Time Travel via Google

By  |  Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 10:01 pm

Here’s the most entertaining thing Google has ever done to celebrate its birthday: In honor of its tenth anniverary, it’s created a special search engine that uses a old version of the Google index to take you back in time.

The time in question is January 2001, not 1998–that’s the earliest version of the index that’s still usable, Google says, and it’s not exactly the index as it stood then. And it’s a bit anachronistic: It uses the original Google logo that the company had already given up by then, and has type-ahead Google Suggest search results, a feature that Google only rolled out recently. In some cases, the links lead to 2001-era content (Google worked with the Internet Archive) but in most cases they don’t. And for some reason, there’s no “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, without which Google doesn’t feel completely like itself.

But it’s still hugely entertaining, and it makes you realize that early 2001 was actually…kind of a long time ago.

Some searches return no results:

The mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, was unknown to Google:

Some searches return results that were accurate at the time, like these cheery ones for a major energy company known as Enron:

…or these results that would depress any citizen of Red Sox Nation:

Others return sites related to meanings of words whose primary definitions changed radically later:

And I ran across a few reminders that in 2001, Google just wasn’t as good as it later became. I searched for my old employer and found that it wasn’t the first result for its own name:

I suspect that almost anyone who spends much time exploring Google 2001 who thinks about the fact that the index was from January will try some searches relating to one particular date that year:

Google says it’s only keeping this 2001 search engine up for a month, which surprises me; I guess there are quixotic enterprises that consume so much disk space and bandwidth that even Google can’t afford to let ’em run forever. (It would be pretty nifty–and a useful eductional tool–if it ever figured out how to leave multiple old versions of the index online permanently.) If you’re even half the search nerd I am, you’ll have fun with Google 2001, so give it a try while you can…

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