Saturday, August 06, 2005

Google History

Google History

Google is a play on the word googol, which was coined by Milton Sirotta, nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner, and was popularized in the book, "Mathematics and the Imagination" by Kasner and James Newman. It refers to the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. Google's use of the term reflects the company's mission to organize the immense, seemingly infinite amount of information available on the web.

Back before Google? Aye, there's the Rub.

According to Google lore, company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were not terribly fond of each other when they first met as Stanford University graduate students in computer science in 1995. Larry was a 24-year-old University of Michigan alumnus on a weekend visit; Sergey, 23, was among a group of students assigned to show him around. They argued about every topic they discussed. Their strong opinions and divergent viewpoints would eventually find common ground in a unique approach to solving one of computing's biggest challenges: retrieving relevant information from a massive set of data.

By January of 1996, Larry and Sergey had begun collaboration on a search engine called BackRub, named for its unique ability to analyze the "back links" pointing to a given website. Larry, who had always enjoyed tinkering with machinery and had gained some notoriety for building a working printer out of Lego™, took on the task of creating a new kind of server environment that used low-end PCs instead of big expensive machines. Afflicted by the perennial shortage of cash common to graduate students everywhere, the pair took to haunting the department's loading docks in hopes of tracking down newly arrived computers that they could borrow for their network.

A year later, their unique approach to link analysis was earning BackRub a growing reputation among those who had seen it. Buzz about the new search technology began to build as word spread around campus.

The search for a buyer

Larry and Sergey continued working to perfect their technology through the first half of 1998. Following a path that would become a key tenet of the Google way, they bought a terabyte of disks at bargain prices and built their own computer housings in Larry's dorm room, which became Google's first data center. Meanwhile Sergey set up a business office, and the two began calling on potential partners who might want to license a search technology better than any then available. Despite the dotcom fever of the day, they had little interest in building a company of their own around the technology they had developed.

Among those they called on was friend and Yahoo! founder David Filo. Filo agreed that their technology was solid, but encouraged Larry and Sergey to grow the service themselves by starting a search engine company. "When it's fully developed and scalable," he told them, "let's talk again." Others were less interested in Google, as it was now known. One portal CEO told them, "As long as we're 80 percent as good as our competitors, that's good enough. Our users don't really care about search."

Touched by an angel

Unable to interest the major portal players of the day, Larry and Sergey decided to make a go of it on their own. All they needed was a little cash to move out of the dorm — and to pay off the credit cards they had maxed out buying a terabyte of memory. So they wrote up a business plan, put their Ph.D. plans on hold, and went looking for an angel investor. Their first visit was with a friend of a faculty member.

Andy Bechtolsheim, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, was used to taking the long view. One look at their demo and he knew Google had potential — a lot of potential. But though his interest had been piqued, he was pressed for time. As Sergey tells it, "We met him very early one morning on the porch of a Stanford faculty member's home in Palo Alto. We gave him a quick demo. He had to run off somewhere, so he said, 'Instead of us discussing all the details, why don't I just write you a check?' It was made out to Google Inc. and was for $100,000."

The investment created a small dilemma. Since there was no legal entity known as "Google Inc.," there was no way to deposit the check. It sat in Larry's desk drawer for a couple of weeks while he and Sergey scrambled to set up a corporation and locate other funders among family, friends, and acquaintances. Ultimately they brought in a total initial investment of almost $1 million.

Everyone's favorite garage band

On September 7, 1998, Google Inc. opened its door in Menlo Park, California. The door came with a remote control, as it was attached to the garage of a friend who sublet space to the new corporation's staff of three. The office offered several big advantages, including a washer and dryer and a hot tub. It also provided a parking space for the first employee hired by the new company: Craig Silverstein, now Google's director of technology.

Already Google.com, still in beta, was answering 10,000 search queries each day. The press began to take notice of the upstart website with the relevant search results, and articles extolling Google appeared in USA TODAY and Le Monde. That December, PC Magazine named Google one of its Top 100 Web Sites and Search Engines for 1998. Google was moving up in the world.

On the road again

Google quickly outgrew the confines of its Menlo Park home, and by February 1999 had moved to an office on University Avenue in Palo Alto. At eight employees, Google's staff had nearly tripled, and the service was answering more than 500,000 queries per day. Interest in the company had grown as well. Red Hat signed on as its first commercial search customer, drawn in part by Google's commitment to running its servers on the open source operating system Linux.

