How Are The Search Engines Helping The Society?

The search engine is one of the online media inventions that people keep talking about. But, what is it?

Everyone has their own opinion on the websites they visit the most regarding their lifestyle. In 2019 the statistics showed that Google sits at the top of “the most clicked websites” in February 2019, at 57 billion views in total (Armstrong, 2019).
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The list goes on followed by YouTube at about 22.8 billion views, almost a quarter of the former search engine website. The search engine is a program designed to query the content or web page by typing certain keywords (Seymour & Frantsvog & Kumar, 2011, 47). There are major search engine companies like Google and Yahoo!, and many websites use their own searching system. Even though search engines played an important role in online communication since its emergence, how are they helping society? In this essay, I will briefly discuss the history of the search engine, and how did it take part in the historical trend in information management, and its economic, social and cultural influences on the participants. In addition, a few problems with the search engine systems.



In 1990, Alan Emtage and other fellow students at McGill University created Archie. Archie was the first search engine as it was designed to download the files on public anonymous FTP (File Transfer Protocol) sites and create a database for searching (Seymour & Frantsvog & Kumar, 2011, 47). Even though Archie as the first search engine only had limited space, it has paved the path for future search engine programs like Yahoo! and Google.

The first colored Google logo


Entering the 21st century, Google began to shine among other search engine websites and companies. Google applied an algorithm called PageRank to rank the web pages in its search results, it was the game-changer for Google, because other search engines only rank pages by how many times the keywords appear on the page, while the PageRank collects and analyzes the data and assume which web pages are having more important content with more human-generated links (Seymour & Frantsvog & Kumar, 2011, 56). This algorithm is thought to be more accurate to the human concept of “importance”.


Its involvement in information management

The search engine’s main function is to manage the information, decide what to be collected and what to present for the users. Even though most people do not consider web searching a part of the media ecosystem, it has become one of the most important online activities when querying information (Halavais,2013,).

Web search engines are designed to retrieve the HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and store the web pages’ information. The web pages’ data are stored in a database for querying, and it will lead to a list of web pages with best-matches (Seymour & Frantsvog & Kumar, 2011). Different companies use different algorithms, Google stores all or part of the source page, so it can respond quickly enough with the more relevant results; whereas AltaVista stores every word of the web pages.


The trend of information management could be summarized as more convenient and efficient. The search engine is like a library, but finding information is much faster and comprehensive in the online database. The search engines collect users’ cookies and online behavior habits or preferences, to provide more effective searching outcomes (Halavais,2013). Search engines are becoming smarter in extracting essential patterns and analyzing the user’s need and what the user wants eventually: not only what they are looking for, but also which expert or authority they can consult (Halavais,2013). The search engines are much easier to use since they are already smart enough to predict the potential keywords. Working with comprehensive searching outcomes, information management becomes convenient and efficient.

Bing search suggestion
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Twitter about auto search.
retrieved from: Twitter



Key Participants In The Business

As mentioned above, Google controls the majority of the search engine market at about 57.4 billion views, followed by Baidu and Yahoo! at approximately 9 and 3.8 billion views respectively (Armstrong, 2019).
Google’s outstanding performance and almost monopoly in the business should give credit to the company’s strategic approaches. At first, Google used a different algorithm to ensure the results are more relevant to the human concept of importance, not just by how many times the keywords appear on the page (Seymour & Frantsvog & Kumar, 2011). Google not only did a good job at querying and giving back results, but also at enhancing the user experience.

  • They used a simple yet concise user interface, with only the search bar and huge “Google” title on their website, which also changes every day to demonstrate various holidays or important dates.
Image as the sample Google Holiday version logos


  • In addition, Google also realized that only a simple search engine will not make them stand out, a search engine with multiple functions can. They started in the developing of Google Scholar for literature, Google Maps for navigation and etc. These functions satisfy the users’ needs.
Image as screenshots of Google search bar




Search engines’ impacts

From the emergence of search engines until the almost monopolization of Google, search engines are affecting more and more heavily on society. Industry analyst John Battelle defined Google as “a database of intention” in 2005, because Google collects personal, private data and analyze them (Battelle, 2005 cited in Koing & Rasch, 2014,17). Users’ online data has been collected not only for better user experience, but also as a commodity for advertisers and marketers (Koing & Rasch, 2014, 19).


  • Advertisers and Marketers benefit from search engines.

