Google celebrates twentieth birthday

Google turns 20 on Thursday. On September 27, 1998, the search engine was founded by two students from Stanford University in California. Google has grown into much more than a search engine over the past two decades.

The search engine was once called “BackRub” and was the research project of Larry Page and Sergei Brin. The two met at Stanford University, they were both majoring in computer science. Page and Brin were part of The Stanford Digital Library Project. The aim of the project was to ‘develop new technology that enables an integrated, universal, digital library’.

Two years earlier, Page had sent a “spider” onto the Internet, collecting data about the websites he visited. The PageRank method was developed with this data. PageRank ranks pages according to importance. The more a page was referenced by other pages, the higher it ranked. Other search engines selected pages based on how often the search term occurred.

Page and Brin wanted to conduct research for their thesis using BackRub. They were convinced that the most relevant pages had the most links to other pages relevant to the search. With the first version of Google, in August 1996, they were able to test this. The name comes from googol, a number indicated as a 1 with a hundred zeros after it. At that time, the search engine sometimes took up almost half the university’s bandwidth.

Probably on September 4, 1998 came Google LLC. established as a company. Because even Page and Brin aren’t quite sure about this, they mark September 27 as Google’s birthday. By the end of 1998, Google had an index of 60 million pages.

Google in 1998

Growth and measures against abuse

Google grew in the following years. More and more people were using the search engine, whose simplicity, according to the BBC, was its most attractive feature. Google then began to offer other services. In 2000, the company started selling ads associated with keywords. These were text ads so it didn’t interfere with search engine loading time. Based on a combination of clickthroughs and bids, the ads were auctioned off, starting at 50 cents per click.

The company also started upgrading PageLink. The method was special, but not particularly complex. Once you’ve figured out the algorithm, you could easily abuse it. For example, they tried to create meaningless content on other pages to enhance the Search Engine Results Page of a website. This tactic was called ‘splogging’. The Dominic update that came out in May 2003 was supposed to counteract this kind of practice.

Google in 2003

Over the years, many updates were made to optimize the search engine, including personalized search and real-time search. At the same time, Google continued to fight against abuse. In 2006, BMW had set up doorway pages that attracted search engines and redirected traffic to another page. Google punished BMW by temporarily banning the car company from its search results.

The most famous case of abuse took place in 2011. The American clothing retailer JC Penney’s was looking for a way to get more traffic to its website. It got advice from SearchDex, a company that specializes in SEO or search engine optimization. That advice was to pay hundreds of disused domains to link to JC Penney’s website. These were websites that were not always about clothing, but also about beds, suitcases and even pets. For example, JC Penney’s was at the top of search results for months. Even if one searched for something specific like ‘Samsonite suitcases’, JC Penney’s above Samsonite website appeared in the search results. In February 2011, Google took action: JC Penney’s was ranked low on the search results list, even if people searched specifically for the chain. As a result, the clothing brand lost sales.

Google in 2011

Alphabet and hardware

Because Google had become a massive organization dealing with different directions of tech, Page and Brin felt it was time for a restructuring. In this way, the tasks of the various Google subsidiaries could be better distributed. In 2015, Alphabet was founded and became Google LLC. a subsidiary. All of Google’s shares became Alphabet shares. The tech giant posted a net profit of $3.2 billion in the second quarter of 2018.

As Google made more profit from advertising, the company could afford to experiment. Some services or software became a success, such as Gmail, Chrome introduced ten years ago, Google Maps, Docs and of course Android. Other introductions flopped, such as Google+. The company has had mixed success with hardware. The Google Glass came to nothing after a hype. The Pixel hardware initially seemed intended for showcase products, but with the Pixel smartphones the company does want to play a part in the smartphone market, resulting in a very modest market share so far. The Google Home products with voice assistant seem to catch on.

Today, many still gratefully use the search engine. In January 2018, 74.52 percent of searches went through Google. More than 4.5 billion users visit the search engine every month.