In eukaryotes, the site-specific formation of the two prevalent types of rRNA modified nucleotides, 2'-O-methylated nucleotides and pseudouridines, is directed by two large families of snoRNAs. These are termed box C/D and H/ACA snoRNAs, respectively, and exert their function through the formation of a canonical guide RNA duplex at the modification site. In each family, one snoRNA acts as a guide for one, or at most two modifications, through a single, or a pair of appropriate antisense elements. The two guide families now appear much larger than anticipated and their role not restricted to ribosome synthesis only. This is reflected by the recent detection of guides that can target other cellular RNAs, including snRNAs, tRNAs and possibly even mRNAs, and by the identification of scores of tissue-specific specimens in mammals. Recent characterization of homologs of eukaryotic modification guide snoRNAs in Archaea reveals the ancient origin of these non-coding RNA families and offers new perspectives as to their range of function.