What are they on about?

28th April 2000 at 01:00
David Newnham is on a searchfor meaning

I can still recall my delight on first hearing the term "search engine".That's poetry, I thought. The people who came up with such an image are more than computer-literate. They are computer literati.

By definition, the information on the Internet has no physical existence. So to use the word "engine" to describe a facility that collects and archives this mere ectoplasm seemed to me a stroke of genius.

But my admiration evaporated the minute I saw what the search engines were called. Yahoo! Excite. HotBot. As my scanned the list, that familiar "left out" feeling returned.

Now, I'm not completely stupid. Alta Vista translates as High View - an appropriate name for a virtual vantage point, even if it does sound a little like a retirement bungalow on the south coast. Nor do I have difficulty understanding InfoSeek, Goto, and Webcrawler.

Search4Info, WebSearch2K, What-U-Seek and Where2Go speak for themselves, and unless I'm mistaken they're saying much the same thing as K9, Spud U Like, Toys 'R' Us and LKX (that's travel industry jargon for London King's Cross station).

At this point, hoever, a virtual mist descends. Lycos sounds like the Greek for wolf, and I can just about picture it hunting down some exhausted item of trivia. If I squint, I can see Northern Light shining out from the top of the world, and Snap sounds fast and efficient at matching strings of words. But Excite? Google? HotBot? ToggleBot? Search me.

Excite has obvious sex appeal, and Google suggests a cricket ball that finds its mark thanks to a tricky delivery. But I shudder to think in what farty schoolboy mind all those bots have been lurking. What's that you say? "Bot" is simply short for "robot", and it's my mind that needs ventilating?

Tell me then, since you seem to know so much about webspeak. Is Yahoo! really a reference to the race of degraded men ruled by horses in Gulliver's Travels? Or is there some deeper significance?

Ah, silly me. I should have guessed. Yahoo! is in fact an acronym for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle"- a private joke devised by the Stanford PhD students who casually constructed Yahoo! while studying for their exams.

What was I saying earlier about computer literati? Whatever it was, forget it.


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