Googling Google

Chances are, when you go online, you start with a search. And most web users search with Google.

Google began life in 1996 as a PhD project for two research students at Stanford - Larry Page and Sergey Brin. At the time, search engines were infamous for presenting irrelevant information. Pages were ranked according to how often they contained the particular “search term”. So, if we searched for “Einstein”, a page that discussed the family tree of a baker from Kyogle called Larry Einstein, which mentioned him umpteen dozen times, may well come up higher than an article about Albert Einstein, the patent clerk from Geneva.

Page and Brin hypothesised that you can rank the relevance of a web page according to the number of other web pages that link to it. So, using their search engine, the most highly ranked page would be the one that contained the word “Einstein”, and that had the most other pages linking to it. Relevance could be increased further if each of the linking pages were weighted against the number of pages that linked in turn to them, and so on. A mathematically sophisticated “Fame-O-Rama”, according to New Scientist. (The specific technical details of their relevance protocol remain a guarded secret).

They built a simple interface to present these results, and, rather carelessly, named it after the number googol. “Every Child’s Answer Book” had taught me that googol is the highest named number, being one followed by a hundred noughts.

Google began operations in 1998 from a friend’s garage. This would appear to be traditional in California.

QED

The company was floated on the NASDAQ in August 2004. At the time of writing Google has a market value nearing US$120 Billion. (The two original owners have 30% of the stock!) It would appear that their hypothesis has been proven correct.

Google now uses an estimated 100,000 linked Linux PCs to index the current crop of three billion web pages. They process more than 200 million search requests each day, handling each in less than half a second.

Googleplex

Google HQ (known as the Googleplex) is, apparently, a cool place to work - no doubt made cooler by the fact that many of the employees, initially paid with shares, have become “paper” millionaires. Google can search in 88 languages, including Pig Latin, Klingon, Elmer Fudd and Bork Bork Bork (as spoken by the Swedish Chef on the Muppets).

The Google logo changes regularly to reflect current events and seasons. A World Cup inspired logo appeared at the start of the tournament, with the cartoon player appearing to be wearing the Italian stripe! Google maintains an archive of these special logos dating back to 1999, some of which are quite clever.

April 1st is a particularly interesting day to check press releases from google.com. Last year saw the release of Google Gulp, a beverage that would optimise one’s use of the Google search engine by increasing the drinker’s intelligence through real-time analysis of the user’s DNA and carefully tailored adjustments to neurotransmitters in the brain.

The Business Plan

Google had revenue of US$6 billion last year, mainly through “keyword advertising”.

AdWords are the sponsored links displayed on the right hand side of a Google search results page. Advertisers can select the keywords relevant to their product or site, and their ads are then displayed on the appropriate search results page, sorted by how much they elected to pay per click (starting at 1c). After an activation fee (of $10), you pay only when a Google user clicks on your ad.

AdSense are the little text ads that appear on many websites with the caption “Ads by Goooooogle”. Website owners who join AdSense receive payment for all visitors who click on one of the links in these ads. The actual ads displayed are selected automatically by the Google relevance engine, based on the page’s contents. So a page about your dog Snoopy would receive ads related to pet care, presumably.

Branching Out

Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on other projects that interest them. Through this process, and through acquisitions, Google has expanded its operations into a number of different fields, including:

Google Books (books.google.com)

Google has started the scanning and digitising of the books contained in a number of the world’s leading libraries, including Harvard University Library and the Bodleian Library at Oxford. It plans to have completed 15 million volumes within a decade. You can search through the contents of books at books.google.com - the page reference and a small relevant excerpt from the text is displayed. Google claims that this is justifiable under the “Fair Use” provisions of the copyright act. A number of publishers disagree, and the courts will decide the matter in due course.

Google Scholar (scholar.google.com)

In November 2004, Google released Google Scholar, which indexes the full text of peer reviewed published literature across a range of publishing formats and fields. Results in Google Scholar are ranked by relevance based largely on the number of times the scholarly works have been cited in other works.

Google News (news.google.com)

Google news was launched last month as a fully fledged google service. It “aggregates” news from more than 4500 services, is updated continuously, and can be customised to a user’s interests and preferences.

Google Mail (mail.google.com)

Gmail is a free web mail service that provides a massive 2 GB of storage for each user. Store all your emails, and search them using the Google relevance engine.

Google Earth (earth.google.com)

A free application for Mac or Windows that enables you to view a satellite photo of any spot on earth, from any height, with relevant points of interest indicated. Fly from Nimbin to London in seconds, enjoying the view all the way, legally.

Google Video (video.google.com)

Google Video is the “world’s first open online video marketplace”, where you can search for, watch and buy a collection of TV shows, movies, music videos, documentaries, and personal productions, viewing them with your “Google Viewer”.

Google Calendar (calendar.google.com)

This web based application provides a simple and free way to organise your schedule and share events with friends and colleagues. Google calendar can integrate with Outlook and iCal, and has the advantage of being accessible online at any time. Make an entry at work, and your home diary will automatically be up to date. We are using Google Calendar at work to provide access to our on-call roster and reminder about particular meetings. We are using it at the Division so that members can integrate our CPD calendar into their own schedule.

Google Answers (answers.google.com)

If all this is too much, you can outsource your online research. Post your question, nominate how much you want to pay, and someone may tender to carry out the work for you. Answered questions remain available for all to read.

The Empire Strikes Back

Google’s success in becoming an indispensable part of each web user’s day has not gone unnoticed at Redmond. Microsoft and Google are now competitors in a number of web services. Rumours have it that Google plans to launch a Google web browser and possibly a linux based Google Operating System.

The rivalry reached the courts when a number of highly ranked employees left Microsoft and joined Google. We will be able to keep track of the action - with Google News on our Google Desktop through our Google Mail watching on the Google Video viewer. If the battlefield turns to Google Medicine, perhaps we will all be “acquired” and be able to retire as paper millionaires, drinking Google Gulp in the GooglePlex.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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