STANFORD TECHNOLOGY e-BRAINSTORM
The Newsletter of Stanford's Office of Technology Licensing (OTL)
Editor: Rich Scholes
Writer: Stefani Shek
Director: Katharine Ku
by Rich Scholes
Visitors to Google's Mountain View headquarters are passed by pool cue-carrying programmers, greeted by a friendly, jelly-bean-eating assistant and entertained by a monitor that continually scrolls a selection of in-process Google searches. Here, Google's unique corporate culture is as evident as on their website. Basing its company on creating the best search technology, and presenting it with playful and simple originality, Google's success is being sung by many top critics. From Fortune (November 8, 1999) to Time (December 20, 1999), magazine reviews of Google praise its effectiveness (http://www.Google.com/press.html). Users treasure Google's search speed and accuracy. They appreciate its lack of one-stop-portal-to-the-universe clutter and its abstinence from ambushing advertisements. As an upcoming search engine star, Google has greatly grown in technical prowess and creative presentation from its infancy in two Stanford dorm rooms.
Homegrown on the Farm
In the spring of 1995, Google's future co-founders first met at a social outing in San Francisco designed to welcome new applicants to Stanford's computer science doctoral program. That fall, Sergey Brin and Larry Page -- now Google's President and CEO respectively -- began their joint work on Stanford's Digital Library Project. Page, with web experience and a degree in electrical engineering, and Brin, with expertise in data mining and degrees in computer science and math, together created a data search algorithm, the technology that would become the heart of Google. After Google's lab inception, Brin and Page added their promising infant search engine to the Stanford website. As google.stanford.edu, first members of the Stanford community, then increasingly others, began to enjoy the upstart assistant and trust its ability to find what they wanted on the web.
Google soon overgrew the bounds of the lab of Page and Brin's principal investigator. Aptly named after a googol -- a one followed by 100 zeros -- Google began requiring expansive memory and ever-increasing processing speed to keep up with users' demand for search. Continually expanding, and drawing the attention of an exponentially increasing number of searchers, Google's commercial promise was becoming evident. In 1996, Brin and Page disclosed the technology to Stanford's Office of Technology Licensing (OTL), which contacted several internet companies to help identify industrial interest in Google.
And companies were interested. Several responded to OTL and more than one pursued in-depth negotiations for the technology. One company even bid a significant amount of money for Google, but none of the offers equaled Google's potential and no companies looked to be its ideal developers. For the next two years while continually completing a growing number of searches, the technology incubated in the OTL portfolio of promising Stanford technologies.
Google Makes Friends
Then, in 1998, things heated up. Brin and Page decided that, with the technology's quality and commercial potential, and their understanding of it, they wanted to start a company themselves. OTL discussed the prospect with them and decided Page and Brin would be good stewards of the technology, both because of Page and Brin's expertise and their vision for the technology's development.
Page turned his dorm room into Google's new home, importing computers to his bedside. And Google continued to grow. After overflowing from Page's dorm room, Brin's nearby room became the office, and Page's remained the data center. During Google's rapid growth, Brin recalls needing more computer memory: "We had to buy a terabyte [which cost about $15,000]... and put it on credit cards."
Brin and Page gathered money from family and close friends. Google's potential also attracted several notable investors, including Ram Shriram (past president of Junglee and VP of Business Development at Amazon.com) and Andy Bechtolsheim (co-founder of Sun Microsystems and current VP at Cisco Systems).
Bechtolsheim actually catalyzed Google's incorporation. Meeting at the home of a common friend, David Cheriton (a professor of Computer System Design at Stanford and co-founder of Granite Systems), Page, Brin, and Bechtolsheim discussed Google. After meeting for less than thirty minute, Bechtolsheim had heard enough and wrote out a check for $100,000, to "Google, Inc." Since Google didn't exist yet, Page and Brin promptly incorporated their newly discovered and partially financed company. (Later, in June 1999, Google's commercial promise was confirmed by its receipt of $25M in funding from investors including Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.)
