Tech History: Google’s success in the late 1990's

Athena Intelligence
3 min readJan 9, 2024

In 1998, the dominant search engine was Yahoo! After a new entrant, Google, entered the market it rapidly became the dominant search engine. Startup investors, venture capitalists and students of strategy, who want to understand how markets change and paradigms shift may want to keep this chapter of technology history in mind when looking at any industry at risk of Schumpeter’s Competitive Destruction.

In the short term, the market is a voting machine. But in the long term, it is a weighing machine — B. Graham

Google’s rapid ascent to market dominance was driven by a radically new shift in its approach to search. A pivotal element of the company’s success was superior search algorithm, which provided a significantly better search experience.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Yahoo was primarily relying on a directory-based approach, Google introduced a more efficient and accurate search algorithm. By prioritizing relevance and user satisfaction, Google quickly became the go-to search engine for Internet users, surpassing Yahoo’s more manually curated directory.

The Internet’s Wild West Early Days

An analyst in the late 1990's, while explaining his views on why AOL would dominate the online world, described the Internet this way:

The online world of the Internet is like a giant warehouse, with racks and racks of unmarked cardboard boxes, piled high and potentially full of goodies. Yahoo! provides the visitor with an X-acto knife to open the boxes. AOL, by contrast, offers a curated collection with clear signage.

This was the world which Google changed by creating profiles for each site, based upon a prioritizing the relevance of web pages. This was done by assessing their authority and value to searchers. It created a new standard for search engine technology which stood in sharp contrast to Yahoo!’s index or catalog approach.

Lessons for Today

Profiles of websites were rapidly generated by computers, based on a search engine algorithm which prioritized the relevance and authority of these sites. This allowed Google to offer a better search experience than Yahoo!’s human edited Indexes which offered a directory or catalog approach in a period of rapidly expanding number of websites.

In Athena’s field of expertise, environmental data, it is hard not to see the same pattern. (As Mark Twain said, History does not repeat, but it often rhymes.)

Athena Intelligence offers profiles based upon a proprietary algorithm which correlates and prioritizes relevant data to create probabilistic wildfire risk projections. This provides utilities and property insurers superior insights. Other firms, in field of wildfire risk assessment, offer indexes based on descriptive information.

Just as Google provided a superior user experience, curated to the searcher’s interest and needs, Athena offers organizations risk insights in ways that make them more efficient and, ultimately, more profitable. For a utility, a better solution for thinking about operations in light of wildfire risks. For property insurers, a more accurate assessment of risk which allows better underwriting decisions. For reinsurers, more accurate portfolio risk assessment for better pricing of risk exposure.

We look forward to your comments about other industries with this clear a distinction between profiles and descriptive indexing.

Athena Intelligence is a data vendor with a geospatial, conditional, profiling tool that pulls together vast amounts of disaggregated wildfire and environmental data to generate spatial intelligence, resulting in a digital fingerprint of wildfire risk.

For power companies, this helps them assess, a year in advance, where a consequential fire is most likely. For insurance or financial services companies, this assists in underwriting, portfolio risk optimization and loss cost probabilities for reserving.

Contact us at and follow us here.



Athena Intelligence

Athena Intelligence weaves vast amounts of disaggregated environmental data. Drop us a line (, or visit