Google Images of Google Images
Google Images of Google Images

What to watch for

After completing this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Relate the history of Google and its products
  • Outline Google’s contributions to new media
  • Describe Google’s understanding of its own mission

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Google in the new media landscape. From their early days as just the world’s best search engine to their central place in the Alphabet conglomerate today, there’s so much to say about Google.

Required readings:

Our history in depth“, Google

(6,478 words / 33-38 minutes)

A really useful, concise history of many of the major events in Google’s history. Since it’s on the company site1, we of course need to read it knowing that it’s going to be a bit whitewashed, but it’s still a great place to get a sense of where Google came from and the major milestones in its history (even though it stops in 2014).

  • These bits of the founding narrative are worth including verbatim: “
    1995: Larry Page and Sergey Brin meet at Stanford. Larry, 22, a U Michigan grad, is considering the school; Sergey, 21, is assigned to show him around. 1996: Larry and Sergey begin collaborating on a search engine called BackRub. BackRub operates on Stanford servers for more than a year—eventually taking up too much bandwidth. 1997: is registered as a domain on September 15. The name—a play on the word “googol,” a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros—reflects Larry and Sergey’s mission to organize a seemingly infinite amount of information on the web.”
  • It’s so great that Google got its first investment before it was actually incorporated.
  • The launch of Google AdWords in October 2000 marks the start of Google’s soon-to-be meteoric rise in profitability.
  • Eric Schmidt joins Google in March 2001 as the “grown-up” CEO to oversee Google’s growth (remember, neither of its cofounders have yet turned 30).
  • Google Shopping was born in December 2002 as “Froogle”. Google used to be a bit more fun and a whole lot less corporate.
  • Google AdSense launched in March 2003, further adding to Google’s growing advertising business.
  • Near and dear to my heart, Google Books launched in December 2003.
  • Gmail is launched on April Fools’ Day in 2004. Many people weren’t sure if it was a joke or not. Today, it has over 1 billion users.
  • The launch of Google Maps in February 2005 revolutionized online mapping applications. I should also add, on a personal note, that it was around this time that it became almost impossible not to be wildly enamored with Google as a web user. They were so far out in front of everyone else on the web, and it seemed like every six months or so they’d release another amazing free technology. Between Google’s web work at this time and Apple’s hardware work (iPod, greatly improved Macs, and the rumored imminent arrival of the iPhone), it was such an amazing time to be a tech nerd. (Or, really, just a human who liked technology.)
  • In April 2005, the first video is uploaded to YouTube (not yet a part of Google).
  • iGoogle launched in May 2005. You should look this up to get a sense of what it was. When it was end-of-lifed in November 2013, I was very, very sad. Now that I’m thinking about it, I still rather miss it.
  • Google Analytics’ launch in November 2005 offers an unprecedented free tool for understanding users’ behavior on a web site. This is both a very good thing and the start (or at least an acceleration point) of a lot of creepy things.
  • Google Calendar launches in April 2006, and it’s awesome.
  • When Google acquires YouTube in October 2006, people think the roughly $1.6 billion acquisition is ludicrously expensive. It turns out to be an absolute steal.
  • Google Street View’s launch in May 2007 was another one of those this-is-so-awesome-it’s-great-to-live-in-the-future moments.
  • Google’s Android is announced in November 2007. The first devices won’t ship for nearly a year.
  • Google Chrome, released in September 2008, immediately made every other browser on the market feel outdated and slow. (It kicked off the JavaScript performance revolution.)
  • Google Voice’s launch in March 2009 (free online calling, voicemail transcriptions) continued the hey-it’s-the-future-everything-is-free-and-amazing party.
  • In July 2009, Google Docs (the result of the acquisition of a company called Writely) leaves beta.
  • The September 2009 unveiling of the DoubleClick Ad Exchange is a huge deal if you’re in online advertising (or own Google stock).
  • October 2009 release of Google Maps Navigation more or less immediately tanks the GPS-as-discrete-device market.
  • It seems like it’s been there forever, but Google Instant (the thing where search results appear as you type) launches in September 2010.
  • In July 2011, Larry Page returns to the CEO position he last held a decade ago. Eric Schmidt remains as chairman
  • In May 2011, the first Chromebooks are announced.
  • Google+ (which no one much uses, really, but which more or less achieved Google’s goal of building an identity layer to compete with Facebook) launches.
  • Google Play becomes the new name for Android Market in March 2012.
  • Projet Glass launches in April 2012. The moniker “glasshole” follows shortly thereafter.
  • Google Drive (a revamped Google Docs) also launches in April 2012.
  • June 2012’s release of Google Now (giving you information you didn’t know you needed before you even look for it) presages many of the company’s efforts into artificial intelligence and machine learning.
  • Google Fiber’s launch in November 2012 makes everyone outside of Kansas City painfully aware of just how terrible their internet connection is.
  • In September 2013, Android crosses the 1 billion device activation milestone.
  • Google acquires Nest in January 2014. Stay tuned to see how this one turns out.

