Google at 21: a brief history of the world's biggest search engine

The world's biggest search engine is on its way to becoming a trillion-dollar company

September 27 marks Google's 21st birthday, celebrated in this Google Doodle. Courtesy Google
September 27 marks Google's 21st birthday, celebrated in this Google Doodle. Courtesy Google

Today marks a milestone birthday for Google, the big 21, making the search engine officially grown up by American standards.

On September 27, 1998, Google answered its first query, changing the digital world forever. Its conception was dreamt up by two Stanford Ph.D. students, Sergey Brin and Lawrence (Larry) Page, who published a paper about launching a prototype of a “large-scale search engine.”

What's in a name?

The pair had developed a search algorithm in 1996 known as “BackRub”, on which Google was eventually based. The name was a happy accident, coming from a misspelling of “googol”, the word which refers to the largest number of decimal notation – one followed by 100 zeros - something which they thought represented their goal of building a very large-scale search engine.

FILE - This Nov. 1, 2018, file photo shows a photo of the Google logo at their offices in Granary Square, London. The European Court of Justice's ruled Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, that there is no obligation under EU law, for a search engine operator to extend beyond the EU member states the court's 2014 ruling that people have the right to control what appears when their name is searched online. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)
The Google logo at their offices in Granary Square, London. AP

By the end of 1998, Google had indexed more than 60 million pages and was quickly becoming the web’s biggest search engine, overtaking portal sites such as AOL.com or Yahoo!

By the early 2000s, Google was selling advertising based on keyword searches and had become a rapidly growing company. Google had amassed $7 billion Dh25.7 billion) from the sale of stocks and shares by 2005.

The journey to trillion-dollar company

The search engine continued to grow and expand, launching new services including maps, images, Gmail, Google+ and Google News. In November 2006, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock and by September 2008, it had developed its own Android operating system – the most widely used OS in the world.

Today, at the age of 21, it operates all over the world in more than 100 languages, answering trillions of search queries each year. According to latest figures, Google is forecast to become a trillion-dollar company by 2020, joining the likes of Apple and Microsoft. Not bad for a 21-year-old.

Published: September 27, 2019 10:59 AM

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