Here's everything you need to know about Google on its 20th birthday

A logo is pictured at Google's European Engineering Center in Zurich, Switzerland July 19,  2018   REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

From goats and googols to the world's biggest search engine. Image: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
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The world’s most popular search engine began as a geeky idea between two PhD students working out of university dorm rooms. Google now employs 60,000 people in 50 countries and drives web searches around the world.

Armed with a $100,000 check from a Silicon Valley investor, Google Inc. came to life on 4 September 1998. In a few short years the search page, with all that empty white space, became iconic.

20 years of search

September 24th marks 20 years of its search engine. According to Smart Insights, nearly three-quarters of internet searches were made using Google in 2017 and each day across the globe, we make 3.5 billion Google searches (that's 1.2 trillion a year).

What we're searching for also gives a useful insight into the world, what's interesting us and what's been going on in the news.

Take the top 5 most popular searches last year: Hurricane Irma, iPhone 8, iPhone X, Matt Lauer and Meghan Markle.

Compare this to 2007, when the top searches were iPhone, Badoo, Facebook, Dailymotion and Webkinz.

Want to know more? Well, just google it - the search engine's popularity is perhaps best summed up by the fact 'to google' has become a verb in its own right.

5 things to know about Google

The business behind it all is now headquartered in the vast Mountain View complex in Silicon Valley. It’s a long way from the suburban garage where the company was born. Here are a few fun facts about the company's early days you might not know.

1. The Google founders met when Sergey Brin showed Larry Page around

The two men behind one of the world’s most successful companies first encountered each other at Stanford University in 1995. Second-year computer science student Brin volunteered to show potential first-year entrants around the campus, and Page, an engineering major from the University of Michigan, was assigned to Brin’s care.

Some accounts paint a rocky picture of the pair’s interaction throughout the year that followed. Brin himself spoke to Wired magazine about his early time with Page, stating: “We both found each other obnoxious”. But they were drawn together and soon formed a lasting partnership.

Watch Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin talk with the WEF's Klaus Schwab at Davos 2017.


2. The first server was housed in Lego

 The colourful design of the first search engine
A creative solution to a storage problem Image: Modern Hoot

In 1996, PhD students Page and Brin were developing their Pagerank algorithm as part of the Stanford University Computer Science Department’s Digital Library Project.

To test their algorithm the pair needed more storage space than the 4GB maximum disc capacity available at the time.

Always known for unorthodox work practices, they assembled 10 of the 4GB discs into a low-cost, brightly coloured cabinet made of Lego bricks, and the world’s first search engine was born.

Have you read?

3. Google’s search engine was originally called Backrub

Thankfully the name didn’t stick.

The search engine’s name is now also a verb. "Just google it" is a common refrain in millions of homes and offices. If the original name had remained, we might be urging family and work colleagues to "just backrub it". Or maybe not.

4. Google is a play on the word googol

Having abandoned Backrub, the rebranded search engine took its new name from a play on words. More specifically a play on the word googol, which is the mathematical term for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros.

The vast scale of a googol seemed to reflect the company’s aim of organizing, processing and accessing a world of information.

5. The first Google doodle was a stick figure telling visitors the staff was at Burning Man festival

 The Burning Man stick figure
The inaugural Google doodle Image: Google

Doodles are known for celebrating the achievements of historic figures or commemorating important world events. But they weren’t always used for such noble purposes.

The first doodle appeared in 1998 as a stick figure depicting a Burning Man festival effigy. Far from reflecting important milestones, the doodle was the company’s way of telling site visitors that the whole staff had abandoned their posts to attend the event in the Nevada desert.

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