Happy birthday, google!


If you logged on to the world’s most popular internet search engine on Friday (and with a UK market share of close to 90{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a}, chances are that you did), alongside a kooky ‘beat the piňata’ game, you might have seen that, this month, it celebrated reaching a landmark 15 years old.

Built by Stanford University buddies Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1996 as part of a research project, the first incarnation of the search engine was called ‘BackRub’ (pub quiz fact of the day). The duo re-named the now de-facto web tool Google in 1997, formerly incorporated ‘Google Inc’ in 1998, and moved to Silicon Valley in 1999.

Fast-forward 15 years and Google has seen some notable milestones that exceed the wildest dreams of technology geeks and blue-chip corporates alike. Perhaps its most important achievement is the universal acceptance and popularity, which has seen it become ingrained in daily language (the verb ‘to Google’) and even become a slogan on a popular men’s t-shirt (‘I don’t need Google – my wife knows everything,” *snigger*).

For many people, over the last 15 years it’s become the go-to place to settle an argument, research a head-scratching acronym, school or work paper, find a place to eat, stalk a celebrity, shop for a must-have item or save a few quid by ‘ROBO-shopping’ (research offline, buy online). In some cases (admit it), it’s a way to find answers or at least opinions on life’s deepest questions, self-diagnose minor ailments and even ‘egosurf’ (a.k.a. Google yourself).

More recently, Google has unveiled a new algorithm, codenamed Hummingbird, to upgrade the way it interprets the billion search requests it gets each day from around the globe.

In a nutshell, it says the new algorithm is important because, partly due to advances in hardware, such as smartphones, users have come to expect more natural and conversational interactions with their search engine. This includes, for example, using voice-activated functionality on their mobile phones, smart watches and other wearable technology.

But despite its unwavering popularity, particularly here in the UK, it’s not all been plain sailing for Google. In today’s global information age, sceptics are quick to point out the irony or perhaps naivety of the firm’s ‘don’t be evil’ slogan – especially when it comes to its handling of personal data and the very public tax investigation by the Government’s public accounts committee earlier this year.

That said, rather than get too hung up on what has been or is yet to come, I doubt I was alone in ending my day on Friday by whacking the piñata and scarfing a piece of cake. Happy Birthday, Google!