Web Masters Episode #21: Alan Emtage

When you need to find something online, you open Google and enter a search query. But that wasn’t always possible. Early in Internet history, search engines didn’t exist, and you couldn’t search for things. That all changed thanks to Alan Emtage, the man who invented Internet search. His story is featured on this episode of Web Masters. Listen now on


After Archie timeline | Timetoast timelines

Alan Emtage:

Probably, the thing that most people criticize me for actually, I’m probably the proudest of, which is that we never patented it. We thought about it. The internet pioneer is Vint Cerf. Right? Vinton Cerf created all the protocols that run the internet. Vint and I and Peter were talking one day, this would have been in the early ’90s, and Vint said, “Why don’t you patent it?” Kind of half-joking and I think it was at a bar. And Peter and I thought about it for a while, and we realized that the danger of patenting it was that it would strangle the baby in the crib. Right? That as soon as you did that, it could very well have frozen that or else we would have spent the rest of our time, basically trying to chase down patent breakers, or it would have turned it into completely different thing.

We came out of an academic background. We came out of a background in the IETF, Internet Engineering Task Force, which sets all the standards for the internet. We largely came out of a research community. Right? Our hope when creating all of this… And I’m not just talking about myself here or Peter. “Why didn’t Tim Berners-Lee patented the web?” is a similar question, and we all came to this with that we’re all working towards a goal of making the world a better place, right? Making the internet a usable thing. If we went on patenting it, all that stuff, it would be a very different thing. Right? It’d be the walled gardens of apple for the entire internet, and that’s not what we wanted it to be.

So I have been criticized all the time because I could have been a billionaire, because that I could have patented it, all of this, because all the basic techniques that I developed are the techniques that all search engines use. Right? So they all would have been infringing on the patent or had the pay patent fees or whatever it is. And we just didn’t want to do that, so I did not end up making any money off of that really, but I am so proud of that because the example a friend of mine used, “Did you know that Jonas Salk with the polio vaccine decided not to patent it either for the same reason?” We wanted it to be as widely used as possible to get the most benefit.

Aaron Dinin:

That was Alan Emtage, creator of Archie. It was the first internet search engine, and as you just heard, not only do we have Alan to thank for inventing internet search, we can also thank him for not patenting it. By not patenting it, by making it something other people could continue using and expanding on, Alan made the internet and web infinitely more usable for the rest of us. Are you ready to hear the story? Let’s get dialed in.

[INTRO]

Aaron DInin:

Welcome to Web Masters. My name is Aaron Dinin. I teach entrepreneurship at Duke University and this the podcast that explores the history of digital entrepreneurship by talking with some of the earliest and most impactful internet innovators. Today’s guest certainly ranks pretty highly among that group. It’s Alan Emtage, the man widely considered to be the creator of internet search, which, if you’ll think about it, is a really important part of everything we do online. After all, even if the internet connects you to tons of content, if you can’t find what you need, then none of that content is valuable. That, of course, was exactly the problem Alan was trying to solve when he launched his search engine, Archie, and we’re going to talk about that in just a minute, but first I want to take a moment to thank our sponsor.

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I think my favorite part of the story Alan told at the beginning of this episode was the part where he mentions he was sitting in a bar with Vint Cerf, basically the father of the internet. In another part of the conversation you’ll hear later on, Alan casually refers to working with Tim. That would be Sir Tim Berners-Lee creator of the world wide web. When you’re having beers with Vint Cerf and on a first name basis with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, I’d say that definitely makes you an internet pioneer, and of course, that’s exactly what Alan Emtage is. It’s not just that he invented internet search. He also spent time as part of the Internet Engineering Task Force, the IETF, in its earliest days, helping create lots of the standards that are critical to how we use the internet and web today.

Alan Emtage:

I ended up working at the IETF. I ended up chairing the group that standardized URLs because Tim had created the URL before, but they needed work to standardize them across a larger audience.

Aaron Dinin:

In other words, Alan is kind of like internet royalty, not that he sees himself like that.

Alan Emtage:

I describe myself as a web developer. I generally don’t get into the history of it unless people start digging, so for me, a lot of that’s ancient history. This is something that happened 30 years ago and it was fine and everything, but it’s not something that’s part of my daily existence, so it’s not something that I generally bring up in small talk.

