Wide Area Information Server, or WAIS, is a text searching system used to search databases on remote servers.
The structure of a WAIS system includes two primary components:
- Directory-of-servers: A database that is queried to find information hosted on a WAIS server. The directory-of-servers is hosted on a central server and containes information about source servers and documents in source server databases.
- Source servers: The network of servers where WAIS-accessible databases are hosted.
In simplified terms, here is how the WAIS system operates:
- The directory is accessed with special software called a WAIS client.
- The directory provides a list of databases which are hosted on geographically distributed source servers.
- The user enters a query using the WAIS client.
- The directory is queried and returns documents that are a match to the search terms.
- The WAIS client compiles the results of the search and presents them to the user.
- After reviewing the search results, the user selects the database documents that best match their query and is able to retrieve the document to view the full text.
If all of this sounds familiar, that's because it should. WAIS served as a crude precursor to the dynamic search systems and methodologies used by search engines like Google. WAIS was one of the primary search technologies implements by the Gopher communication protocol – an early alternative to the World Wide Web.
The capabilities of modern search engines far surpass the sophistication of the WAIS system. As a result, few, if any, WAIS servers are still in operation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who created WAIS?
WAIS was developed and promoted primarily by Thinking Machines Corporation (TMC), in partnership with Apple, Dow Jones, and KPMG Peat Marwick. WAIS Inc was created in the early 1990s by two of WAIS's developers to commercialize WAIS, and was subsequently sold to AOL in 1995.
Is the WAIS system still in use today?
The WAIS system is not longer active. However, some of the content hosted on WAIS servers is now available in the Usenet newsgroup comp.infosystems.wais. WAIS search functionality was quickly overtaken by more advanced search algorithms and strategies meaning that interest in WAIS dwindled quickly in the late 1990s.
Who were some early users of WAIS?
In the early 1990s WAIS gave the World Wide Web a run for its money when it was adopted by high-profile clients including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Library of Congress, the Department of Energy, the Wall Street Journal, and the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. The early 1990s were an interesting time as many promising technologies, including WAIS, received high-profile backing only to be overtaken by competing technologies we all know today, such as the functionality of Google search on the World Wide Web.