Do you remember the first time?

by Henry Farrell on July 25, 2008

Not the Pulp song; Siva Vaidhyanathan is looking for people to “tell him”: about the first time that they used Google, if they can remember it. Personally, I can’t – there was a vague process of transition beginning with exclusive use of Alta Vista (remember that?) and finishing with exclusive use of Google, and I’m not sure what came in between.



Hudson 07.25.08 at 2:18 pm

I do remember. I was a regular user of Hotbot, which rendered good search results but was clunky and slow. My editor at tipped me off about Google; I was immediately struck by how much more efficient and useful this new engine was, and never use Hotbot again. I must confess Google did give that rare “Eureka” feeling on first blush.


Thom Brooks 07.25.08 at 3:18 pm

I first heard of Google from a bartender (and son of pub’s landlord) in the small town of Birr in Co. Offaly, Ireland in 1999. I have used it ever since.


Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 07.25.08 at 3:38 pm

Used it first in, oh, February 1999 after learning about it in the USENET group

Like Henry, I was using AltaVista advanced search features with the NEAR operator before that. Took about six months for me to dump using AltaVista altogether.


Righteous Bubba 07.25.08 at 3:46 pm

Nope, can’t remember. I was using metasearchers until they got too clogged with ads and paid results. It wasn’t that Google delivered the best results – I expect that most of what I search for won’t be #1 on the list – but that they didn’t make me wade through shit to get them.


R 07.25.08 at 4:06 pm

I don’t remember the details, but I remember my husband telling me to take a look at this cool new search engine. Early 1999 I would guess. I think I was hooked immediately — I’d always found Alta Vista extremely frustrating.


almostinfamous 07.25.08 at 4:19 pm

i used yahoo for a year, (’99-2000) then was offline for about six months and everyone was raving about google. i still preferred yahoo, because i had a nice little my yahoo page setup and google seemed to be well, sparse. continuous use of google arose when i started using opera (late 2001) which had google search built in. i am now back to using yahoo as my primary search engine because of the nice little widget they have between the search bar and search results.


Anita Hendersen 07.25.08 at 5:00 pm

Early 1999, don’t remember exactly the first time.

BTW, there is more to web search than Google. Indeed, we would probably all be better off if Google weren’t so dominant. Just saying. We shouldn’t put Google on a pedestal.


Davis X. Machina 07.25.08 at 5:46 pm

Anyone else remember Northern Lights? Lycos? Excite? There was a time when I used each of them pretty much to the exclusion of any others.


Thom Brooks 07.25.08 at 6:16 pm

Indeed, I once exclusively used Excite.


Sam 07.25.08 at 6:32 pm

I was a committed Dogpile man myself. I still, to this day, feel a little guilty for abandoning the pooch, but I mean…My God! Google does everything! I treat Google like the computer in Star Trek. I type in a question just like Kirk would ask the computer and I get an answer almost as quickly.

So, how could Google be any better? Two words: Voice recognition. Then all we’d need is a holodeck.


Anthony 07.25.08 at 7:30 pm

I always asked Jeeves, myself. In a college dorm in 2000/01 someone showed me google and emphasised the “I’m feeling lucky” feature. I remember thinking it was a gimmick.


The Modesto Kid 07.25.08 at 7:36 pm

I remember first using Google at some point in the late 90’s, after my friend Jim told me about it. Like you I had been using AltaVista, and I seem to remember feeling irrationally territorial about AltaVista, and like it was definitely going to be the best search engine around; so it took me a little while to figure out that Google was better.


The Modesto Kid 07.25.08 at 7:37 pm

(Nice redesign by the way.)


Righteous Bubba 07.25.08 at 7:39 pm

(Nice redesign by the way.)

Reads better I think. Needs links to RSS feeds and to previous/next posts.


Rob 07.25.08 at 9:18 pm

I don’t recall my first use of google, but I do recall when I decided to give up dogpile and make it my search engine of choice


John Quiggin 07.26.08 at 12:44 am

Embarrassingly, I think I read about it in the NYTimes.


The Modesto Kid 07.26.08 at 1:02 am

A-and how odd, on this day of discussion of search engines, I get my first referral in memory from a Dogpile search.


Laura 07.26.08 at 1:28 am

A university librarian showed it to me – it was 1999 – and like Anthony I was particularly directed to the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ bit. On the same day I got my first hotmail account.


vivian 07.26.08 at 2:15 am

Yep, Alta-Vista had made it’s main page a lot more cluttered, closer to a portal, so I was ready for a new engine, but figured the next one would get all cluttered in about six more months. Google was and remains clean (unless you customize it) what, ten, eleven years later? the I’m Feeling Lucky button was an amusing gimmick, but what turned me from a user to a fan was the ability to have my searches returned translated into Swedish-Chef-ese (bork bork bork).

