From Humble Beginnings to Tech Giant
September 2023 marks Google’s 25th anniversary. It’s a milestone worth celebrating as we reflect on the journey of a search engine that has become synonymous with finding answers on the internet.
Google was chosen as the “most useful word of 2002” and added to the Oxford English Dictionary on June 15 2006. It must feel pretty amazing when your brand name becomes an actual verb in the official English dictionary.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to recall a time when we couldn’t simply “Google it” and instantly access answers. Over the last 25 years, Google has quietly underpinned our daily lives, serving as the backdrop to every problem, debate and curiosity.
Let’s take a look at Google’s humble beginnings, it’s monopoly of the search engine wars and what the future might look like for Google.
A Brief History
Google was founded in September 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Ph.D. students at Stanford University in California. Initially, they developed a search engine called “Backrub” as part of a research project to explore the link structure of the worldwide web.
Fortunately, they renamed their project Google. The name was derived from the word “googol” which is the name for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros. You might remember this was one of the questions that “coughing” Charles Ingram was given on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, before he and two accomplices were arrested and charged with conspiring to cheat to win the £1 million jackpot.
Google’s breakthrough came with its PageRank algorithm, which measured the importance of web pages based on the number and quality of links pointing to them. This innovation revolutionised web search by delivering more relevant results, and Google quickly gained a reputation for providing superior search capabilities. Its clean and minimalist interface, combined with its highly effective search algorithms, made it a favourite among users looking for information on the internet.
By the end of 1999, Google was processing over 3 million daily search queries – and nothing else could compete.
Webcrawler, Infoseek, AskJeeves, Lycos and AltaVista emerged throughout the 1990s and early 2000’s, but they used simple keyword indexing and didn’t rank pages by relevance like Google’s PageRank algorithm.
In 2015, Google became the main subsidiary of the holding company, Alphabet. Other milestones include its acquisition of Android in 2005, YouTube in 2006, Doubleclick in 2007 and DeepMind (AI) in 2014, the development of the Nexus One mobile phone in 2010, the Chrome OS in 2011, Google Glass in 2012, Chromecast video streaming in 2013 and Google Assistant in 2016.
The Importance of Susan Wojcicki
Upon completing her MBA in 1998, Susan Wojcicki (the now CEO of YouTube) bought a 2,000-square-foot house in the Bay Area of California. To help pay her mortgage, she rented out her garage to Page and Brin to work on their web research project.
In 1999, Susan Wojcicki joined the Google team as the company’s first Marketing Manager. One of her early projects was to liven up the Google logo for holidays and special events. These are now known as Google Doodles and are a huge part of the brand.
By 2006, she was running Google Videos. Around the same time, a video-sharing website called YouTube was growing in popularity and attracting millions of users. Wojcicki already knew that user-generated videos had huge potential for growth, mostly from observing her own children and how they engaged with online content. After crunching some serious numbers, she eventually managed to convince Page and Brin to buy YouTube for $1.65 billion.
Google’s Competition: Responses and History
Over the past 25 years, Google has faced competition from various other search engines.
Microsoft’s MSN Search and Internet Explorer became dominant players in the late 1990’s, launched as part of an add-on package for Windows 95. In fact, Internet Explorer went on to gain around 90% browser market share in the early 2000s, but it lagged in supporting new web standards. Google launched its Chrome browser in 2008, aiming to provide a faster and more secure browsing experience. Chrome gradually gained market share and is now one of the most popular web browsers worldwide. As of 2022, Microsoft Edge (formerly Internet Explorer) has about 4% global browser market share, making it the second most popular desktop behind Chrome which boasts a 65% share.
Despite AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft being major competitors of Google by offering services such as email, instant messaging, and online communities, Google has always responded with excellent offerings: Google Mail (or Gmail), Google Talk (later Hangouts) and Google+ ensured the company positioned itself as a comprehensive online service provider.
In the realm of online advertising, Google faced competition from companies like Yahoo’s Overture (later known as Yahoo Search Marketing) and Microsoft’s adCenter (now part of Microsoft Advertising). However, Google’s AdWords platform, introduced in 2000, revolutionised online advertising with its pay-per-click (PPC) model and precise targeting options, making it the go-to platform for advertisers.
In the smartphone era, Google’s Android operating system became a major competitor to Apple’s iOS. Android’s open-source nature allowed it to be adopted by numerous device manufacturers, contributing to its rapid growth in the mobile market. Google’s acquisition of Android Inc. in 2005 paved the way for the development of a powerful mobile ecosystem.
In recent years, Google has faced competition in various other domains – from cloud computing (challenging Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure) to productivity software (competing with Microsoft Office through Google Workspace, formerly G Suite).
But despite fierce competition, Google has maintained its position as the leading search engine and a dominant force in the tech industry. Its parent company, Alphabet Inc., has continued to innovate and diversify its portfolio of products and services.
Google’s Challenges: SEO, Monetisation and Emerging Alternatives
Over the past 25 years, Google has quietly organised vast amounts of information on the web to fit its ranking criteria. In many ways, the internet has become more machine-readable than human-readable, catering to Google’s algorithms. Almost everything you encounter on the web has been optimised for Google’s understanding.
People love asking Google questions, and Google loves monetising those queries.
However, Google Search now faces a complex set of AI-related challenges that could threaten its very existence.
The first challenge is one of Google’s own creation: the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) machine has gradually eroded the user experience of web searching. Many users now feel that searching for information on Google has become an increasingly frustrating experience, marred by content optimised solely for search rankings and monetisation at the expense of user value.
This leads to a second, more recent challenge: AI and chat-based search tools like Microsoft’s Bing, ChatGPT, ClaudeAI and Meta’s LLaMA are emerging as the future of search, without replicating Google’s revenue model.
If Google Search quality continues to decline, users may migrate to these other alternatives – a transition that startups and well-funded competitors are more than happy to facilitate.
Voice search is also growing rapidly with the adoption of Amazon’s Alexa, although Google Assistant is well positioned with its own hands-free help and the option to use Voice Match to link your voice to the device.
Google’s costly partnerships with device makers like Apple and Samsung, for default search engine status, further adds to their financial pressure. They reportedly paid Apple $15 billion in 2021 to keep Google as the default search engine on all their newly manufactured devices.
While all of this isn’t a prediction of immediate doom for Google, it is an indicator of a fast-changing landscape. These challenges mark the first serious threats to Google search in two decades, and their impact could be profound.
Google’s Continued Dominance in 2023
As of July 2023, Google continues to reign supreme as the undisputed leader in the desktop search market, boasting an impressive 83.49% market share, according to research company Statista.
Despite the emergence of powerful generative AI technologies, Google appears unchallenged in its dominance. For now.
Attempting to predict the future of technology is a risky endeavour, but Google has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to adapt and evolve in response to emerging challenges and opportunities. However, the dynamic nature of the technology landscape means that new innovations can emerge unexpectedly, potentially reshaping the competitive landscape.
In all likelihood, Google will remain a central fixture in our digital lives for the foreseeable future. Its widespread use and integration into various aspects of our online experience make it an indispensable tool for so many of us.
Nevertheless, awareness of the evolving tech industry will continue to be essential. As we know, disruptive changes can occur rapidly – even for a tech giant as dominant as Google.
So we’re wishing Google a very happy 25th birthday! Here’s to the next 25 years of Google’s continued success and groundbreaking advancements.