Stop for a minute and think about how many of the things just listed are a part of your daily (or at least weekly or monthly) life, even if you’re not an Android user. Like I said, it’s really hard to overstate Google’s contributions to our online lives. And man, that 2004-2009 period is really just completely remarkable.

Google“, Wikipedia

(9,533 words / 48-60 minutes)

Now that you have your bearing from the official Google history, take your time as you wander around this article. Skim quickly through what seems familiar; camp out and dig deeper on what’s new and what catches your attention.

  • Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” They’re not doing a bad job of it, either.
  • For a while, Google’s unofficial motto was “Don’t be evil.”
  • Google’s original innovation (PageRank (after Larry Page, not the term web page, also nicknamed BackRub) is based on the concept of determining a page’s relative importance based on the number and quality of sites that link to it.
  • This bit is crucial: “On August 10, 2015, Google announced plans to reorganize its various interests as a holding company, Alphabet Inc., with Google as its leading subsidiary. Google will continue to be the umbrella company for Alphabet’s Internet interests. Upon completion of the restructure, Sundar Pichai became CEO of Google.”
  • Reading through this article, you really get a sense of the breadth of Google’s interests, ambition, and operations—quite a contrast (not necessarily better or worse—just different) to Apple’s tightly-focused culture.
  • Spend some time reading and thinking about Google’s concept of 20% time for its employees.

I’ll conclude with what’s quickly becoming a familiar refrain: there’s so much more to say, learn, and talk about with Google, but I think this gives us a quite reasonably solid foundation upon which to build. Go read more on your own, and have fun in your discussion groups!

Non-required readings

Where the Internet lives“, Google

Click around this look at Google’s data centers to get a super-compelling look at the physical reality of what makes Google tick.

The Sadness and Beauty of Watching Google’s AI Play Go” by Cade Metz

Reading this article provides an interesting lens through which to understand Google’s machine learning efforts, which seem to be the thing Google views as its foundation for the foreseeable future.

Discussion Questions

  • List all the Google services you’ve used in the past 24 hours.
  • Do you have a favorite Google product / do you remember your introduction to a favorite Google product?
  • If you had to pick one Google product you couldn’t live without, which would it be? Why?
  • One thing the lesson didn’t spend much time discussing: criticisms of Google. Spend some time reading and thinking about criticisms and critiques of Google, then discuss them here.
  • As the (non-required) article about AlphaGo and Google’s announcements at its recent I/O conference make clear, Google thinks machine learning is it future. Discuss both what machine learning is (we’ll discuss this more in later lessons) and how you think Google might leverage it in the future.

Words on / reading time for this page: 1,479 words / 7-9 minutes

Words in / reading time for required readings: 16,011 words / 81-98 minutes

Total words in / reading time for this lesson: 16,791 words / 88-107 minutes

  1. Actually, it’s a PDF of something that used to be on the company site that Google has since taken down. ?