Back in September 1998, I was working at a small company in Melbourne and one of my colleagues, who went on to work for Netscape, showed me a new search engine. Google was unlike the other search engines of the time. It was fast, spartan and wasn’t trying to be all things to all people. Twenty years later, Google is synonymous with search, with the company name entering the vernacular as a verb.
When Google first arrived on the scene in 1998, the dominant search engines of the time, Yahoo! and Alta Vista, offered search based on indexes that were curated by humans. Back then, there was even a cottage industry built around submitting new websites to search engines so they’d appear in results. Sites were classified and searches took seconds to execute.
Google changed all that. They were able to scour the web, which was just 25 million webpages back then, finding content, and creating their own indexes automatically. Sergey Brin and Larry Page completely changed the nature of the web with their tool. They were so unprepared for what was going to happen that they only incorporated their business on 4 September 1998 because an investor gave them a $100,000 cheque and they couldn’t deposit it until they created a company.
It’s fair to say the last two decades have come with plenty of consternation. Google’s indexes serve as part of the internet’s memory. But like our own memories, it’s based on perspective. So, when something happens that garners a lot of interest or attention, it gets a stronger ranking in Google’s indexes – even if that information is wrong.
That’s resulted in a lot of controversy. Most recently, the European Union created laws that specifically require Google to “forget” people if requested. Meanwhile, it has succeeded in raising the ire of the current US government who have accused the search company of left-wing bias.
Despite becoming incorporated on September 4, the company celebrates its birthday over three weeks later, on September 27. And even though the company incorporated in 1998, Brin and Page started working together on a search tool called BackRub in early 1996 – named because it looked at backlinks in webpages. And the google.com domain was registered a year earlier on September 25,1997.
From search, to Gmail, to G Suite, Android and myriad other tools, almost every internet user has some connection to Google.
Regardless of when the real date is, Google has decided 27 September is their day. And while its reach into our lives, accusations of bias and complete revolution of the advertising industry could be seen in negative terms, there’s no doubt the company that started in a Stanford dorm room has had a massive impact on how we see the web today.