Aaron Dinin:

So you’re saying you don’t just walk up to random strangers and ask if they know what a big deal you are.

Alan Emtage:

No. That’s not really my style. I mean, I don’t think about it in that way. It’s not at the forefront of how I identify. So just actually the other day, I rarely accept Facebook friend requests from people that I don’t know. I will sometimes do it if a mutual friend recommends that I do so, because they think I post a lot of stuff. And so they said, “Oh, you guys should really connect because you have this in common,” whatever it is.

So there are a group of people on there that I’ve never met in real life, and somebody who I’ve been friends with on Facebook for, oh, I don’t know, maybe five or six years at this point, maybe more, sent me a message the other day and said, “I was talking to another friend of mine who said, ‘Oh my God, you know Alan Emtage?'” “Yeah. Why do you ask?” And he said, “Is this you?” And he pulled up my Wikipedia page. And I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “Well, I had no idea.” And I said, “Well, why would you have any idea?” He’s not a techie or anything, and how would we have intersected on that way? Yes. The answer to your question, yes, I am that person. There are more than one Alan Emtages in the world, but not many of us and I’m related to all of them. So all the Emtages in the world are related, and it was just kind of a funny little one of those things.

Aaron Dinin:

For me, that exchange captures a lot of what you should know about Alan as a person. He’s friendly. He’s thoughtful. He’s kind, and he’s very humble, which I guess shouldn’t come as a surprise considering he was the person who decided not to patent internet search and all the potential wealth that might’ve come with it, because as you already heard him explain, he knew how vital it was to making the internet more accessible for everyone. So how does a guy like that find himself at the center of the early internet? Well, the story actually begins all the way back in 1981 on the small Caribbean Island of Barbados, which by the way, you might hear a bit of in the background of the audio because Alan spoke to me from his patio.

Alan Emtage:

I think 1981 was the only computer that I ever bought with my own money. I’ve had computers ever since, but the companies, or whatever it is, always own them. I never bought any, but this one I bought with my money, my own money, and it was a what in the States would have been a Timex 1000, I think it was called. In England where I bought, it was what we would have called a ZX81. You guys would call the ZX81, the Sinclair computer. It was pretty expensive. I don’t remember exactly how much it costs, but I do remember that the 16-kilobyte memory expansion cost 200 US.

It came with 1K of memory. It was programmed in BASIC, although it was a symbolic BASIC, so you couldn’t actually type out the BASIC commands. The BASIC commands were encoded on keys. So the E key, when you did a certain set of shifts things, would be, say, GO TO. Right? So if you wanted to do GO TO, you would type that key and that would give you the GO TO thing. It was a cute little computer. I mean, it could actually do real stuff. If you really wanted to get something out of it, you had to quote the machine code into the memory directly because that was the most efficient way of doing it, and you had to fit it in 1K of memory. Right? So how much can you do in 1K of memory?

Aaron Dinin:

Not a lot. Gosh, those were definitely different times for computers. So I read that you went to college in Montreal at McGill and just studied computers there. How’d you go from Barbados to Canada?

Alan Emtage:

I wanted to get out of the island because it’s small and I wanted to be somewhere bigger to go to college. I didn’t want to end up in a small town or small college town because that was just going to basically replicate… Barbados is a great place, but it’s 280,000 people, so it’s the size of New Jersey or something. It’s a great place to grow up, safe and great education system and all that, but I wanted to go away and experience life somewhere else. Didn’t want to go to Europe because the weather sucks. America was very good and I got accepted to a bunch of universities, but the attraction of Montreal really, McGill in particular, was quite literally the center of the city. It’s a beautiful old campus, so it was in a big metropolitan, diverse city. And French, I wanted to improve my French, which improved moderately over the 14 years that I ended up living there. I was never particularly good at languages, but I can get by in French if I need to.

Aaron Dinin:

And how’d you end up studying computers? Why computers versus being like a doctor or lawyer or something like that?

Alan Emtage:

I was always interested in science and I mean, I wasn’t particularly good with languages. I’m still not. I was never particularly interested in the arts. I became more interested in things like photography and that kind of stuff later on in life, but early on, I was definitely on a science track from very early. I’ve considered various careers, meteorology and chemistry and various other things, but as I went through the list, everyone had a downside that I didn’t really want to put up with. I arrived at computers by process of elimination, really. That was the last thing standing.

