DCSIMG

Googling was born in Stirling

THE birth of the worldwide web gave fame and fortune to internet millionaires such as Google creator Larry Page and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

But Scotland on Sunday can reveal that a penniless Stirling University graduate was the first to come up with the idea of the search engine, a tool now used millions of times a day around the world.

Despite his breakthrough, Jonathon Fletcher never saw his idea become a commercial success on the scale of Yahoo! and Google because, in 1993, he was too "ahead of his time".

On the 20th anniversary of the birth of the worldwide web, Fletcher has spoken for the first time about the story of the creation of the search engine, and his frustration as others took the glory for the innovation.

Computing experts have finally praised his early efforts, which emphasise Scotland's position as a world leader in technology innovation.

The internet was launched on March 13, 1989, when scientist Tim Berners-Lee launched the proposal to create the "WorldWideWeb" for use in the CERN experiment in Switzerland, the world's largest particle physics laboratory.

The web was first intended as a way of sharing information between scientists around the world.

Fletcher, originally from Yorkshire, was a promising young computing scientist who graduated from Stirling with a first-class honours degree in 1992. He hoped to do a PhD at Glasgow but could not get the grant funding, so instead he took a job at Stirling as a systems administrator. Fletcher said: "My job was really to keep the labs going, help out students, and do admin type jobs. I had very little money, I couldn't afford any rent, and when I wasn't sleeping on friends' floors, I slept in the labs. When you are there all the time, next to a keyboard, it is very easy to try out your ideas."

Fletcher came up with JumpStation, the first engine that allowed people to surf the web using keywords to narrow down their searches.

JumpStation, which had the same basic shape as Google search, created an index of all the headings on web pages using a web robot that searched through the internet.

However, the idea was so new that many people, including those in computing, did not understand it.

Fletcher said: "Some operators thought it was invading their website, and one posted a message saying words to the effect of, 'We don't know who you are or what you are doing, but please stop it.'"

Other computer programmers from around the world contacted Fletcher to ask how the programme worked.

Despite the interest, JumpStation folded a year after its launch as Fletcher could not get any investors, including the University of Stirling, to provide financial backing for his idea.

A spokesman for the University of Stirling said the institution was now looking at a way to mark Fletcher's achievement. He said: "A lot of what Jonathon Fletcher was doing was ahead of its time. The internet was very much a specialist subject."

 
 
 

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