Now that you mention it, Near was a really nice feature, I do miss it.


Slocum 07.26.08 at 3:24 pm

I, too, transitioned from excite and altavista to google and can’t remember exactly when. Interestingly now, I don’t necessarily find Google’s search to be superior to the alternatives —’s page previews are quite nice, for example. But I guess I use Google most of the time out of force of habit.


Righteous Bubba 07.26.08 at 3:53 pm

transitioned from excite

What I remember about Excite is Robert Cringely’s Geeks show on PBS. He was talking with the founders in the garage where Excite started and it was the height of the internet bubble when each of these kids was worth some outrageous amount of money like $100 000 000 dollars.


Bruce Baugh 07.26.08 at 9:20 pm

I was using Hotbot primarily, with Altavista and Ask Jeeves as backup. I can’t remember when I first heard about Google, but I remember that it was several months after that before I actually tried it out, for reasons I can’t now recall. For several months it was one tool among equals, but gradually got more and more of my attention for the usual reasons.


Scott Stiefel 07.27.08 at 1:21 am

No. When something’s a real habit, I generally forget how I started.


leo 07.27.08 at 2:10 am

Siva is a one-man anti-google fanatic. I wouldn’t write anything on his site.

Not that I’m in love with Google but there are a whole lot worse threats to humanity than it.

Google made it possible to find things without the cruff and fluff of Altavista and other competitor search engines. What killed Altavista (at the time the leading search engine) was the inclusion of paid links in the search results. That ended it for me.


NickS 07.27.08 at 3:14 am

I’m surprised to realize that I started using google before most of the people here.

I started using it in 96 or 97 based on a recommendation in the Steve Jackson Games Daily Illuminator column. Prior to that my favorite was metacrawler. I never liked or used Yahoo much, and I stuck with google after that.

It was a little odd for me to see it go from being a quirky geeky thing to one of the most recognizable brands of the era.


Aidan Kehoe 07.27.08 at 3:38 pm

I first used it in second year of college, on the recommendation of a Wired-reading, conscientiously geeky friend, which would have been in 1999. I have a vague memory of using Northern Lights before it, but I gave up on that in the next few months, and I was also surprised at the unexpected change from Google being a geek favourite to something universal—even at that point, my impression was that real geek favourites couldn’t manage universal appeal.


mollymooly 07.27.08 at 4:42 pm

I made a rare visit to Google’s front page to see whether “I’m feeling lucky” is still there. Has anyone ever used this?


John I 07.28.08 at 12:00 am

I do remember, not the date, but the feeling of a real eureka – the web all of a sudden unbroke. Relevant results that had been frustratingly buried on page 17 of an Alta Vista search were all of a sudden just there. I think I had read about it in Wired.


Nell 07.28.08 at 12:28 am

I think it was late 1997 or early 1998, from a mention on Dave Winer’s blog. I’d been using AltaVista, and I never went back.


nick s 07.28.08 at 3:31 am

Transition between late 1997 and early 1998, when it was Altavista and NorthernLights were barely navigable.


Cryptic Ned 07.28.08 at 5:00 am

I do remember, not the date, but the feeling of a real eureka – the web all of a sudden unbroke. Relevant results that had been frustratingly buried on page 17 of an Alta Vista search were all of a sudden just there.

Same exact thing with me. And I’m returned to those Alta Vista days whenever I accidentally type a query into the MSN search bar in Internet Explorer instead of the Google search bar in Firefox.
“What’s this? The first twenty results are all ads, at the same domain, for the same thing, which is related to only one of the three terms I searched for?”

I distinctly remember the four eras of search. First Webcrawler, then Lycos, then AltaVista, which was a VAST improvement…and then Google.


Cryptic Ned 07.28.08 at 5:02 am

But it was around early 2002. Not my first experience with it, but the first time I realized that AltaVista was in effect completely useless for a lot of purposes, was when I was looking for an online dictionary between two languages, and was unable to make AltaVista comprehend what I wanted, whereas in Google I didn’t even need to use “NOT”.


Jacob Christensen 07.28.08 at 8:56 am

Not the slightest idea. But I do remember being introduced to Yahoo! in 1996. And that back then Yahoo had a Cool Site of the Day feature.

I think I used Yahoo’s web catalogue quite a bit up until 1999-2000 and at some point word-based search took over.

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