Google’s Origin Story

Picture of By Rita Alves

By Rita Alves

At Stanford University where we lay our scene, Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page cross paths. A year later, their endeavors would begin to change the course of history as we know it, mastering the chaos and creating a life-saving search engine: Google. 

The prologue: The meet-cute

It all started in the summer of ’95. Sergey Brin, a computer science Ph.D. student at Stanford University, volunteered to be a tour guide for a group of potential future students. As fate would have it, Larry Page was in that group. It was  not love at first sight for these two, however. Both being rather opinionated, the two quickly started clashing with each other, disagreeing on practically everything. However, all of this would soon change. Less than a year later, the two became the innovative duo who embarked on the journey that brought to life Google as we know it.

Act I: BackRub

A few months after their memorable encounter, Page enrolled at the University of Stanford. While exploring topics for his thesis, inspired by the functionality of citations in academic papers, Page decided to explore the backlink structure of the internet. A backlink is essentially a link outside a certain domain, that points back to that certain domain, similar to how an academic paper may cite and hence provide a connection to another paper. During his investigation, Larry realized that similar to citations, the backlinks could provide an insight into the relevance of certain webpages. This led to the creation of the predecessor of Google: BackRub.

For BackRub to function, Page needed to be able to crawl through or analyze the millions of documents and information on the internet. Not only was the number of backlinks relevant, but also the importance of the source of those backlinks. And who should show up to help our hero? Mathematical prodigy Sergey Brin.

After hearing about Page’s endeavor while in search of his thesis topic, Brin became intrigued, and the two quickly joined forces. They developed an algorithm, which ranked webpages, benefiting those which had a greater number of backlinks and more significant sources. This was named PageRank, after Larry Page.

PageRank set Page’s and Brin’s search engine apart from other existing ones, which operated mainly based on the number of times a search term was on a webpage. This, however, wouldn’t be patented until 2001.

In 1996, about a year after they’d met, Page and Brin released an early version of BackRub on the Stanford website, as a test.

Act II: Googol Google

As the engine was further developed, a name change was necessary. Inspired by its ability to provide order and analyze a large number of data, the name ‘googol’ was proposed. A googol is a term, created by the 9-year-old nephew of the mathematician Edward Kasner, which means 10100 The term was created to simply describe a large quantity. How did we get from googol to google? Believe it or not, the great company we know by the name Google, the same name that even officially became a verb in 2006, is nothing but a misspelled word.  

Act III: Google Inc.

In the early days of Google, with few resources, the students had to be creative, turning Brin’s dorm room into a programming center, borrowing equipment from the network lab, and even creating server racks out of Lego.

A big leap in Google’s success occurred in 1998. With the help of Stanford University Professor David Cheriton, the two students met Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. After a quick demonstration of what Google was, and a brief discussion of a business plan, Bechtolsheim showed his support for the project, stating that he didn’t want them to worry about money and writing them a check. A check for $100 000. It was shortly after that Google Inc. was founded.  

With the investments, Google Inc. moved from the dorm rooms to Menlo Park, to the garage of  Susan Wojcicki, the current CEO of YouTube.

Later in 1998, Page and Brin found themselves on their way to the Burning Man festival. To inform staff and users that they wouldn’t be at the office, they decided to display a Burning Man-inspired stick man figure behind Google’s logo. This creative move was the first step to the creation of the now-iconic Google doodles. Finally, in 1999, Google removed its test status and was officially launched to the public. 

The epilogue: Google LLC

Since its creation, Google has grown to own several platforms, tech products, and services: From Gmail to Google Earth, to Google calendar, to Chrome, to YouTube, or even its classic search engine.

It currently employs over 60 000 people in 50 different countries. Its headquarters, the “Googleplex”, is currently situated in Mountain View, California. With nap pods, slides, goats instead of lawnmowers, and a T-Rex skeleton called Stan, the HQ is a physical representation of Google’s empire and innovation.  

Two men met in 1995. The rest, as they say, is history.

Cover: Mitchell Luo

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