Page last updated at 22:32 GMT, Monday, 8 September 2008 23:32 UK
Google at 10



Spin around Google's decade

For most of its history, Google has been part of the global zeitgeist, remained a byword for cool, and has become synonymous with web searching.

It has been constantly in the media spotlight and hyperbole abounds whenever stories mention Google in a good light or otherwise. Here we take a look at some contenders for Google's best and worst decisions during its first ten years.

The Good

Changing its name
Google logo, AFP

The first incarnation of the Google search engine, like the current one, worked by analysing the number of sites that link back to a given site to calculate its relevance.

Accordingly, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin initially named their engine BackRub. It's hard to believe the world could have fallen in love quite so much had they stuck with that.

Still, "Google" lacks the poetry of Google's Chinese venture, Gu Ge, which translates to something like "Song of the harvest".

Silicon Valley style
Google workplace, Google

Google was not the first in California to have a laid-back, "we need to relax to be more creative" approach but it brought the idea to a global audience.

The world looked on with wonder when reports came out of the Googleplex with its free food, massages and play rooms. That approach, as much as its "Don't be Evil" philosophy, helped cement its image.

Its relaxing and eclectic offices have been repeated at Google's European HQ in Zurich, proving it wasn't all just for show.

Map making
Earth from space, SPL

Keyhole was a little-known supplier of digital satellite maps selling online subscriptions to its service when Google bought it in 2004.

With Google's help, the data and software that Keyhole developed became first Google Maps and, shortly thereafter, Google Earth.

Google Maps quickly overtook existing mapping services like those provided by Microsoft and Yahoo!, and Google Earth was a new idea altogether that has since spawned many imitators.

Defying the DoJ
USB drive, SPL

Early in 2005, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) served a number of search engines with a subpoena, asking them to provide data on two months' worth of searches.

Microsoft and Yahoo! complied, but Google replied, simply, no. The DoJ sued.

Google fans rejoiced; Google would protect its users' privacy, even in the face of pressure from a government that was increasingly viewed as infringing on civil liberties.

At a time when the first worried murmurs were arising about just how much Google knew and kept on file indefinitely, it was a reassurance Googlers were grateful to have.

Putting the 'G' in mail
Gmail homepage, Google

Having an e-mail account used to automatically mean paying for it. Even when webmail services such as Hotmail became free, having an e-mail account of reasonable size meant paying something.

Then Gmail came along, at first an invite-only update to webmail promising more than a gigabyte of storage - a hundred times more than anyone else was offering.

The way e-mail exchanges were organised as "conversations", the comprehensiveness of the search function, and Gmail's efficiency at clearing away spam were big advantages, but the move prompted other providers to up their game in the mailbox size department.

The Bad

The stock float
Wall Street bull, BBC

Mr Brin and Mr Page were accused of trying to update the stock market much like they had updated search when Google's initial public offering (IPO) happened in 2004.

Its unconventional "Dutch auction" to sound out investors led them to put their opening initially at $108-135 - higher than any of the S&P 500 share prices at the time, and enough to scare off many of their potential investors.

The two founders conducted an interview with Playboy magazine just before the IPO, raising the ire of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Then they pushed it through anyway, in a quiet summertime when dozens of other tech companies were pulling out of their own. Google stock has turned out to be a good investment - so far - but at IPO time it only sold three quarters of what it had hoped, and at a comparatively low $85, alienating many in the financial world in the process.

Business in China
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Amnesty International UK's Steve Ballinger and from July 2007, Google's global privacy head Peter Fleischer on whether the search engine should continue to allow China to censor it.

2005 saw the first opportunity to question Google's "Don't be evil" philosphy.

Having launched in China, results from Google's Chinese version excluded controversial subjects such as Tiananmen Square and the Falun Gong movement.

But the internet being as it is, the world found out soon after. Google argued that it censored less than existing search engines, but it was a mark on Google's reputation that would not rub off. It was enough even to make Sergey Brin declare in 2007: "On a business level, that decision to censor...was a net negative."

Streetview snaps
Google mapping car, PA

Just when the world had got used to the idea that one ostensibly benevolent company could hold lots of information about our online selves, our search histories, and even the semantic content of our e-mails, Google took a roving eye out on the streets of the world.

Streetview promised a crystal clear, 360 degree view from anywhere on the planet, courtesy of roving vehicles with special cameras. But privacy concerns abounded from the start, leading Google to retrospectively blur out faces and licence plates in Street View pictures. Even now, the blogosphere abounds with complaints about the whole idea.

Adapt to survive
MySpace logo, AP

To a man with a hammer, Mark Twain said, everything looks like a nail. As Google goes round hoovering up companies large and small, it keeps bringing down their hammer on to its new business.

In the case of MySpace, this has not worked so well. Searching for names within MySpace brings up laughably irrelevant ads: finding your pal Dan will result in Google trying to interest you in DNA tests.

The search was revolutionary 10 years ago, but it will have to bend to accommodate what the web is becoming.


SEE ALSO
Google accused on privacy views
01 Aug 08 |  Technology
Google grilled on web privacy
03 Sep 08 |  Technology
Google's experimental Gmail toys
07 Jun 08 |  Technology
Google reaches out to developers
29 May 08 |  Technology
Google's stargazing tool
03 Sep 08 |  Technology
Google tweaks Chrome licence text
04 Sep 08 |  Technology

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