And computers for me have never been a hobby. Right? I don’t have any particular interest in computers other than them being a tool. I don’t get excited about the new hardware or how fast the computer runs or any of that stuff. That’s never really particularly interest to me. It’s cute. It’s nice to have a fast computer, but it’s not something that I have to go and get the latest computer or the latest phone or whatever. As long as it allows me to do what I needed to do, I’m quite happy to be with it. So it really was a process of elimination. And of course, remember 1983, it was Reagan. It was very much in a fairly serious recession, so a lot of people thought that computers were the future.

Aaron Dinin:

That’s fair. I suppose, they weren’t wrong, but that would have still been the early ’80s. Right? So computers looked very different and of course there was no web. So what kinds of things were you doing on computers when you got to Montreal?

Alan Emtage:

I got that computer, I think in 1981, and then in 1983, I went to college, and then I had access to mainframes. They had just stopped using punch cards when I got there, so I never actually got to use them for real. We did play around with them at one point I believe, but the system had actually just moved off of punch cards. We could actually code without having to code up punch cards first. We’ve rode our dinosaurs to work, that kind of stuff. Then the internet came to Canada in 1986. It came to Western Canada, I believe, about two weeks before the line that was dropped into McGill. Ours was run out of Boston, BBN Networks at the time, and it was still very much the ARPANET at that point, I guess. I think those dates are right. And soon after became the NSFNET, but I believe when we first got, it was still ARPANET, and we had a 9600 baud line from Boston to Montreal, which served not only McGill University, but McGill and four other universities in Montreal at the time.

So everything was going over something that was, what, the final dial-up speeds were 56K. Right? So whatever that works out to be 1/6 or 1/8 or whatever it is of what people think of as dial-up speed. So I was assisting the staff of the School of Computer Science at the time in ’86. I had a lot of friends on it. We all used to play around on the thing called the internet, so it was a weird little time because things like DNS didn’t exist before, so machines didn’t have universal names. So if you wanted to get an email to a friend say in Texas, somewhere, you had to know the path of all of the machines between you and that machine so that the system could reroute the email through all of the various servers to get there, so that was fun. It was primitive internet. It was definitely primitive internet.

Aaron Dinin:

Wow. Yeah. Very primitive. So what kinds of things got you excited about that early primitive version of the internet?

Alan Emtage:

Well, I mean, once the internet came, so I had done sort of ham radio before I left. When I was a teenager, I’d done amateur radio or a variation thereof. And so I had spent a lot of time talking to people all over the world or at least trying to talk to people all over the world. You get to talk to somebody in Japan or you get to talk to somebody in Australia or South Africa or wherever. This is while phone calls still were outrageously expensive. Right? So there’s no way you’re going to pick up the phone and call somebody in Australia and chat with them for half an hour. Not unless you had a really important reason because that could rack up several hundred dollars for that one call. So the ability to talk to people in far off places always fascinated me, and people’s lives generally interest me. I find other people’s lives interesting in and of themselves, even if they don’t do anything, particularly earth-shattering. Everybody has their own story, and I find those stories interesting for the most part. There are boring people in the world, but fewer than you would imagine, if you could take the time to listen to people.

So when the internet came along, I kind of did that for the first time. You are able to communicate with other people. There was IRC at the time, Internet Relay Chat. I believe it’s still around in some form or another, and you can go on a chat room and you could be chatting with people in Europe or India or wherever as these various countries came online. And it was fun because when Australia came online on the internet, it was a big deal. For the first time, you could actually interact in real time with people in Australia. We sort of take that for granted. Now, of course I can video chat to somebody in China or Japan or Myanmar, wherever, and we don’t think anything about it. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, just being able to chat, type or even voice was something new and different and something that a lot of people hadn’t experienced.

Aaron Dinin:

And aside from figuring out how to send emails to Texas, what were you using the internet for back then?

Alan Emtage:

There was Usenet, Usenet groups. They were a big thing. You could subscribe to various groups and depending on what you wanted, anything from comedy to programming to porn, right? They would transmit porn by digitizing a photograph, and then you encoding it and splitting it up into 16 or 20 different pieces, and then you have to reassemble it on the other line. You’d end up with a photograph. You’d end up with a digital photograph. That was porn in the 1986 internet. So all of that stuff was new and interesting and fun because you’d never done it before. You’d never seen it before.

