even though I remember it, it’s hard for me to imagine that there was an Internet before Google. There were a bunch of slow, inefficient search engines which weren’t likely to help you find what you needed. So how did you find things on the Internet? Why, you simply used the item pictured below. I actually have this, so I know it exists. I swear, I’m not making this up. It’s not a PhotoShopped image. This item really existed.

The Internet Yellow Pages

An anachronistic book

The cover tells us a lot of interesting things. They printed over one million of these books! And looking at the picture on the front tells you the vast diversity of things you could do on the Internet; you can see some exciting objects orbiting the earth. Behind the earth are some sort of dark red rays. Maybe we’re floating in space and the earth is eclipsing the sun, and we can see the sun’s rays shooting out from behind the earth, and we used a special filtered lens so the rays appear dark red on a red background.

Anyway, just look at the excitement that awaits you on the Internet! Orbiting the earth, you can see an envelope, a baseball, a telephone, musical notes, a newspaper, a floppy disk, three aces from a deck of cards, an artist’s palette, and a thick purple book with five pages whose title starts with “HAN”. To show how global this truly is, you can see a thin dotted line bouncing across Canada all the way to Japan. And to show how easily we can access these exciting orbiting objects, a bunch of purple dots come out of Juneau, Alaska hopping all the way out to the purple book. (I’m not sure about the places; the shapes of the continents only vaguely resemble ours.) And no less an authority than The Wall Street Journal tells us how vital it is that we use this book:

“…a must-have book for anyone who wants to explore the vast reaches of the Internet….Don’t venture into the ether without it.”

–The Wall Street Journal

One thought on “Life before Google

  1. I remember back in the day buying this book and loaning/giving it to my friends and family. Why? Well, this before people generally knew what the Web was. I could give this book to someone who had never even launched a browser, and they could understand why they might want to check out this newfangled Internet thing.

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