As Google turns 21 today, there can be no better time to review the last 21 years of the all-powerful search engine.
On 27 September 1998, Sergey Brin and Larry Page launched an early prototype of what they called a ‘large scale search engine’ while studying for their PhDs at Stanford University.
Explaining the name, the pair noted: “We chose our systems name, Google, because it is a common spelling of googol, or 10100 and fits well with our goal of building very large-scale search engines.”
The scale of this company’s expansion has been unimaginable. In just two decades years, the experimental project of these two students has become integral to the lives of many, while they have become billionaires.
In 1999, Google moved its offices to Silicon Valley and began to enjoy extensive growth over the next year. In 2000, then-web giant Yahoo chose Google as its default search browser.
The verb ‘to google’ was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006, meaning “to type words into the search engine Google in order to find information about somebody/something”.
Google’s search engine still dominates the Western world as the default way to navigate the internet.
Microsoft’s Bing has tried and failed to take its crown, while privacy-centric web search tools like Duck Duck Go have proven to be niche.
It has a near-total monopoly over the search engine market, with a 92.3 per cent market share worldwide as of August, according to Statcounter. In the last 10 years, Google’s market share has not dropped below 88 per cent, leagues ahead of any other competitor.
That dominance has seen it rake in $148bn (£120bn) in revenue – mainly from ads – in the 12 months to June. But it has also attracted the attention of the regulators, with the EU fining Google billions for various infringements of competition law
This has culminated in a €4.3 bn (£3.8 bn) fine for abusing the dominance of its open source Android mobile operating system, as well as a €2.4bn fine for downgrading rivals’ ranking in its search results, and a €1.5bn fine for abusing its Adsense product
It has also made some very public missteps elsewhere.
In July 2019, Google terminated Project Dragonfly, an attempt to release a censored search engine in China. A former Google staffer had called the project “disturbing”, after accusations that the company was working with the Chinese military.
Meanwhile allegations that Google paid off former employees over sexual harassment allegations prompted mass staff walkouts from Google campuses across the world.
Still, Google continues to expand undaunted, and almost everyone with an internet connection relies on the company to help run their day to day lives.
Google’s achieved more than most 21-year-olds, but perhaps it’s time it grows up a bit.