Throughout my attendance of the Digital Citizenship module classes in NUIG and further studies on the various topics discussed in class, I noticed that technology and the Internet were key topics associated with the digital age. For me, and I am sure for many others also, I cannot think of the Internet without Google also coming to mind. Google itself seems to be the Internet, two inseparable bodies. In this blog I wish to delve into the history of Google- its past and its humble beginnings, its present and what it is like today with its numerous successes and failures and finally, I wish to explore the possible future of Google and gain an insider’s look into its fate. Overall, a brief but nonetheless, hopefully insightful exploration. Google Inc. was formally incorporated on September 7, 1998 (McCullough, 2017) by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Now under the parent company Alphabet Inc., Google undoubtedly is the top search engine in the world (Bhangu, 2017). It has successfully infiltrated itself into everyday life, becoming a popular household name. However, Google is more than simply Google the search engine. The company also provides a range of services online- some a success for the company, others not so much. These services include but are not restricted to Gmail, Google Drive, Google Plus, Google Translate, Google Maps etc. Google has become a versatile tool to assist that is used worldwide and “google is on the frontline of technological development” contends Kiss (2017). At the end of 2016, Google employed over 70000 full time employees all around the world (Farfan, 2017). Google’s achievement in filtering through our lives has been a fluctuation of both highs and lows for the company, with an enormous amount of time, money and energy being invested into it in order to keep it at its number one place.
Google originally was not set out to be Google. Its birth begins with two Stanford students Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who later co-founded Google. The two students instantly became an inseparable pair and would work together on their dissertations in Office 360 in the newly opened William Gates Computer Science building on Stanford’s campus, named after Bill Gates co-founder of Microsoft which proves to be ironic since the birth of Microsoft’s biggest contender “for dominance of the tech industry” began in a building named after Microsoft’s co-founder (McCullough, 2017). Even before Google was established it was clear that whatever Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with, it would be something that would take the world by storm. McCullough highlights that “their intellectual fearlessness overlapped in such a way that their conflicting personalities actually ended up complimenting each other” (2017). Upon simply noticing the lack of relevant links that appeared when using the available search engines online at the time, which included WebCrawler, Lycos, AltaVista, Excite and Yahoo etc (Lee, 2015), an idea to map the web’s links was mulled over, later leading to the introduction of the project Backrub by Larry Page. Search bots, known as “spiders,” were sent out into the web to find all the links of the Internet. Following Sergey Brin’s quick joining in of the project came PageRank. “PageRank is used by Google together with a number of different factors, including standard IR measures, proximity, and anchor text (text of links pointing to Web pages) in order to find most relevant answers to a given query” (Bianchini, 2005). PageRank didn’t find things that other search engines could not, it just simply found the top most relevant result and placed it on the first page. The idea that Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with was ingenious, however they faced difficulties in getting investment. Instead of despairing however, they launched the search engine to the general public in 1997. “Through nothing but word of mouth, the service grew increasingly popular, serving more than ten thousand queries a day by late 1998” (McCullough, 2017). “We chose our system name, Google, because it is a common spelling of googol, or 10100 and fits well with our goal of building very large-scale search engines.” (Brin and Page, 1998). Larry Page and Sergey Brin invested all the money they had into the project and later received $25 million from Kleiner’s John Doeer and Seequoia’ Mike Mortiz (McCullough, 2017). A partnership with Yahoo was made official in June of 2000. This deal “allowed for a “powered by Google” logo to appear on Yahoo’s search pages, thereby introducing the Google brand to millions more mainstream web users” McCullough (2017) describes, “allowing daily searches served by Google to rise from 18-million a day before the Yahoo deal, to 60 million a day afterwards.” By early 2001, Google would pass the 100 million searches per day milestone. Despite some struggles in the early 2000s financial wise, Larry Page and Sergey Brin worked on Adwords, an improvement on a new Internet advertising model called Overture. “By improving on Overture’s pioneering work with paid links, Google was able to achieve something just as amazing: it made the internet profitable” (McCullough, 2017)”. This was the game changer. From then on, it can be said, the rest is history.
At present Google now equips the Internet with a range of online applications. Though useful features allow us to explore the city of Tokyo on Google Maps or translate Irish into Swedish using Google Translate etc, there is a rising cause for concern with the amount of power Google now has. Every Google application requires personal details that include home addresses and sometimes credit card details etc. A rather startling discovery I noted was on Google Maps. Under the options setting I noticed features titled “Your Places” and “Your Timeline”. As an Android user which is the mobile smartphone software Google owns, it seems every time I use Google Maps, it is recorded. The timeline feature recorded that I was searching for a particular venue in say Cork, for example, on a particular day at a particular time. It has lines drawn showing where I travelled from to where I travelled to. Why? I do not know. Why does Google feel the need to record this information? Perhaps some perceive it as a handy tool that allows them to see all the places they have been and the routes they have taken. This also gives rise to the question as to how many people actually know about this feature? I only recently discovered it by complete accident. To have Google know exactly where my home address is and to have it know that I am indeed home is a scary thought. Similarly, Gmail is another application of Google that requires a lot of its user’s personal information in order to be used. It can be said that privacy is basically non-existent on the Internet and knowing there are those who have access to private details is another worrisome topic. This brings up the question of Google security. How secure is it now? And how long before the levels of security deteriorate even further? With the mention of privacy also comes to mind the failure of Google Glass. Failure may be too strong of a word, it perhaps was just before its time. Undoubtedly though a revival of Google Glass will be seen in the future for a personal use, as the digital age continues. “We define smart glasses as wearable computers with a mobile Internet connection that are worn like glasses or that mount on regular glasses to display information in the user’s view field” (Brem et al, 2015). Brem et al further explains that “a camera, a microphone, and a GPS receiver capture information from the physical world. A prism positioned in front of the user’s right eye displays virtual information in the user’s view field” (2015). Google, in 2013, introduced the concept of the Google Glass launch which would be the first smart glass to be used for personal use. Google Glass was test marketed to a small number of people in the US and announced it would be launched fully to the US towards late 2014 (Google, 2014). The usage of Google Glass has been revived however, in a business sense. “Google Glass 2.0 is a hardware revamp of the Glass in a similar design. Now it’s being targeted as a wearable for business use” (Stein, 2017). Stein further elaborates “Glass Enterprise Edition, as it’s being called, is only available via what it calls Glass Partners, companies that are making specific, customized versions for clients” (2017). This failure turned somewhat success is typical for Google. Larry Page and Sergey Brin when employing their masses, employed people who had the same mindset as them, to never give up and persevere no matter what the challenge ahead may have been.
