Let’s take a pop-quiz to break up this boring Wednesday you’re having. Do you remember AltaVista?

Or Lycos? How about Hotbot? No? Okay, then. Go on. Google them.

You see, right from the beginning, that is to say 1993, man has had to grapple with devising ways to find things on the Internet. Yes, we realised early on that the Internet was a ground-breaking invention and that people could easily and cheaply put up content.

However, the problem was how we were going to remember all those web-addresses and find all that content.

Thus, first-generation search engines emerged. Back then, there was no Google, only AltaVista, Lycost, Hotbot, Yahoo!, AskJeeves and a few others. These first-gen search engines behaved like massive directories for web content.

Back then, if you wanted to get your website noticed, you didn’t just wait for Google to ”find” your website and add it to its list. Instead, you would need to head over to each of the websites and manually add your site to the relevant categories and sub-categories, wait for approval (a process that might take up to two weeks) and hope that your site does get listed on Yahoo! (or any other search-engine’s) directory. Phew!

Then, along came a little company called Google in 1998. Nerds and geeks gleefully started hopping over to this new search-engine to scour the web.

Then, along came a little company called Google in 1998. Nerds and geeks gleefully started hopping over to this new search-engine to scour the web.

The secret behind Google’s success was its new approach to searching the web and indexing websites, using automated algorithms and bots as opposed to user-submissions and directories.

Today, the name Google has become synonymous with searching the Internet, and the website isn’t just the domain for nerds and geeks anymore. Everyone uses it.

But today, we may have well reached the point of another shift in the way we want to find and catalogue things on the web. The emergence of social media has changed what search means to us. It is representative of how what we consider to be important information to find on the web has changed.

Firstly, what we’re looking for today has become more social. Instead of just trying to find information about products, topics or trivia, we want to know what our friends did, what they bought and what they thought.

For example, if you were considering buying a camera, you used to just Google reviews and read them. Now, more people are also interested in finding out what other users think of a product either via reviews on blogs, or from their circle of friends.

Secondly, social networks have made ”real-time” much more important on the web. No point jumping onto an interesting Twitter conversation between two friends that happened two hours ago. Rather, for that search result to have been useful at all, it needs to be ”found” and indexed just as soon as it happens.

These fundamental changes are making search engines adapt to new things in a big way. Google, for example, recently introduced a new search algorithm called ”caffeine” that helps it discover new search results within seconds of the content being put online, as opposed to new content being indexed every 30 days.

But that’s not all.

If you’ve noticed, Google’s also started returning search results from Twitter and integrating it into its search results page.

And let’s not forget that this shift is also making social networks realise that they probably should be in the search business as well. Facebook, for example, probably know the better part of 90% of 400 million people around the world and have made it no secret that they are after Google’s place as the alpha search engine.

But beyond what Google and Facebook are doing, I’ve noticed several new search engines coming up and smelling an opportunity to challenge the incumbents in this new arena.

One current favourite of mine I’d like to share is OneRiot ( Launched in November 2008, this new search engine emphasises real-time in a big way. A constant news ticker at the top of the page returns the latest ”trending” news on the internet, with OneRiot’s algorithm quickly sifting through the new content being generated every minute and updating itself.

Type in a search of a person and you’ll get real-time results such as the persons latest blog post or twitter update. Or nothing.

OneRiot isn’t quite perfect yet. It simply hasn’t got the lifespan yet to have indexed enough data to return searches consistently. But give it time, and it will get better.

So, how will this change our lives? Like I’ve written above, the kind of content we’ll be looking for soon will be changing.

We’ll soon (if we have not already) be looking for that witty tweet we saw a few days ago to share, or be interested in not just reading news stories about our favourite celebrities, but what’s been said about them on the social sphere, and maybe what they’ve posted about themselves. As we come to grips with a much more social internet, how we find the things we want to find will also change.

And one day, we might say ”Riot me” instead of ”Google me.”

* Try and Google David Lian. Then try that again with OneRiot. See the difference? Follow David Lian on Twitter at:

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