And then of course, ultimately the thing that led me to Archie and the internet search engine was the fact that there were repositories of data and programs and that kind of stuff sitting. People started to create those, which were freely accessible and you could go and retrieve your programs, your data, whatever, from those sites, so that added a new element of exploration and things that you could play with, can be at games or whatever. This was a new world free at the time, because then the NSFNET didn’t allow any commercial traffic. It could only be used for research and educational purposes, so there was no paid services on the internet at the time.

Aaron Dinin:

All right. So it sounds like the early internet was basically being used for file sharing and pornography. It doesn’t actually sound very different from the current internet. Does it?

Alan Emtage:

So in 1992, in January of 1992, Mitch Kapor who I used to work with, who has a long and storied history on the internet, Mitch always said that sex drove technology, that all the big technological advances, certainly, in the latter half of the 20th century and 21st century were largely driven by sex. The length of the VCR tape and all of that kind of stuff was driven by sex, phone services, pay in phone services. In 1992, Peter Deutsch and I, who I had been working with and was instrumental with Archie and then Bunyip Information Systems afterwards, created this deck of slides for a presentation we were giving at Usenet, which is a Unix conference in San Francisco, and we compile the top search terms for Archie up until that point. Archie had been running for about three years at that point, and the top five were all sex-related, and no matter how we’ve determined the top, it was all sex-related. You couldn’t look for food on the internet at the time, but you could look for sex, so you could satisfy one of your three necessities kind of thing. I don’t disagree with Mitch. I think that’s a pretty big driver, and any technology that can be used for sex will be used for sex.

Aaron Dinin:

I’ve been finding a lot of that in my research. A lot of the pioneers of things like email marketing and online advertising and even computer dating, it was all driven by sex or something along those lines.

Alan Emtage:

The thing is it’s only in our sort of puritanical culture that we sort of touch our pearls and shy away from this. Food, shelter and sex, those are the basic necessities of life, and unfortunately, we come from a culture in which sex is still viewed as taboo or we still hold these puritanical issues. Nobody bats an eyelid when somebody gets knifed on screen, but God forbid, you see a penis. Right? It’s absurd. It’s where we all come from. It’s what half of us spend our time thinking about, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise, but the puritanism still holds sway, unfortunately, and we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. It drives me crazy, so what can I tell you?

Aaron Dinin:

Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll bring you back on a future podcast and we can dive into all of that.

Alan Emtage:

Sex on the internet. Yeah.

Aaron Dinin:

Yes. That’ll be this title of the podcast, for sure. But for now, let’s see. You were talking about how there were all these repositories of data on the internet at the time, and I assume you wanted to be able to search them more easily. Right? Was that kind of what led to Archie, your FTP search engine?

Alan Emtage:

So educational funding agencies the world over will give you money for a hardware. They will often not give you any money to either operate that hardware or provide the software that will run that hardware, that will run on that hardware. Right? Because hardware is something that’s tangible to them and something that they can say, “Yes. I gave you 10 grand and here is the computer that costs 10 grand.” The other stuff it’s squishy and they get all wigged out about it. So we had pretty good hardware, but particularly back then, there’s more to a computer than hardware. We needed the software to be able to run it, and programmers had always written software to solve a problem.

And almost as old as that, particularly if they were students, researchers, they would also share that code with colleagues and friends, because if you’ve spent all this time writing this code, there’s no need to be selfish about it. If it can help somebody else, share it. Now, sharing back then usually meant handing over 9 track tapes. Right? That was the only way to get software from one place to another. So when the internet started to come online, instead of handing over the 9 track tapes or Exabyte tapes or whatever it is, you would write a piece of software that somebody else might find useful after basically being indentured labor for some professor somewhere for several years, and you think, “Well, why the hell not? Why not put it out there and see if anybody else would find this useful?” So we started to see what has become an open software ecosystem that we have today, which 99% of the internet now runs on.

