It was the year 1995. India was still reeling under the DDLJ Raj-Simran onslaught, liberalisation was taking hold of the country, which meant cable TV access for everyone and, perhaps, most poignant of all, we were still unaware of how one net – the Internet – was going to change the world, take it over and remake it in its own model.
Across the pond (and three continents) in the US, the Internet and World Wide Web had caught the imagination of the world and Microsoft was quietly on its way to catching up with IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell. And at California’s Stanford University’s campus a couple of twenty-year-olds met each for the first time.
And an idea was born.
An idea that has since become part of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, become synonymous with Search in the modern world; is so ubiquitous it’s now more than a name, a brand, a technology. It is the very symbol that all of the internet stands for.
That idea was called Google (taken from the math term ‘googol’ which stands for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros), and it just turned 18 this year.
In most countries in the world, 18 is considered to be an important age: an adult age. You can drink, vote, drive, even get married when you turn 18 (although it is wiser to wait a few years before you do all three together!) 18 is the year of responsibility and choices, of looking back at the choices that shaped your formative years.
And it is with this thought in mind that we, at Inc42, look at a few of the most important developments that have occurred at Google over the last 18 years:
The Initial Years
In 1996, the friendship solidified into business and the duo came up with BackRub, a search engine that operated on Stanford’s servers for more than a year before being shut down due to bandwidth restraints.
On September 15, 1997 Google.com was registered as a domain. The vision behind the name? Larry and Sergey’s mission is to organise the seemingly infinite amount of information available on the World Wide Web.
In 1998, Google Inc, flush with funds from Andy Bechtolsheim, opened in Susan Wojcicki’s garage on Santa Margarita Avenue in Menlo Park, the heart of Silicon Valley after creating their first doodle for Burning Man.
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June 1999 saw Google raising a $25 Mn funding round from Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins.
2000 saw Google AdWords going live with 350 customers and the search toolbar comes to rest on the web, making it redundant to visit the website in order to conduct internet searches from users’ webpages.
In 2001, Google Images was launched with 250 Mn images sourced from all over the world. In 2013, Google announced that it had indexed 1 Tn images. The growth rate is an unparalleled 4000%.
2002 saw major product development in the form of Google Labs, which lets users try out beta technologies and was the proving ground for many Google features, such as Google Transit, Google Scholar, and Google Trends. It was shut down in 2012 as other product efforts took precedence.
Pyra Labs, the creators of blogging platform Blogger was acquired by Google in 2003. As per recent reports, 300+ Mn users visit Blogger every month. Google’s global coding competition CodeJam was also instituted for the first time ever in California.
2004 was a banner year for Google. The now-defunct Orkut got launched (it officially shut down in 2016), an IPO offering was made for Google Inc at an opening price of $85 per share ($810 as on date), and with the acquisition of Keyhole, Google Earth’s technology was made available.
But, most importantly, Gmail or Google Mail was launched on April 1, 2004, April Fool’s Day. An invite-only email software in the beginning, it boasted of 1 Bn users in February 2016.
In 2004, Google also entered India with offices in Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
Google Talk, the earliest form of messenger and the only one to take on Yahoo! and AOL came to town in 2005. In its nascent form, it was a separately downloadable app. Then it integrated with Gmail in 2006, taking email-messaging-communication to the next level. Google Maps and Google Earth was also unveiled in 2005.
Innovating For The Future In The Now
In 2006, YouTube, an online platform for uploading and sharing videos with a user base of 50 Mn at the time, was bought by Google for $1.65 Bn. An amount that seemed egregious back then, but YouTube is now synonymous with online video, as much as Google is with knowledge. Google had beat out major competitors such as Yahoo, Microsoft and Viacom for the deal.
November 2007 saw the launch of Google Android, a smartphone-specific open operating system for mobile users. A collaboration with a few other major companies (Apple excluded) was also announced with the Open Handset Alliance.
In 2008, Autocomplete was introduced to help formulate queries, reduce spelling errors, and reducing keystrokes. Chrome, Google’s very own web browser also debuted with a comic book leaking the story one day before the actual launch. Chrome now goes head-to-head with Safari, Mozilla’s Firefox, and Opera web browsers.
At the very beginning of the smartphone takeover, Google introduced Voice Search on Android and Google Voice in 2009. With both the features, phone users can use voice to complete searches and do other tasks on their phones at the touch of a single button, making mobile web browsing fast and convenient.
In 2010, Person Finder was launched in the wake of the Haiti earthquake that had a magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter Scale. Person Finder was also activated during the Tsunami in Japan in 2012 among other global disasters. In the same year, Google withdrew from China citing cyberattack and censorship issues and now operates out of a domain in Hong Kong.
The Next Decade
In 2011, Larry took over as CEO of Google (he was previously President of Products and Technology along with Brin). With Chromebooks (Samsung and Acer) coming into the market, Google entered the laptop manufacturing market. Android 4.0 (Ice-cream Sandwich) made an appearance for smartphones and tablets, intuitively changing the way the smartphone interface.
In 2012, Google Drive and Google Now took the storing of information and accessing customised information to a new level. Android Market got rebranded as Google Play Store. Meanwhile, on YouTube, a phenomenon known as Psy debuts with a video ‘Gangnam Style’ that became the most-watched video at the time with 1 Bn views.
In 2013, the Kitkat upgrade was rolled out on all Android phones while the overall number of Android device activations passed 1 Bn. Project Loon, an initiative to bring internet connectivity to those remote areas with no connectivity through the use of weather balloons, was piloted in Piaui, Brazil in the same year.
2014 saw the rollout of Android One phones in India, the largest market for smartphones in the world apart from China, with a 1.3 Bn population. Self-driving car prototypes were unveiled as well as Make for Code, a programming initiative encouraging girls to learn software coding.
2015 saw the biggest shift in Google’s corporate structure with the announcement of the formation of parent company Alphabet Inc., which now controls all the other products and ventures such as Google X, Fiber, Nest, and Google (Android, Search, YouTube, Maps, Ads and Apps).
It also appointed Sundar Pichai as Google’s CEO in August 2015, in a move to establish Google as a separate product-only brand. Larry Page and Sergey Brin gave up their reins at Google to take over at Alphabet, and Larry is now Alphabet’s CEO.
2016 saw the introduction of a messaging app Allo, to take on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. India too came in focus with country-specific initiatives such as the impending release of a Hindi assistant inside Allo app, Google Station WiFi platform, and YouTube Go for users with slower connectivity and bandwidth issues.
So, there you have it folks. 18 years and an incredible number of innovations all designed to integrate one word into our psyche, our very consciousness: Google.
[Graphics by Satya Yadav]