On June 7, the company announced that it had secured a round of funding that included $25 million from the two leading venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In a replay of the convergence of opposites that gave birth to Google, the two firms — normally fiercely competitive, but seeing eye-to-eye on the value of this new investment — both took seats on the board of directors. Mike Moritz of Sequoia and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins — who between them had helped grow Sun Microsytems, Intuit, Amazon, and Yahoo! — joined Ram Shriram, CEO of Junglee, at the ping pong table that served as formal boardroom furniture.

In short order, key hires began to fill the company's modest offices. Omid Kordestani left Netscape to accept a position as vice president of business development and sales, and Urs Hölzle was hired away from UC Santa Barbara as vice president of engineering. It quickly became obvious that more space was needed. At one point the office became so cramped that employees couldn't stand up from their desks without others tucking their chairs in first.

No beta search engine

The gridlock was alleviated with the move to the Googleplex, Google's current headquarters in Mountain View, California. And tucked away in one corner of the two-story structure, the Google kernel continued to grow — attracting staff and clients and drawing attention from users and the press. AOL/Netscape selected Google as its web search service and helped push traffic levels past 3 million searches per day. Clearly, Google had evolved. What had been a college research project was now a real company offering a service that was in great demand.

On September 21, 1999, the beta label came off the website.

Still Google continued to expand. The Italian portal Virgilio signed on as a client, as did Virgin Net, the UK's leading online entertainment guide. The spate of recognition that followed included a Technical Excellence Award for Innovation in Web Application Development from PC Magazine and inclusion in several "best of" lists, culminating with Google's appearance on Time magazine's Top Ten Best Cybertech list for 1999.

Built-in innovation

At the Googleplex, a unique company culture was evolving. To maximize the flexibility of the work space, large rubber exercise balls were repurposed as highly mobile office chairs in an open environment free of cubicle walls. While computers on the desktops were fully powered, the desks themselves were wooden doors held up by pairs of sawhorses. Lava lamps began sprouting like multi-hued mushrooms. Large dogs roamed the halls — among them Yoshka, a massive but gentle Leonberger. After a rigorous review process, Charlie Ayers was hired as company chef, bringing with him an eclectic repertoire of health-conscious recipes he developed while cooking for the Grateful Dead . Sections of the parking lot were roped off for twice-weekly roller hockey games. Larry and Sergey led weekly TGIF meetings in the open space among the desks, which easily accommodated the company's 60-odd employees.

The informal atmosphere bred both collegiality and an accelerated exchange of ideas. Google staffers made many incremental improvements to the search engine itself and added such enhancements as the Google Directory (based on Netscape's Open Directory Project) and the ability to search via wireless devices. Google also began thinking globally, with the introduction of ten language versions for users who preferred to search in their native tongues.

We love you, Google users!Google's features and performance attracted new users at an astounding rate. The broad appeal of Google search became apparent when the site was awarded both a Webby Award and a People's Voice Award for technical achievement in May 2000. Sergey's and Larry's five-word acceptance speech: "We love you, Google users!" The following month, Google officially became the world's largest search engine with its introduction of a billion-page index — the first time so much of the web's content had been made available in a searchable format.

Through careful marshalling of its resources, Google had avoided the need for additional rounds of funding beyond its original venture round. Already clients were signing up to use Google's search technology on their own sites. With the launch of a keyword-targeted advertising program, Google added another revenue stream that began moving the company into the black. By mid-2000, these efforts were beginning to show real results.

On June 26, Google and Yahoo! announced a partnership that solidified the company's reputation — not just as a provider of great technology, but as a substantial business answering 18 million user queries every day. In the months that followed, partnership deals were announced on all fronts, with China's leading portal NetEase and NEC's BIGLOBE portal in Japan both adding Google search to their sites.

The Google ToolbarTo extend the power of its keyword-targeted advertising to smaller businesses, Google introduced AdWords, a self-service ad program that could be activated online with a credit card in a matter of minutes. And in late 2000, to enhance users' power to search from anywhere on the web, Google introduced the Google Toolbar. This innovative browser plug-in made it possible to use Google search without visiting the Google homepage, either using the toolbar's search box or right-clicking on text within a web page, as well as enabling the highlighting of keywords in search results. The Google Toolbar would prove enormously popular and has since been downloaded by millions of users.

