When I was at Altavista, we were also blocked from doing dynamic abstracts by cost.
Google's main advantages were:
- managed by the founders with a total focus on search and measurable results
- google's hiring process produced a very strong team early on
- strong focus on controlling costs from the beginning (Altavista's use of the DEC Alpha was a huge handicap.
At google these three groups worked hand in hand and complemented each other's work. The eggheads came up with page rank, the coders figured out how to make pagerank scale through massive paralellism via sharding and mapreduce, and the data center folks figured out how to make sharding cheap and fast through commodity pc based servers and massive amounts of automation for management. In the end everyone was working at the top of their game to help everyone else. The result was that google was able to deliver better results (pagerank) faster (mapreduce) and cheaper (automated commodity hardware datacenters) than the competition.
There were lots of other fine details that led to google's success, but in the end those core factors are what allowed them to deliver a better search experience to users (better/faster) and to be more competitive in the marketplace (lower cost per search means more profit even with lower per search ad revenue).
No one else in search was pushing on all the right pressure points the way google was, and the rest is history.
From the article: "In short, Google had realized that a search engine wasn't about finding ten links for you to click on. It was about satisfying a need for information. For us engineers who spent our day thinking about search, this was obvious. Unfortunately, we were unable to sell this to our executives. Doug built a clutter-free UI for internal use, but our execs didn't want to build a destination search engine to compete with our customers. I still have an email in which I outlined a proposal to build a snippets and caching cluster, which was nixed because of costs."
The engineers here had more than inkling what needed to be done. The problem was this didn't go through the entire company.
Infighting and begrudging compromises only happen when the leadership is blind to the details.
I was VP of Engineering at Altavista in 2000, and I started the project to move to Linux. It wasn't easy because search engineering was populated by Alpha fans who were unswayed by the 10x cost advantage.
As late as 2001, I sat in multiple focus groups where all the enterprise customers said Linux was not yet ready for the datacenter. IBM's penguin campaigns were just beginning at that time.
Google's large scale use of Linux was groundbreaking when they launched in 1998.
Altavista was started by Paul Flaherty. One of his jobs was to find some way to showcase Alphas.
In the late 90s SPARCs did fail. Yes, they were more reliable than commodity x86 boxes, but they failed often enough that it was an issue if you had 100 or so, and search engines hit that level very quickly.
We're talking matter of degree.
The claim was that building a search engine out of 90s sparcs meant that you didn't have to worry about things dying.
That claim is not true - reasonable search engines of that era required enough machines that the failure rate of 90s sparcs, while better than x86 of the time, was enough to require folks to handle frequent failures.
It's reasonable to argue that the cost/benefit tradeoff of sparc's extra reliability vs x85 wasn't worth it for those companies, but that's a different argument.
If I just want to know when the next episode of Big Bang Theory is out or what the weather is today I rarely need to even click on a result.
For more obscure technical searches at work, Google still finds more answers.
But remember - the barrier to change for a search engine's customers is very very low
Note to DDG - put the cool useful bit Under the place we all expect ads to be.
However I use adblock on every browser. Therefore I have less training than others to ignore ads. When I see one, it just hit me stronger (it's a side effect of adblock).
(Whatever you do, don't search for The Postal Service.)