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There were exactly zero good search engines at the time, however. Google was exponentially better than anything else from day 1.

AltaVista was good. Google was better than AltaVista, but not exponentially better. It was just a nice improvement - enough to get me to switch.

I remember doing searches on AltaVista and Yahoo, both unusable for me. The difference felt when starting to use Google's Search was night and day.

At launch, the actual search functionality wasn't noticeably better than Altavista. It was, however, much faster and aesthetically pleasing.

"much faster" is important.

Speed is a feature

I'm not really trying to say anything about the quality of these products at launch compared to competitors. The parent post made a claim that since there was already a lot of innovative products available Google can't do anything special by launching similar applications. I say that's completely off base when you look at the product that made Google one of the largest tech companies in the world fits exactly into this category. It was not doing anything fundamentally different from other search engines at the time. It just did in a much better way, so much so that people overwhelmingly switched; and they were able to make way more money of these users as well.

I recall that I held off on switching to Google from AltaVista because the former didn't initially support searching for multiple phrases using the OR operator (e.g., "first phrase" OR "second phrase"). Am I misremembering? If not, then Google was worse than AltaVista on day 1, day 2, and many days that followed.

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