September 2020: Web Masters is a brand new podcast that explores the history of the Internet through conversations and stories with some of its most important innovators. You can listen to the podcast and read the transcript here.
Aaron Dinin, the host of the new podcast Web Masters, spoke with Louis Monier to discuss the early years of the internet, and how he almost bought Google.
“Father of Search” Louis Monier is the founder of AltaVista, the world’s first consumer-grade, widely used and reliable search engine. AltaVista was successful for the first few years after inception, and Monier discusses its downfall. After AltaVista, Monier went on to work for companies such as eBay, shifting their search engine onsite to show most recent items and listings, and Airbnb. He has also worked for Google, before becoming Vice President of Cuil, a search engine startup. Monier also co-founded Qwiki, which won the TechCrunch Disrupt Award in 2020, and was subsequently sold to Yahoo in 2013.
In the podcast, Monier discusses what the internet, then called ARPANET, was like before Sir Tim Burners-Lee invented the World Wide Web:
“It was minimalist, it was email and you had some way of transferring small files. The first virus was the new thing, bad things can happen by just checking your email? It was a new concept. There was very little at the time because there was no real internet […] it was connecting a few universities and a few research centres together and the general public didn’t have access to it.”
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After releasing the internet to the general public, Monier realised that the search engines that were being created were not efficient and grew increasingly frustrated with the speed and process of using them. That’s when he decided to build AltaVista. Louis Monier goes on to discuss how he built the search engine, and it soon picked up momentum.
Due to the success, spammers started to unravel AltaVista, and because the team didn’t have the technical means to sort it, it continued to spiral out of control. At the same time, two college students from Stanford were also experimenting and creating another search engine called Google. Monier received a phone call from one of the students offering to sell Google for $1 million. As AltaVista was never meant for profit, and therefore with no budget – there was no funds available to buy Google.
Monier states that he has no regrets turning down Google, as he discusses the “shackles” that he had with AltaVista – something Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t have with Google. Louis Monier says that the two college students had a clear vision of what they wanted to do from the beginning and how they wanted to do it. Because of this, they were able to transform Google into a profitable company.
Some key takeaways from the podcast:
Louis Monier discusses the importance of innovation and drive. If you’re not happy with how something is working, make the changes yourself – that’s how true innovation is realised.
Utilise what facilities you have readily available and adapt. Monier used his company’s servers to start AltaVista – what could you do to help kick start your idea?