updated 9/27/2005 10:32:59 AM ET 2005-09-27T14:32:59

Google Inc. will stop boasting on its home page about the number of Web pages it has stored in its index, even as the online search engine leader continues a crusade to prove it scans substantially more material than its rivals.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company said it was removing the index size late Monday. It marked the first time in more than five years that Google hasn't listed the size of its search index on its sparse home page.

When Google started the practice in mid-2000, the index spanned 1 billion pages; as of Monday afternoon, Google's home page said the search index contained 8.17 billion pages.

That figure qualified it as the largest in the industry until last month, when nemesis Yahoo Inc. revealed its database included 20.8 billion documents and images. Unlike Google, Yahoo never listed that figure on its home page, disclosing it only in a Web posting by one of its executives.

Yahoo's claim nevertheless came under immediate fire from Google executives, who questioned its accuracy before finally concluding that the two companies are counting things differently.

Both companies want the bragging rights to the biggest index because it can attract more traffic from less sophisticated Web searchers who equate size with quality.

Google's index is bigger than ever, according to company officials, although the breadth of the latest expansion will remain a mystery.

Marissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer products, said the index is three times larger than its rivals and 1,000 times bigger than when former Stanford University graduate students Larry Page and Sergey Brin formed the company seven years ago. The index is believed have spanned somewhere between 25 million and 65 million Web pages then. If it's 1,000 times larger today, that would put its current size at somewhere between 25 billion and 65 billion pages.

Mayer said that since apples-to-apples comparison are no longer possible, Google decided to stop listing the size of its index and instead invite Web surfers to conduct the equivalent of a "taste test" to see which engine consistently delivers the most results, Mayer said.

"We think the absolute numbers have become meaningless, so we are encouraging users to find out for themselves," she said.

Yahoo, whose search engine is the second most used behind Google's, welcomed the challenge. "As we've said in the past, what matters is that consumers find what they are looking for and we invite Google users to compare their results to Yahoo," the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company said in a statement.

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