We had Richard Stallman and that kind of group coming together and the new projects and that kind of stuff, which were as much anti-capitalists as they were anything else. Right? So software needs to be free, so rather than spending thousands of dollars. I mean the cost of proprietary compilers for these systems were outrageous. Right? The companies had spent a lot of money building the compiler, but the costs, particularly to educational institutions, were often very high, much higher than those institutions could afford. So by putting those things out on FTP archive sites, that software, in fact, could be free, could be freed, could be liberated.

Aaron Dinin:

And so how’d you create the thing that would help people find the free software they were looking for?

Alan Emtage:

Now, we’re working for the School of Computer Science, right? So doing my graduate degree, doing my master’s degree, but at McGill, because I didn’t want to come back to Barbados, and so I just continued on. From my bachelor’s, I did my master’s and ended up working, as well as doing my actual classes, working for the system administration staff of the School of Computer Science, and I’m a pack rat by nature. I collect stuff, not usually physically. I don’t have lot of physical stuff, but back in my radio amateur days, I would collect the QSL cards. Right? The cards that confirm that you had had the conversation with the other person in Australia or wherever, send them one another postcard saying, “Yeah. I talked to you on this date and this time, on this frequency,” and so on.

And so I became sort of the natural person in that group to go to find out where the compiler was or where the whatever it was. And so after a while, I realized that rather than me doing this automated manual system of downloading recursive directory listings of these sites, I could have the scripts do that for me in the middle of the night, when four universities weren’t sharing this one 9600 baud line into Boston. So that’s how that all started, and I built a little database that I used for myself to find stuff that people were requesting.

Aaron Dinin:

Okay. Archie started as something you built for yourself to help with your own work. So how’d other people start using it?

Alan Emtage:

Peter who was my boss at the time, Peter Deutsch, who was also a graduate student, who was the head of the system and staff, he knew I had this database. He came and asked me if I could find a piece of software that somebody was looking for online, and I gave him the answer, and he told the person, “Yeah. Here’s where you can find this,” and said, “Well, we have this little database where we can search for stuff.” And then people started asking him, “Well, can you search for this?” and “Can we research for that?” And we fairly soon realized this is silly. Why would we have the human involved in this transaction at all? Why not give them direct access to the database? And so that’s how it started. So the idea of a system that went out there, gathered information, brought it back, organized it in some fashion where allowed it to be searched is the basis of every internet search engine.

Aaron Dinin:

But Archie was being used by people around the world, right? So how did it get beyond McGill?

Alan Emtage:

Well, because Peter made an announcement. He made it on Usenet, so it escaped from McGill at that point. But in retrospect, it’s obvious, right? That people would need to be able to find something, and the system that I had would be useful to other people, again, in retrospect. It’s not that we set out to do this, and in subsequent years, other people had come to me and say, “I had a database like that, as well.” They just didn’t publicize it. It was kind of an organic thing. It’s one of those things where you get scientific developments and they happen simultaneously with completely disconnected groups. Right? And then they’ll fight about who got there first or who owns the pattern, and you think, “Well, how is it that somebody in Russia and somebody in Mexico came up with this, almost within a month of one another?”

Well it’s because the general state of knowledge, all boats rise at a similar rate, and the problems that are being created and being solved are similar in different places, and even though those people don’t have any connection with one another, they’re [inaudible 00:26:51] trying to solve the same universal problem. It wouldn’t surprise me that other people had stuff like that as they were looking to solve the same problem that I was. It’s just that I happened to be the lucky one to publicize it and get recognized as the one who was first to do it. Not even clear that I was the first one to do it. I was the first one to publish it.

Aaron Dinin:

Worth noting here, Alan’s story is a great reminder of one of the most important entrepreneurial lessons there is. You can build the greatest product in the world, but if nobody knows about it, it doesn’t really matter. In this case, maybe Alan’s FTP search engine wasn’t really first. Maybe other people had built the same thing for themselves, but Alan’s FTP search engine, Archie, was the one people heard about and were using, so that’s why it gets called the first one. And to be sure pretty soon, there were lots of people using it.

Alan Emtage:

The traffic increased literally exponentially. At one point, it was probably doubling every few days, and we ended up taking over a machine that wasn’t really ours to take over. I mean, it had been allocated for another purpose and we basically shanghaied it. One of the nice things of being CIS admin in that kind of situation is that the higher ups really don’t care how you allocate the resources as long as the people who need the resources get them. What’s happening to the excess resources, they don’t really care, not much at least. Oh, further into it. I don’t remember exactly when, probably ’93 or something, it was clear that a national network was necessary, and so they had built up, all of that. We weren’t relying on our 9600 baud lane anymore, and half the traffic to Eastern Canada was going to this one machine that had Archie on it. Right? So we started to distribute it, rewrote it, and then created replicas in other places.