In October 1998, searching for a new home for Google and their enlarging collection of Google-wares, Brin and Page convinced a friend to rent her garage and a spare room to them. Promptly running cords and "improving" her Menlo Park home, they added eight phone lines, a cable modem, and a DSL line. Soon they began hiring.
------------Google's Holiday Cheer: As with most holidays, February 2 brought a visitor. But unlike him, Google sees only sunny skies ahead.
After two months in Menlo Park, where it grew to eight people, Google moved to its high-visibility home in downtown Palo Alto. From its upstairs vantage near the west end of University Avenue, Google grew to thirty employees -- with around 500 computers at a data center racing to meet searchers' demand -- and continued to advance by its primary mode of advertisement, word of mouth.
By June 1999, Google made its first press release. By September it was completing 3.5 million searches per day, and by December 1999, it was conducting 6 million per day. Having grown by an order of magnitude a year, it presently executes over 11 million searches a day -- over 127 searches per second -- of which about half go through its site and half are >From other corporate sites. Currently it does about 7% of all searches on the internet. Utilizing over 3000 computers and 85 employees, Google's searches work.
Google's Ruthless Commitment to Search PageRank(TM), a reference-based ranking system, drives Google's technology. As Google's site describes, PageRank(TM) does calculations using 500 million variables and more than 2 billion terms to objectively measure the importance of a site for its searchers. "Google interprets a link from Page A to Page B as a vote by Page A for Page B. Google assesses a page's importance by the votes it receives. Google also analyzes the page that cast the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves 'important' weigh more heavily and help to make other pages 'important' (http://www.Google.com/pressrel/pressrelease4.html)."
As a result, Google is fast! According to Google, its average time from "Search" to find is 0.29 seconds. Likewise, searchers love Google. In an NPD Online Research (www.npd.com) survey of 39,000 respondents, Google scored first overall against 13 top search engine competitors, including HotBot, AltaVista, and Yahoo! (http://www.Google.com/pressrel/pressrelease9.html). On April 4, 2000, Google added a directory to their website. While many search engine directories are non-intuitive, Google's is well organized. Through a logical flow of keywords, Google guides searchers to site listings that are ordered using Google's signature PageRank technology. Like thier searches, Google's directory works.
Earning Money, Telling A Friend
You may ask -- with its clean home page and invisible advertisers -- how will Google generate profit? Its approach is two-tiered. First, it posts only search-specific advertisements. Breaking a basic rule of advertising, its main page -- the one most viewed by users -- is devoid of ads. But search for flowers and you find an ad for FTD (which is found in 0.25 seconds). Search for DSL -- up pops a Verio ad (a 0.2 second search). Unlike other search engines, Google runs ads that do not contain elaborate graphics. Rather, the way Google posts advertisements is in line with its corporate mission. The people at Google are committed to having the best search engine, so the ads are text based and thus fast-loading. In this way, they protect their central mission of maximizing search speed and accuracy, while providing advertisement for its sponsors and company-specific information to its searchers.
Second, Google earns income by working for other companies. Searches beyond the volume that other engines can handle are done by Google's WebSearch service. For instance, a majority of the searches attempted on Netscape Netcenter are actually overflowed to, and executed by, Google. Google is paid for its service and receives exposure by being listed among other search engines available on the Netscape page (http://home.netscape.com/escapes/search). Likewise, companies utilize Google's SiteSearch(TM) service to power searches of their corporate websites. For instance, Google powers the searching of RedHat.com's website.
In addition to its favored mode of advertisement -- word of mouth -- and ads on its corporate partners' sites, Google has done limited advertising by supporting local events and national media. Sightings have been made of Google pom-poms at home turf events like Stanford football games. Google has also sponsored programs on National Public Radio (NPR).
From its early years in the labs and dorms at Stanford to its current campaign for in-demand effectiveness, Google's rule-breaking presentation is original and its focus on creating the best search technology is unceasing. Utilizing $25M and an ever-growing staff of personnel and computers, Google stands behind its motto of being "The World's Best Search Engine" as it wins its users, one browser at a time.