Google’s future relies largely on its second current CEO Sundar Pichai who follows in the footsteps of Larry Page (who is now CEO of Alphabet Inc.). In an interview that questioned the initiative to reach the “next billion” smartphone users in India which was referred to as a “kind of technological imperialism, bulldozing a way into the developing world” Sundar Pichai responded that he wanted Google to be “a global company” (Kiss, 2017). “When Pichai talks about the next billion people about to come online with smartphones, I get the impression that, for him, Google’s monetization strategy really is secondary to Pichai’s stated goal: giving people everywhere the power of Google’s machine learning whenever and wherever they need it. He’s clearly proud of the fact that Google’s products work the same whether you’re a billionaire or a rural farmer in a far-flung place. And Pichai’s vision is to ensure that dedication becomes a part of everything Google makes” (Bohn, 2015).
Sundar Pichai is highly regarded in Google, having joined over 10 years ago in 2004. He is thoughtful and considerate and has made several contributions to Google’s overall success. He was involved in a team that ultimately lead to the release of Google Chrome. “Chrome was released in 2008 and now accounts for nearly 60% of the market, according to NetMarketShare, while Internet Explorer languishes on less than 16%” (Kiss, 2017). This huge success as well as Sundar Pichai’s own ambition has led him to be the perfect successor of Larry Page. He proves himself often, perhaps even more so than Larry Page and Sergey Brin did. Google is now in its peak which, as Sundar Pichai highlights has its own difficulties. “As a company, we end up being a symbol for many things…When we make mistakes it is very costly.” Kiss further describes how Sundar Pichai fired an engineer who penned a 10-page memo claiming that “the lack of women in tech was due to biological differences” (2017). Sundar Pichai works relentlessly to ensure equality and fairness is to the forefront of Google’s image. At its annual developer conference, Google I/O, Sundar Pichai stated “We are focused on our core mission of organising the world’s information for everyone and approach this by applying deep computer science and technical insights to solve problems at scale” (Solon, 2017). Google I/O also gave an insight as to what else Google plans to do in the future. Lens will be a feature that will work to “understand” what you’re looking at. Thus, you can point the camera at a flower and it will identify the species or automatically connect to a wifi network by showing the camera the login details printed on the sticker on the router. You can also hold your camera up to a restaurant in the street and see reviews” (Solon, 2017). Following Lens there shall be an upgrade to Google’s version of the iPhone’s Siri, Google Home. “Google Home will offer “proactive assistance” rather than waiting for you to say “OK, Google” to wake it up” (Solon, 2017). Solon further elaborates with the example that Google Home “might notify you if you have to leave your house earlier than expected because traffic is particularly heavy” (2017). This concept though useful, does create fears.
Google, though only officially “alive” for less than twenty years, has already lived a vivid life. At the top of its game we digital citizens can only watch it and see where it shall be in another twenty years to come. What started off as a humble search engine project in a dorm room in Stanford University, Google has taken the world by storm and will likely continue to do so for years to come, accumulating an even more varied and rich history in its progress under the watchful eyes of Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Sundar Pichai.
- Bhangu, G. (2017) Top 10 Most Popular Search Engines in the World. ITechWorld, June 15
- Bianchini, M., Gori, M., Scarselli, F. (2005) Inside PageRank. ACM Transactions on Internet Technology, Vol 5(1), pp.92-128
- Bohn, D. (2015) Sundar Pichai Inside the mind of the man behind Google’s most important products. The Verge, May 29
- Brem, A., Bjoern S. I., Rauschnabel, P.A. (2015) Who will buy smart glasses? Empirical results of two pre-market-entry studies on the role of personality in individual awareness and intended adoption of Google Glass wearables. Computers in Human Behavior, Vol 49, pp. 635-647
- Brin, S. and Page, L. (1998) The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine. In: Seventh International World-Wide Web Conference (WWW 1998), April 14-18, 1998, Brisbane, Australia
- Farfan, B. (2017) Google World Headquarters and Other Locations. The Balance, August 18
- Kiss, J. (2017) Google CEO Sundar Pichai: ‘I don’t know whether humans want change that fast’. The Guardian, October 7
- Lee, J. (2015) 7 Search Engines that rocked before Google even existed. MakeUseOf, November 30
- McCullough, B. (2017). The History of Google. [podcast] The History of Google. Available at: http://www.internethistorypodcast.com/2017/04/the-history-of-google/ [Accessed 26 Nov. 2017]
- Solon, O. (2017) Google’s future is useful, creepy and everywhere: nine things learned at I/O. The Guardian, May 18
- Stein, S. (2017) Google Glass returns: This time, it’s professional. CNE, July 18.
Niamh McGrenra is currently an undergraduate student in the Bachelor of Sciences (Applied Social Sciences) Degree Programme at the National University of Ireland Galway