As 2000 ended, Google was already handling more than 100 million search queries a day — and continued to look for new ways to connect people with the information they needed, whenever and wherever they needed it. They reached out first to a population with a never-ending need for knowledge — students, educators, and researchers — paying homage to Google's academic roots by offering free search services to schools, universities, and other educational institutions worldwide.

Realizing that people aren't always at their desks when questions pop into their heads, Google set out to put wireless search into as many hands as possible. The first half of 2001 saw a series of partnerships and innovations that would bring Google search to a worldwide audience of mobile users. Wireless Internet users in Asia, Japanese users of i-mode mobile phones, Sprint PCS, Cingular, and AT&T Wireless customers, and other wireless device users throughout the world gained untethered access to the 1.6 billion web documents in Google's growing index.

Google finds a few things it needs

Meanwhile, Google had acquired a cornerstone of Internet culture. In February, Google took on the assets of Deja.com and began the arduous task of integrating the huge volume of data in the Internet's largest Usenet archive into a searchable format. In short order, Google introduced improved posting, post removal, and threading of the 500 million-plus messages exchanged over the years on Usenet discussion boards.

As Google's global audience grew, the patterns buried in the swarm of search queries provided a snapshot of what was on humanity's mind. Sifting through a flood of keywords, Google captured the top trending searches and institutionalized them as the Google Zeitgeist, a real-time window into the collective consciousness. The Google Zeitgeist showcases the rising and falling stars in the search firmament as names and places flicker from obscurity to center stage and fade back again. Like an S&P Index for popular culture, the Google Zeitgeist charts our shifting obsessions and the impermanence of fame.

As Google's search capabilities multiplied, the company's financial footing became even more solid. By the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2001, Google announced that it had found something that had eluded many other online companies: profitability.

Information without barriers

Google's circle of friends continued to widen. An agreement with Lycos Korea brought Google search to a new group of Asian Internet users. In October, a partnership with Universo Online (UOL) made Google Latin America's premier search engine. New sales offices opened in Hamburg and Tokyo to satisfy growing international interest in Google's advertising programs. Google's borderless appeal was also evident in its evolving user interface: Users could now limit searches to sites written in Arabic, Turkish, or any of 26 other languages.

Meanwhile the Google search engine evolved again and learned to crawl several new kinds of information. File type search added a dozen formats to Google's roster of searchable documents. In December, Google Image Search, first launched during the summer with 250 million images, came out of beta with advanced search added and an expanded image index. Online shopping took a leap forward with the beta launch of Google Catalog Search, which made it possible for Google users to search and browse more than 1,100 mail order catalogs that previously had been available only in print.

December also brought another milestone: The Google search index reached 3 billion searchable web documents, another leap forward in Google's mission to make the world's information accessible. Google's year came to a close, appropriately, with the Year-End Google Zeitgeist, a retrospective on the search patterns, trends, and top search terms of 2001.

Good things come in yellow boxes

Google's success in charting the public Internet had helped make it the Internet search engine of choice. But Googlebot, the robot software that continually crawls the web to refresh and expand Google's index of online documents, had to turn back at the corporate firewall — which left employees, IT managers, and productivity-conscious executives wishing for a way to bring the power of Google search into their workplaces.

Their wish came true in February of 2002, with the introduction of the Google Search Appliance, a plug-and-play search solution in a bright yellow box. Soon it was crawling company intranets, e-commerce sites, and university networks, with organizations from Boeing to the University of Florida powering their searches with " Google in a box."

In love with innovation

The love affair between Google and the technology community — engineers, programmers, webmasters, and early adopters of all shapes and sizes — went back to the days when word-of-mouth from tech-savvy users spread the budding search engine's reputation far beyond the Stanford campus. That ongoing romance was evident at the 2001 Search Engine Watch Awards, announced in February of 2002, where the webmaster community awarded Google top honors for Outstanding Search Service, Best Image Search Engine, Best Design, Most Webmaster Friendly Search Engine, and Best Search Feature.

Google showed the affection was mutual with a trio of initiatives to delight the most avid technophile. The Google Programming Contest coupled a daunting challenge with a tempting prize: $10,000, a visit to the Googleplex, and a chance for the winner to spend some quality time with the Google code base. (The eventual winner, Daniel Egnor of New York, created a program enabling users to search for webpages within a specified geographic area.)

Google's web application programming interfaces (APIs) enabled software programs to query Google directly, drawing on the data in billions of web documents. Their release sparked a flurry of innovation, from Google-based games to new search interfaces.

