A search engine for web developers

DevSearch Card

The history of the first search engine for Web Developers, DevSearch. It really wasn't about marketing, it was just a tool I needed, so I built it.

Project Cool had multiple sections, but the Developer Zone was the one where all the website building information and tutorials were found.  I wrote them over the years as the offering slowly expanded.  The problem I had, however, was finding the information that I needed as reference for the things I was trying to do.  

The search engines of the time weren’t supplying me with the results I needed so I did the only thing I could, I built a search engine.

Phillipe Courtot, the president and CEO of Verity had a small stake in Project Cool and Verity gave me their enterprise search software to use.  Back in those days people were happy for me  to have a go using their software.

I really enjoyed working with and using the Verity software.  It let me do something new at the time with search engines.  I can’t recall seeing it done since, but I’ve not been very attentive.

Color is an important part of design.  Color is often overlooked when it comes to user interfaces.  There’s either very little color, or in your face eye gouging colors you don’t want to see when you open your phone at 2:13am.

The Verity software allowed me to use color in the results and I did.  There was a square of color in front of the search results.  If it was a good result, the color was #9966cc, one of the purples we used at Project Cool.  If the square was the background color, then the results weren’t close to what you were looking for.  The shades in between showed a color relationship between the good results, and the poor ones.  You can see those colors in the featured image. 

The thing about doing something like this is that people will learn how it works without having to have it explained to them.  I’ve always felt interfaces shouldn’t have to be explained and I’m disappointed when they are cryptic.  I’d love, for instance, the opportunity to redesign a few interfaces out there, but I’m getting off track.

So I had the software and I had created output that worked well.  I indexed the sites that I used, then I asked Project Cool’s readers and mailing list members what websites they used. I sent the search engine spider out, and DevSearch was born.  I indexed the 21 most useful web development sites and now relevant search results were my order of the day.

Wired, CNet, and a few other places picked up the announcement and for a few days, DevSearch was brought to its knees.  February 5th, 1998 for those interested in dates.

It’s funny, I just looked up the Wired article about DevSearch.  If you read it, you’ll see all this justification from Teresa as to why it was built.  Smoke and marketing mirrors.  It was built because I wanted it and it didn’t exist at the time, so I built it.

We weren’t a search engine company.  Project Cool never had money to do anything in a big way.  I had one dedicated server crawling and serving up search results.  I could have used a dozen, based on the initial traffic.

DevSearch was a hit and along came Alta Vista.  Alta Vista was the big search engine of the day. Somehow, someway that I don’t remember, we ended up with a server that they gave us and their search engine software to run DevSearch on.  I didn’t really like the idea of changing, but I wasn’t a business person and I really wasn’t in on the deal that was made.

I did, however, move DevSearch to the Alta Vista platform.

It was disappointing.

Sure, the search results were pretty good, but they really weren’t that different from the Verity results, except Alta Vista didn’t supply anything at all that allowed me to do the same search result color grading.  They had a number associated with the result, and that number would appear next to the results, but it was meaningless.  It was a sting of numbers that really only meant something to the software itself, and the engineer I was in touch with couldn’t explain its meaning to me.

The end result was that while I used the new DevSearch, I didn’t feel it was as good as what we had used from Verity, but now we were stuck with it.

I forgot about any more work on it and just left it as it was at that point, occasionally adding a new site to index. It ran itself. When DevX purchased Project Cool, they killed it and pointed the DevSearch domain to their own engine.

Don’t worry, I have an entire article planned concerning our sale to DevX and how everything ended.  You’ll probably be amused.  I wasn’t.

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