Friday, July 07, 2006

Googling Google

The latest edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary includes the word "google" which means to use the well-known search engine to look for information on the web. Google are victims of their own success and feared this might happen. They identified it as a risk in their file to the US Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this week which stated: “there is a risk that the word 'Google' could become so commonly used that it becomes synonymous with the word 'search'. If this happens, we could lose protection for this trademark, which could result in other people using the word 'Google' to refer to their own products, thus diminishing our brand.” They are the new Hoover.

It is the downside of being the largest search engine in the world. Google began as a research project in January, 1996 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Ph.D. students at Stanford University. Page and Brin called their initial search engine "BackRub," named for its analysis of the of the web's "back links." The name google is a misspelling of googol which is a large number: 10 to the power of 100(a 1 followed by one-hundred zeros). the domain name was registered on September 15, 1997.

Lawrence Edward "Larry" Page is 33 years old. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan with honours and a Masters degree from Stanford. Sergey Mikhailovich Brin is the same age as Page. He was born in Moscow, the son of a Jewish mathematician. His family suffered from anti-Semitism and emigrated to the US when Brin was six years old. He received his Bachelors of Science from the University of Maryland in May 1993 with high honours. He went to Stanford where he got his masters and met Larry Page. Sergey was assigned to show Larry around the university on a weekend tour. They did not immediately hit it off and argued incessantly. However, they soon found a common interest: retrieving relevant information from large data sets. Together, the pair authored a paper entitled "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine." The paper is now one of the most accessed scientific papers at Stanford University.

Their thesis suggested that the pages with the most links to them from other highly relevant web pages must be the most relevant pages associated with the search. This laid the foundation for their search engine. In 1999 they moved to Palo Alto in Silicon Valley. Their search engine quickly attracted a loyal fan base. A particular attraction was the uncluttered layout. The screen offered a search page with few visual distractions. Behind the page lay Google’s competitive advantage, a unique search capability.

In 2000 Google began selling advertisements associated with the search keyword to produce enhanced search results for the user. This strategy was important for increasing advertising revenue, which is based upon the number of hits users make upon ads. This helped it survive the dotcom bubble when it burst in 2001. That same year Google hired Eric Schmidt to become Chairman and CEO. Schmidt was CEO at Novell for four years prior to joining Google. Schmidt has the legal responsibilities and also focuses on management of the vice presidents and the sales organization. Google is now officially a triumvirate of Page, Brin and Schmidt.

Google now has a market capitalization topping $128.3billion -- the 27th biggest among stocks traded in the United States.
Google shares are up 400% since it went public in 2004. The stock is powered by the belief on Wall Street that Google is changing all the rules in media advertising.

Google’s figures are staggering. It has 104 interface languages including Tagalog (Filipino) and Klingon (Trekkie). It has over 8 billion fully indexed web pages and is growing daily. Google is asked to search this data over 1,000 times every second of every day, and typically comes back with sub-second response rates. Google's PageRank algorithm was patented in 2001. It looks not just at the number of links to a page but at the quality or weight of those links, to help determine which page is most likely to be of use, and so which is presented at the top of the list when the search results are returned to the user.

Google have expanded well beyond their initial offering. was one of the earliest blogging tools started by Pyra Labs. Google bought it out in 2003. They bought Picasa in 2004 and integrated it with Blogger to allow users to post photos to their blogs. In the same year, they also introduced Gmail, a free webmail and POP e-mail service, known for its abundant storage and advanced interface. Gmail is still officially in beta release as is Google Calendar. Calendar is a contact and time management web application and is integrated with Gmail. It was released in April this year.

Google Earth is another is a free-of-charge, downloadable program. It is a virtual globe which maps the planet by pasting images obtained from satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS over a 3D globe. This too was developed as third party software (Keyhole Inc – who were funded by the CIA.) which Google bought out in 2004. The degree of resolution differs from place to place but many cities are available in a resolution high enough to see individual buildings.

The key to all these applications (and Froogle the price engine website is another) is that they are all free to users. There are privacy downsides to this apparent consumer heaven. Gmail offers so much storage (1,000 megabytes) that users are encouraged never to delete anything. In the U.S., email messages lose their status as a protected communication after 180 days under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. This means that a subpoena instead of a warrant is all that's needed to force Google to produce a copy. So far Google have defied the US Department of Justice request to hand over data about what people are looking for. The department wants the data to try to show in court it has the right approach in enforcing an online pornography law.

Concerns also remain over Keyhole’s links to the CIA. Google Watch have recommended users search using Scroogle which provides the same functions without the search results ending up on a massive Google database.

Google’s philosophy is “don’t do evil”. However the company has become so big, so quickly that it will find this mantra increasingly difficult to live with. It is the price to pay for becoming part of the culture.

No comments: