[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Google's founders
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google
It's a truism in business circles that when Google launches on the stock market, it'll be a sign that the dot-com good times are returning.

Everyone who knows the internet, almost certainly knows Google: it's where you go to search for things.

What began life as somebody's PHD thesis has ended up a multimillion dollar company, a classic rags to riches story.

In a rare TV interview, Paul Mason met up with Google's two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, whose position on the web gives them a godlike view of what us mere mortals are thinking.

PAUL MASON:
There are not many companies that are household names in every country on Earth, but Google is unique. It's an internet site that allows you to search other internet sites. 200 million people a day use it.

The company, started in 1995 by PhD students Sergey Brin and Larry Page, is hot property, and so are they. Google doesn't just look for web pages, it looks for them in order of popularity. It was that simple idea that propelled Sergey and Larry to Silicon Valley stardom.

SERGEY BRIN:
What they just talk about each other. They do that through links. They link to each other. That is a form of recommendation. That was the initial insight behind the page-rank technology.

PAUL MASON:
Google's critics actually say this page rank thing is a way of making, what was a democratic medium, the web, quite undemocratic. That all pages are not now equal, because you effectively, bring an inequality of access. What do you say to that?

SERGEY BRIN:
I would say that it is a democracy that works. If all pages were equal, anybody can manufacture as many pages as they want. I can set up a billion pages on my server tomorrow. That's very, very easy. So you won't have an algorithmic, an objective good way, to evaluate web pages. We shouldn't treat them all as equal.

PAUL MASON:
The problem is, as with most online businesses, how to make money from it. The answer, again as with most, is advertising.

SERGEY BRIN:
One thing we decided early on is that instead of having very flashy advertising, pop ups, things that blink, fly around, pop out of the screen and hit you on the nose. Instead of doing all those things, we don't want to distract the user. Instead, we want to show them something they care about right at the time.

PAUL MASON:
Like most internet whizz kids, Sergey and Larry's original goal was to float the company on the stock market, what the Americans call an IPO, making themselves zillions in the process. The dotcom crash stopped that. Now it could be a long time coming.

LARRY PAGE:
We have always focused much more on long-term success, so maybe even thinking about ten years routinely, rather than one year or a quarter. I think this pushed us further in things like IPOing. You know, if you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have guessed we would have already IPOed, but the climate has changed. It's been worse to be a public company than it has been in the past. It's a little bit difficult to predict what will happen in the future.

PAUL MASON:
But the advertising model, free content paid for advertising, is something that is common really to almost every business that has tried to make money out of content on the web. Why do you think you can succeed with it when so many others are having a tough time with web advertising?

SERGEY BRIN:
This targeted model where advertisers basically say, this is how much it's worth it for me to have a customer, related to flowers. Be it 30 cents, 50 cents. This is how much a click is worth to me. Then each time I get that kind of click, you know, I know I make a dollar back in my business. I know it's worth it to me. I think advertisers have found our model very appealing. In fact we just crossed the 150,000 advertiser mark.

PAUL MASON:
Sergey and Larry have almost limitless power on the rest of the internet. The site deposits a small programme called a cookie on each user's computer. It remembers everything you search for. If you use an add on, called the toolbar, it tracks everything you do on the internet. So at the HQ, the GooglePlex, they have information on more or less every internet user in the world.

How do you limit what people do with the information you collect?

SERGEY BRIN:
First of all, we have very strict guards in the company. In terms of who can get access to the different kinds of logs and things like that. Secondly, we don't really have sort of, as exceptional information as people may first think. The cookies are there, for example, to track your preferences. Having some of these statistics available to us is an important way in which we improve the service. If, for example, we see a number of queries in a particular language, say Finnish, dropping off, we say "Oh, did we do something wrong? Did we mess that up?"

PAUL MASON:
Sergey and Larry see what 200 million people a day are thinking about when they search the web. This knowledge is in fact the company's most valuable asset. A little bit of it is shown on the Google zeitgeist page which give a regular snapshot of the intellectual and moral climate of the age. Here, you can see how long it took America to wake up to and forget the Washington sniper. Or which celebrities the world is obsessed with. With such a God-like view, what does all this tell them about the way humanity is thinking?

LARRY PAGE:
As there has been more information available, peoples' queries are getting more unique. You know, something like half of all queries are unique that are sent to Google. This is just amazing to me. To think about all the queries we got and the fact that half of them are unique to that person or that day. Even when you have a big event, a hurricane, for example, that affects millions of people, it's big news in the world. The fact that it's the top query, it still will only get a tiny fraction of 1% of the traffic. And, even through the worst of crises people still care about different and unique things.

PAUL MASON:
They have recently brought in a seasoned chief executive to concentrate on the business while they think of new things to invent. At the moment, they are thinking pretty big.

LARRY PAGE:
The ultimate search engine, which is something we talk about, would understand everything in the world. It would understand exactly what you wanted and would give you that thing. Google's pretty good, but it's nowhere near that good. It requires being smart. Like a person is smart. So if you had a search engine that could answer any question, then it would be a very, very smart. That is a hard thing, but if you are able to do it, it would obviously be a very big deal. We have people at Google who work on doing that. You know, they are reasonably excited about it and think it might happen in their sort of work life. But they don't know that it will happen in that time.

PAUL MASON:
Google's name is inspired by the mathematical term for one followed by 100 noughts. If they can invent a machine that knows everything, they'll be seeing that kind of number on their bank statements.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.



PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific