12th December 1993

In search engine world, where Google owns over 50% of the market share, it’s easy to forget the likes of Bing, Ask and AOL still exist, let alone those no longer with us.

Take JumpStation for instance. Created by Scarborough-born Jonathon Fletcher whilst employed by Stirling University, it began indexing pages twenty-one years ago today. The date marks a significant milestone in search engine history, given it was the first to use a crawler, making it the blueprint for the most successful engine of them all.

Until Fletcher’s “Eureka!” moment, indexers used a variety of means to create search lists. ALIWEB, for example, beat JumpStation by a matter of months but relied entirely on websites to supply them with information. Fletcher came up with his web robot whilst working as a systems administrator, but suffered from a lack of investment. The project came to an end when a better post came up in the Far East in 1994. Google would not be launched for another four years.

JumpStation’s search lists were created by crawling HTML page titles, and listed rather than ranked sites. This may seem basic by Google’s present standards, but should be looked at in the context of time. JumpStation’s first crawl had 25,000 pages available to index, which grew to 275,000 within a year. Google to date has indexed over a trillion.

It would be easy to feel sorry for Jonathon Fletcher, given the monetary gains of Google inventors Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Having branched out into advertising and software, the Google brand is, needless to say, one of the most lucrative within the digital industry. It’s tempting to speculate whether JumpStation could have enjoyed the same success, but history suggests that a great idea is only the start. One has to wait until the clouds are aligned, the gods willing and the people ready.

Ahead of their time

You might be reading this with a computer mouse close to hand, having never heard of Douglas Engelbart, its inventor. That’s no surprise, seeing as he barely made a bean from it. Invented in the 1960s, his patent ran out in the 1980s, shortly before the device went global. Mark Zuckerberg may have created Facebook, but social networks were nothing new – remember MySpace? It’s still going, if you’re interested, but then so is lycos.com, now the search engine of choice for two Norwegian shepherds and a sheep called Norman.

evolution of search - lycos

History is littered with inventors who were years ahead of their time, leaving others to reap the benefits of their creations. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the electric light bulb. Alexander Fleming didn’t discover penicillin. The Wright Brothers weren’t the first to build an aeroplane. Yet the names of Humphry Davy, Ernest Duchesne and George Cayley are less well-known. Incidentally, Cayley also hailed from Scarborough, so maybe this picturesque northern holiday resort has something in the water.

Still living in the Far East, JumpStation’s creator is finally receiving recognition for his Google blueprint, and has spoken at digital conferences alongside the biggest players in digital. Whatever the rest of his life brings, Jonathon Fletcher’s importance in the evolution of search cannot be overstated.