Aaron Dinin:

Half the internet traffic to Eastern Canada going to a single machine? That’s crazy, even for the early ’90s. Did nobody at the university notice?

Alan Emtage:

Well, all this Archie stuff was going on at McGill. We didn’t tell anybody. I mean, the students knew about it and some of the professors, but the administration weren’t aware of the fact that we had shanghaied and one of their most powerful machines and we’re sucking up half the bandwidth into the place. And my very proper European head of the department, he went to a conference and a pear of his, somebody at his level, walked up to him and said, “Oh, I really want to shake your hand. I really want to thank you so much for Archie. It’s been a godsend. We use it all the time. It’s amazing, and it’s so generous of McGill to donate its resources in this way and help out the larger community,” and so on, so forth. And being the diplomat that he was, he shook his hand. He said, “Oh, we’re more than happy. I’m very glad you enjoy it. Our pleasure,” kind of thing, not having a clue as to what this guy was talking about.

And then came back to us, turn from the conference and hold us up to the office and said, “What the hell is going on down there? What the hell are they talking about?” But because it traded in kudos. Right? It traded as a benefit, reputational benefit to the school and to the university, they were happy to then allow us. You know the old expression, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness, than to ask for permission,” and this is a classic example of that. So we were allowed to let it go on, even though he had no idea what this guy was talking about.

Aaron Dinin:

Oh, I could totally see that happening at a university. In fact, I’ve seen it happen quite a bit, but still at some point you had to realize you’ve built something valuable that should go beyond the university. Right? Did you ever think about trying to monetize it?

Alan Emtage:

I believe it was the beginning of ’92, I believe, that we spun off, with McGill’s assistance, Bunyip Information Systems, which as far as we know, we were the first company created in the world to provide internet information services. There were companies like BBN who provided the connectivity, but as far as we know, there was no commercial entity before Bunyip that was expressly created to license internet information, infrastructure stuff.

Aaron Dinin:

You mean basically you launched the first internet startup, too?

Alan Emtage:

Yeah. I mean, if you’re not looking at the connectivity, the ISP side of it, but they were hardware people, and most of them were not startups either. They were just departments within larger telecom entities because it’s hard to become an original ISP.

Aaron Dinin:

As you just heard, not only was Alan Emtage the first person in the world to launch an internet search engine, which by itself is an impressive accomplishment, he and his business partner at the time, Peter Deutsch, launched the first internet startup. That’s crazy. That startup was called Bunyip. That’s spelled B-U-N-Y-I-P. I’ll let Alan explain where the name came from.

Alan Emtage:

Bunyip is a mythological, aboriginal Australian creature, which inhabits billabongs and swamps basically. And Peter Deutsch, my business partner had spent a lot of his life growing up in Australia. He was American, but his mom was Australian, and when his parents split up, she took the kids back to Australia. And so he was sort of steeped in Australian folklore, and so it was a name that we knew weren’t going to have many trademark clashes, so we went with Bunyip.

Aaron Dinin:

Bunyip was Alan and Peter’s attempt to commercialize their search engine, and as you can imagine, launching the first internet startup wasn’t an easy thing to do. There were no lean startup books to read and there weren’t a bunch of colleges and universities offering entrepreneurship classes, so they spent a few years on it, but well, today we’re all Googling things rather than Archie-ing things, so you can probably imagine a lot of what happened.

Alan Emtage:

We weren’t really focused on the web by the time that the web really spun up. We didn’t shift. I mean, I suppose we could have. We were focused on other things at that point, and so we didn’t really try and occupy the web search engine space. People forget there are whole lot of web search engines before Google. I mean, Google owns, what, 90-somewhat percent of the search space nowadays, but there were a lot of search engines before Google came along, Inktomi and AltaVista and Yahoo and big names with lot of money behind them.