Search engines’ advertisement is more advanced than traditional advertisements like TV and newspaper shopping commercials, because they can deliver the right advertisements using users’ online preference and search history. search engines assume the users have interests in the products or lure them into buying the products by constantly showing the products.

image as the screenshots of Yahoo ads (noted that I didn’t search for protein powder)



  • The traditional media’s revenue will decrease due to the search engine’ advertisement

As the advertisers invest their money in search engines, traditional media like newspapers and TV’s advertising revenue share keep going down.

Figure 1 indicates the trend of traditional media’s advertisement revenue for the US, UK and Australia for 18 years.
Retrieved from Click to learn more.



  • The politicians can use digital advertisement for election.


SEO stands for search engine optimization, it means excessively hyperlinking to a website, to make the website more visible to the users (Noble, 2018, 46). The politicians can use SEO to boost up their ranking on the search engine, so it can help with their election campaigns by appearing more times.


  • Users are benefiting from using the search engines.

Because the search engines are extremely easy to use and comprehensive, the users can learn about the knowledge they want to know in just a few clicks: maybe a Chinese food recipe, the most popular local bars or online literature. It broadens the users’ vision that they can never imagine, enrich their knowledge of all sorts of culture.


  • The society is also benefiting from search engines.

The data scientists can use the users’ data for social research, like “how many people have searched the ways of suicide?” and learn about the number of potential mental illness patients. And use that to back up or refute their thesis for their researches, to come up with critical results.




The Existing Problem With Search Engine

When typing keywords to search, there are many predictions of your intended content, and also many words that are offensive. In Noble’s work, she pointed out that in the Google auto search, there are some sexist ideas like “Women cannot drive, be trusted, should not have rights” (Noble, 2018, 15). She explained that the search results are a mirror of reactions, that there is a part of the society still holds offensive sexist prejudice towards women. Also, there are some showings of racism, discrimination against minority groups like the LBGT group.

Image as Noble’s screenshots when searching “Black Girls” in 2014.


The good news is this situation has already been improved as there are much less discriminative search suggestions, but there are still some inequalities in search engines like below.

image as screenshots when Google “good-looking”, there are men and women but not many Asians nor the African descents are shown.


The algorithm might be neutral, but the regulators should be careful of the implications of search suggestions and management them quickly before it gets to the easily-influenced users like children.




The search engine is one of the most successful inventions in recent decades. It kept evolving its emergence in 1990, and now it has search suggestions and other functions to ensure the user experience is at its best and helping society in as many ways as possible.


  • First the advertisers and marketers can take advantage of the user’s online data, and use them to identify potential customers and deliver the right products to them. It is better than traditional ads because it is more target driven and less expensive.
  • However, because advertisers invest their money in search engines, traditional media advertising revenue share goes down, so it hurt the revenue of traditional adverting.


  • Politicians can use SEO to boost up their visibility to the search engine users, to help with their elections.


  •  users are benefiting from search engines because they can find the knowledge they are interested in with just a few clicks. It helps spread the culture that people want to know about.


  • With permission, data scientists can apply the data into their research and find out about the problems and strengths of society, so it helps to improve society.


There were problems with the search engines’ auto search suggestions that were sexist, racist and discriminative against minority groups. The situation has gone better as there are a lot less of discrimination on search engines, however regulators still have to pay attention to these negative auto-suggestions.




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Buyukdemirci, K. (2008, November 28) GOOGLE & DESIGN EXPERIENCE Holiday.

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Carol-Ann, P. (2016, July, 20) Bing ajoute des images à son menu de suggestions de recherche

Retrieved from: (2017, June 13) The internet, How Search Works

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Halavais, A. (2013). The engines. In Search engine society (pp. 5–31). Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity.


Frost,A. (2019, June, 4) The Secret History of the Google Logo.

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Konig, R., & Rasch, M. (2014). A database of intention. In Society of the query reader: Reflections on web search (pp. 16–29). Institute of networked cultures.


Mui, J. (2018) Digital vs Traditional Media – A Global Trend

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Noble, S. U. (2018). A society, searching. In Algorithms of oppression: how search engines reinforce racism (pp. 15–63). New York: New York University Press.

ISBN: 9781479837243


Seymour, T., Frantsvog, D., & Kumar, S. (2011). History of search engines. International Journal of Management and Information Systems, 15(4), 47-58.

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Sullivan, D. (2018. April, 20) How Google autocomplete works in Search. [blog post]

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