A brief history of search engines

“Is Google God?” the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman asked recently. Like most of us, Friedman is impressed with the speed and reach of Internet search engines, which gather an immense array of information almost instantaneously.

Yet, Google is merely the latest example of a search engine—literally, any system that tallows us to locate and retrieve information. Online search engines have a complex paternity, and reference books that themselves had ancient predecessors.

A look back at search engines through the ages shows that the act of categorizing information has always been tinged with politics. It also suggests Friedman may have a point: Those who control the storage and retrieval of information have always been bestowed with social status and political authority—and, sometimes, even supernatural power.

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