Search engines the key to the World Wide Web

By Dr. Ashutosh Kumar Singh and Alex Goh Kwang Leng


In 1991, Tim Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web with the idea to share data with no common machines and no common representative software. Today, his brainchild has become the world’s single largest platform for the sharing and exchange of information.


In February 2009, it was estimated that there were a staggering 127 billion web pages on the World Wide Web. What a far cry from1993 when the world boasted a mere 50 websites!


As the Web continues to grow with each passing day, so does the proportion of new users inexperienced in the art of web searching. The birth of Web search engines has been a godsend, helping bring people to the information that they need. There is no doubt that Web search engines have a crucial function, and indeed, are the key to the World Wide Web.


A Common Misconception: World Wide Web and the Internet

The terms ‘Internet’ and ‘World Wide Web’ are often used without much distinction. However, they are not one and the same as many have come to think.


Put simply, the Internet is a global computer network that provides a vast array of information resources and services. It consists of interconnected networks using standard Internet Protocol Suite to serve billions of users worldwide.


The World Wide Web, on the other hand, is a widely used information system of interlinked hypertext documents on the Internet. It enables users to search for information by moving from one document to another. In other words, web pages are accessed through the Internet.


What are Web Search Engines?

Web search engines are special sites designed to help people find information stored on the World Wide Web. Information on the World Wide Web may consist of web pages, images, videos and other types of file formats.


A search engine returns pages of results that match users’ search requests. The search results are generally presented in a list with brief descriptions and clickable links which are often referred to as ‘hits’.


Currently, Google is the number one search engine in the English language market. It has a great reputation for relevant and thorough search results. There are a few other popular search engines in the market such as Yahoo!, Microsoft’s Bing and China’s Baidu.


How Web Search Engines Work

In order to get relevant information from billions of web pages, search engines employ automated software robots known as ‘spiders’ to scan the Web and build lists of associated words found on the websites. This process is called ‘web crawling’.


The spiders read and analyse the websites and data collected from each web page is then added to the search engine index. Search engines build indexes based on their own system of weighting. Google Search, for example, uses PageRank to weight web pages.


To build a search, users have to build a query and submit it to the search engine.  The search engine will then return results which are generally presented in a list (hits). The hits ranked in order with the most relevant results at the top.


Examples of Web Search Engines

Google Search is a web search engine owned by Google, Inc. It was originally developed by Larry Page and Sergey Bin in 1997. Google receives several hundred million queries each day through its various services. Its fast response time and relevant results has made it the most-used search engine on the Web.


Coming in second is Yahoo!, which provides two kinds of search engines – Yahoo! Search and Yahoo! Directory. Previously, Yahoo! used Yahoo! Directory, a kind of directory-based search engine which involved human editors editing pages to categorise in the database. Yahoo! later introduced Yahoo! Search which, just like Google Search, uses spiders to crawl and analyse web pages and build indexes of the web pages.


In 2009, Microsoft introduced its own new search engine called Bing, which it advertised Bing as a ‘decision engine’ rather than a search engine. In Microsoft’s homepage, it is stated that Bing is more than a search engine; it is a ‘decision engine’ that provides useful tools to help users make more informed decisions.


These are currently the top three search engines on the Web. However, there are actually a few more, such as Ask (known as Ask Jeeves in the UK), AOL Search and Dogpile.


What Would We Do Without Search Engines?

In conclusion, web search engines are the tools to retrieve specific information on the vast expanse of the World Wide Web. Without search engines, it would be almost impossible to locate everything on the Web unless a specific website address is provided.


It is good to note that different search engines use different approaches and each has its unique strong points. Use the engine and features that best suit your purposes.


What Next?

To this day, the development of search engines continues. Research is being carried out new concepts and search criteria, including concept-based searches which use statistical analysis and natural language queries. These queries are much like questions one might ask of someone else.


So far, there are no perfect or best search engines in the market. All search engines strive to return results with the fastest response and most relevance to users, and they are constantly being enhanced and re-developed. Web users should be grateful for the existence of Web search engines. They have been a crucial part of the Web revolution and have truly revolutionised the way we view and use the Web.


Dr. Ashutosh Kumar Singh is an Associate Professor and Head of Department Electrical and Computer Engineering in Curtin Sarawak. His research interests include verification, synthesis, design and testing of digital circuits and he has published around 50 research papers in the subjects in various conference and research journals. He co-authored two books, ‘Digital Systems Fundamentals’ and ‘Computer System Organisation & Architecture’, and has delivered talks on computer engineering in several countries including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Dr. Ashutosh can be contacted at +60 85 443939 ext. 3214 or by e-mail to


Alex Goh Kwang Leng is a final-year student in Curtin Sarawak’s Computer Science programme. He is doing his student project under the supervision of Dr. Ashutosh.