Google Compute, newly added to the Google Toolbar, took advantage of idle cycles on users' computers to help solve computation-intensive scientific problems. The first beneficiary: Folding@home, a non-profit Stanford University research project to analyze the structure of proteins with an eye to improving treatments for a number of illnesses.

Advertising that people want to see

In February of 2002, AdWords, Google's self-service advertising system, received a major overhaul, including a cost-per-click (CPC) pricing model that makes search advertising as cost-effective for small businesses as for large ones. Google's approach to advertising has always followed the same principle that works so well for search: Focus on the user and all else will follow. For ads, this means using keywords to target ad delivery and ranking ads for relevance to the user's query. As a result, ads only reach the people who actually want to see them - an approach that benefits users as well as advertisers.

In May, that approach got a vote of confidence when America Online — calling Google "the reigning champ of online search" — chose the company to provide both search and advertising to its 34 million members and tens of millions of other visitors to AOL properties. Further confirmation came when BtoB Magazine named Google the #1 business-to-business website and the #5 B2B ad property in any medium, online or off.

The launch of Google Labs enabled Google engineers to present their pet ideas proudly to an adventurous audience. Users could get acquainted with prototypes that were still a bit wet behind the ears, while developers received feedback that helped them groom their projects for success. Works-in-progress ranged from Google Voice Search, enabling users to search on Google with a simple telephone call, to Google Sets, which generates complete sets (a list of gemstones, say) from a few examples (topaz, ruby, opal), giving each member of the new set its own search link.

All the news that's fit to click

Google News launched in beta in September of 2002, offering access to 4,500 leading news sources from around the world. Headlines and photos are automatically selected and arranged by a computer program which updates the page continuously. The free service lets users scan, search, and browse, with links from each headline to the original story.

Froogle, a product search service launched in test mode in December of 2002, continued Google's emphasis on innovation and objective results. Searching through millions of relevant websites, Froogle helps users find multiple sources for specific products, delivering images and prices for the items sought.

And the worlds turn

Google's innovations continued to reshape not only the world of search, but also the advertising marketplace and the realm of publishing. In 2003, Google acquired Pyra Labs and became the home for Blogger, a leading provider of services for those inclined to share their thoughts with the world through online journals (weblogs). Not long thereafter, the Google AdSense program was born, offering web sites of all sizes a way to easily generate revenue through placement of highly targeted ads adjacent to their content. Google AdSense technology analyzes the text on any given page and delivers ads that are appropriate and relevant, increasing the usefulness of the page and the likelihood that those viewing it will actually click on the advertising presented there.

Version 2.0 of the Google Toolbar was released in the Spring and the Google Deskbar joined it in the Fall. The Toolbar's enhancements included a pop-up blocker and form filler, while the Deskbar's location in the Windows Taskbar made it possible to search using Google without even launching a web browser. And there was so much more to find, thanks to the addition of a calculator feature, parcel tracking, flight information, VIN numbers and more, all accessible through the same Google search box.

This message just in

The year 2004 brought new services, including Local Search for those times when all a person needs is a neighborhood place close enough to deliver cannolis that are still cool or a tire shop that's within walking distance. Within weeks, Google followed up with a way for advertisers to target their ads to locations a set distance from their stores. It was an improvement for merchants that also made it easier for searchers to find goods and services for sale in their own neighborhoods.

On April 1st Google announced it was offering free mail accounts with 1,000 megabytes of memory and had plans to open an engineering office on the moon . It soon became apparent that Gmail was no joke. The first serious re-examination of web-based email in years, Gmail offers a powerful built in search function, messages grouped by subject line into conversations and enough free storage to hold emails for years to come. Gmail account owners don't need to file messages or worry about deleting items to stay within impractical storage constraints. Everything gets archived and is just a search away. Using AdSense technology, Gmail delivers relevant ads adjacent to mail messages, giving recipients a way to act on the information they receive.

And on and on

What's next from Google? Hard to say. We don't talk much about what lies ahead, because we believe one of our chief competitive advantages is surprise. Surprise and innovation. Our two chief competitive advantages are surprise, innovation and an almost fanatical devotion to our users. Well, you get the idea. You can take a peek at some of the ideas our engineers are currently kicking around by visiting them at play in Google Labs. Have fun, but be sure to wear your safety goggles.

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