On Internet Games

Posted by Katie McLaughlin on April 30, 2016

Did you know that back in the day[1] there used to be a thing where people would compete to see who could search the internet for things the fastest?

They were called Internet Games, and I was a champion.

This is going back a great many years. The school expo was held every two years[2], so I competed three times Google was only just ramping up when I entered high-school, so at my first Internet Games the rules were simple: you were given a question, and had to find the answer within two minutes using your preferred search engine. Alta Vista, or Google, were the suggested choices.

This was back when the cutting edge of web searching technology was boolean search: where if you searched for a term “cat AND mouse”, only searches with both terms would be returned. Now days, with fuzzy logic, suggestion engines and search frequency heuristics, boolean search is something that’s somewhat of a lost art.

There was also the fun of the limited ‘non dot com’ domains. xe.net was one that tripped me up. I still won the round to do with working out the value of a certain amount of AUD in USD, but hitting a dead domain (in this case, xe.com) didn’t bring up a sad folder icon or other cute ‘uhoh’ as it does now. You had wordy error pages to contend with on Internet Explorer. Yes, people have mistaken the error pages for returned sites before (it’s not just a thing from Parks and Rec)

By the second internet games I entered, Google was the search engine to use, and this was only ~2002. Gone were the days of using search engine aggregators (a search engine for search engines. Yes, this was a thing). Most of the competition was based on who had the fastest typing skills.

By the third games, it was based on sheer luck. There was no fun in it any more. If I recall correctly, from 20 competitors (to fill the amazingly large fleet of 20 school library computers), the final games had six. It was my last year of high school, and there wasn’t a lot of competition in it any more.

So, why am I rabbling on about ‘back in my day’?

Well, in the last few days I’ve been splunking[3], and I’ve been recalling the old tricks of the trade. It’s been quite fun. I was able to skills from the one ‘sport’ I’ve been a pro at, and use them to help others. That totally makes me a super hero. If I don’t know the answer to something, and the goal is to find the answer as quickly as possible, I’ll immediately go to Google, or a specific site, and use those advanced terms to my advantage. At one job I used to be called ‘Google’ because co-workers could throw a question over the cube parition wall and I’d be able to answer it quicker than they could search for it. Most of the time this interaction was verbal, so they may not have realised I was cheating (Sorry, Jared. Or Chris. One of you).

Like being able to trawl man pages or knowing your resistor colours bands by heart, there are some skills that people can acquire that make them seem legendary, and this is mine and it’s kinda neat.

But of course, this power does have limitations. Especially searching for parameter flags in linux command lines. I can never remember what the -z in if [ -z blah ] means and I’ll be darned if Google doesn’t want to ‘help’ and remove the punctuation for me, silently. Get off my lawn, I know what I’m looking for, dang it.

[1] “You’re not old, you’re just in production

[2] Because using ‘biennial’ here would be confusing.

[3] I fixed a thing