Published on March 10th, 2013 | by Justin Revell
The Rise of Google
Google has come a long way in its short 17 year history, progressing from a simple research project to a technology giant. The $90 billion company is now a staple of the Internet, and is slowing reaching into hardware production with their Android phones, acquisition of Motorola Mobility, and recently increases in Chromebook models for sale. Many people aren’t fully aware of just how much Google does. A few years ago, many people might have simply identified the company as a search engine. Now people might also mention the Android operating system. But few would be likely to mention services like Gmail or YouTube, even though they use them every day. Even less people know about services like Google Talk or Google Reader. Google offers several hundred services, ranging from major applications used by millions of people to small tools used by just a few thousand webmasters. The company is so big that it has retired products like Google Wave because the several million active users it had weren’t enough to make it worth their time. Let’s take a look at the history of the mammoth company.
Stanford students Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google as an experiment to improve Internet search engines. Other search websites existed at he time, but either used poorly constructed algorithms or human curators to compile their databases. Sergey and Larry’s project, called BackRub, used a technique they named PageRank to analyze the relationships between websites. HyperText Markup Language (HTML), the language used to build websites, is based around the idea that each page uses links, or hypertext, to reference other pages. Larry and Sergey theorized that pages with more links pointing to them were more likely to be found, and would be more popular. BackRub analyzed the number of backlinks (links) pointing to a page, and inferred popularity from that number. This new idea offered a significant over other search engines, which relied on keyword frequency to rank pages. PageRank tended to return more relevant results and not be as susceptible to spam.
Google’s search algorithm is what made it so popular, and is a heavily guarded secret by the company. Not only would leaking information about it allow competitors to catch up, it would also clue in spammers as to how they could get their websites above other, more relevant sites. Google has said that they currently use over 200 factors to determine that ranking of a webpage. Features like personalization based on location and search history also factor into how they determine search results, making it difficult to track what changes affect search ranking.
Google Instant was released in 2010 as a way to improve the searching process. Google Instant shows predicted search results as you type, enabling users to find what they’re looking for before they finish their query. It also shows results for some specific, common searches, like the weather, straight on the results page. Google offers several features like this including a calculator, unit converter, stock quotes, dictionary definitions, movie show times, and other information. This information is complied by Google and available right on the results page.
In early 2011, Google announced a major update to their search ranking algorithm, code named “Panda.” Panda aimed to lower the ranking of sites with lots of advertising or duplicate articles and little quality content. About a year later, the “Penguin” update was released, further penalizing website for using unethical search optimization techniques, such as keyword stuffing or link trading. Google is constantly tweaking their algorithm, and the entire Search Engine Optimization industry exists around the idea of trying to figure out how to get website well ranked and thus visible to Internet searchers.
Google has continued to branch out even further. In 2010 they announced plans to built a fiber optic network. They recently deployed this network in Kansas City, KS, offering gigabit speed Internet service to residents at an extremely low cost. Over the years Google has purchased a number of companies and expanded into various markets. Some of their most prominent acquisitions include FeedBurner (2007), DoubleClick (online advertising, 2007), and YouTube (2006). These trends show no sign of stopping, and Google will continue to grow, branch out, and improve their current products in the future.