And Google, because of the twists that Google brought to the whole process and the insight that they had to leverage human knowledge in the internet search, they own the world and done an amazing job with it. But we never tried to occupy that space. It may have been a shortcoming on our part. We worked with people that did. Martijn Koster created ALIWEB, which was an Archie-like indexing of the web, and he was one of the first search engines for the web, but there was a lot of competition in search engines until Google came along and basically wiped the rest of them out.

Aaron Dinin:

So what you’re saying is even back then with the very first internet startup, turns out that being a startup founder still wasn’t as glamorous as people think?

Alan Emtage:

My problem was that by 1996, when I first started Bunyip, I had committed to five years. I was going to do it for five years, and I did. At the end of five years, I was really burnt out. I was traveling 170,000 miles a year. I was speaking all over the world and I had no social life. I was living out of a suitcase and all of my friends were in similar situations, and we would see one another at every subsequent conference. Right? So it would be, “Oh yeah. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks at so-and-so conference,” or “What are you doing?” “Oh, I’m giving the keynote that when so you’re giving the…” That kind of stuff, so we would see these people over and over and over again. And that was the social life, which was fine. They were great people and a lot of them are still my friends, but the problem was that I was so burnt out that I just couldn’t even think about doing that anymore. I know friends that did, I mean, they just kept doing it. Some of them are still doing it. I don’t know how they do it. I love travel, but that kind of travel gets very unglamorous very, very quickly.

I remember waking up in a hotel one morning and having no idea what city I was in. I mean, I just could not tell you. I’d gotten in late the night before and I was lying in bed and I was staring at the ceiling and I thought I don’t know what city I’m in. I cannot remember what city I’m in, and I had to turn over and look at the bedside little pad and see Hilton New Orleans or whatever it was at the time. And that’s when you know that you’re traveling too much. I think I could have continued to contribute because I knew a lot of the players. I knew how the system worked and that kind of stuff. I’m not unhappy with what my life has done subsequently to that. I found a nice balance between work and doing the things that I enjoy, but had I not been that burnt out, I think I could have probably continued on that path for a while longer and still contributed.

Aaron Dinin:

Well, maybe that’s still true. Maybe he could have still contributed. Regardless, after hearing Alan’s story, it certainly sounds like he contributed plenty to the internet and the web, and all of us listening owe him a huge debt of gratitude. And hey, if you’d like to thank him, as well as see what he’s up to these days, he’s on Twitter. He’s @alanemtage. I, of course, would like to thank him for taking the time to share his story here on Web Masters. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll consider sharing it with other people. Also, please take a moment to subscribe to Web Masters on your podcasting app of choice, and if you’re so inclined, maybe leave a nice review while you’re there, too. If you got any questions, thoughts or comments about the episode, send us a message. We’re @WebMastersPod on Twitter. I’m on Twitter, too, @AaronDinin. That’s A-A-R-O-N-D-I-N-I-N, and I also write lots of articles about startups, entrepreneurship, and digital innovation over on medium.com. You can find everything just by searching for my name over there.

Thanks to our audio engineer, Ryan Higgs, for his help editing this episode, especially since it was recorded, partially outside. If you didn’t hear too many planes flying by, Ryan is the reason why. And thanks to our sponsor Latona’s for making this podcast possible. If you’re interested in buying or selling an internet business, be sure to check out latonas.com. So that’s all for this episode. I hope you like learning about Alan Emtage and the first internet search engine as much as I did. We will be back soon with another episode and more opportunities to learn even more amazing things about the history of the internet. However, right now, well, I guess it’s time for me to sign off.

[OUTRO]

Aaron Dinin:

And where did the name Archie come from?

Alan Emtage:

FTP archives. It’s archive without the V. We had to come up with a name quickly. It popped into my head. I said, “Archive. If we take the V out, it’s Archie. Let’s call it Archie.” I mean, literally it took that much time to come up with a name.

Aaron Dinin:

That’s not a bad name. Seems reasonable.

Alan Emtage:

It’s memorable. Right? Because people know Archies. Right? If nothing else, you know that horrible comic, but it’s a name that sticks in your head. It began a long tradition of the internet, name telling you absolutely nothing about the product. Right? There’s no way to draw a line. There’s no intuition that you can apply. There’s nothing that can take you from Archie to internet search engines, but that’s true, I suppose, most of the naming on the internet these days.

Aaron Dinin:

Yes. That’s definitely true.