Google's search engine is a widely used tool for locating information or items on the Internet. On any given search, in mere seconds it offers up a vast set of relevant links for the user to sift through. A new environment termed "Virtual Worlds" has created a similar challenge—finding a vast range of items in a timely manner.

This article opens with a brief history of Internet search engines and then profiles a firm called SLQuery, which has created a similar tool in a prominent virtual world called Second Life (from Linden Labs). An interview with SLQuery's proprietor uncovers both the challenges and benefits of virtual world search engines.

The history of search engines originated with ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the US Department of Defense created the predecessor of the Internet. By the early 1990s, this concept propagated into several hundred sites that were primarily authored by universities.

The first commercial Search Engine was called Archie, and its founder was Alan Emtage (McGill University). The significance of his tool was that it was a "script-based data gatherer," which essentially matched file names to a query.

During the same period, Berners-Lee used hypertext in conjunction with the Internet and created the World Wide Web. He went on to design and build the first Web browser/editor (WWW) and a server termed "http." By 1994, Berners-Lee and MIT created the World Wide Web consortium.

So how does a search engine work? A spider (program) searches links on the World Wide Web to seek out Web pages. The spider "crawls" various sites, and this information updates its originating index to build a list. When using a major search engine, you are really searching that index and not the Web. The key to a search engine lies in the relevancy software that ranks queries based on content and citation information.

The most prominent search sites are those of Yahoo and Google. Google began as an academic search engine that used three spiders at once to create a large number of connections to sites (simultaneously). The key benefit in Google's architecture was speed and its ability to index significant words on Web pages. The cataloging of such information for relevancy reduced the overall search time.

What happens if you want to perform a search in Second Life (SL), where humans become "Avatars" (3-D persona) and interact in a fictitious, virtual world?

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Bill Nissim consults with organizations on strategic branding imperatives. He has helped firms make the transition to Second Life and has fostered brand creation in virtual worlds. Bill has held senior management positions at Fortune 100 firms. Reach him via