Brin, Sergey, and Page, Larry

▪ 2005

      On Aug. 19, 2004, Sergey Brin and Larry Page went from being promising computer science graduate students to multibillionaire technology mavens when Google, Inc., the online search engine company they had founded in 1998, issued its much-anticipated initial public offering (IPO). By creating the easy-to-use hypertext search engine Google, one of the most successful applications in the history of the Internet, Brin and Page had provided World Wide Web browsing at its simplest to millions of ordinary computer users and had added a new verb, to google, to the English language.

      Sergey Brin was born in the Soviet Union in 1973 and moved with his family from Moscow to the United States in 1979. After receiving degrees (1993) in computer science and mathematics at the University of Maryland, he entered Stanford University's graduate program. Lawrence Page was born in 1972 in East Lansing, Mich., where his father was a computer science professor. He received a computer engineering degree from the University of Michigan. In early 1995 Brin was assigned to show a new Stanford graduate student—Page—around campus, and by year's end the duo had joined forces.

      Brin and Page were intrigued with the idea of enhancing the ability to extract meaning from the mass of data accumulating on the Internet. They began working from Page's dormitory room to devise a new type of search technology, which they dubbed BackRub. The key was to leverage Web users' own ranking abilities by tracking each Web site's “backing links”—that is, the number of other pages linked to them. Most search engines simply returned a list of Web sites ranked by how often a search phrase appeared on them. Brin and Page incorporated into the search function the number of links each Web site had—i.e., a Web site with thousands of links would logically be more valuable than one with just a few links, and the search engine thus would place the heavily linked site higher on a list of possibilities. Further, a link from a heavily linked Web site would be a more valuable “vote” than one from a more obscure Web site. Meanwhile, the partners established an idealistic 10-point corporate philosophy that included “Focus on the user and all else will follow,” “Fast is better than slow,” and “You can make money without doing evil.”

      In mid-1998 Brin and Page began receiving outside financing (one of their first investors was a cofounder of Sun Microsystems, Inc.). They ultimately raised about $1 million from investors, family, and friends and set up shop in Menlo Park, Calif., under the name Google, which was derived from a misspelling of Page's original planned name, googol (a mathematical term for the number one followed by 100 zeroes). By mid-1999, when Google received a $25 million round of venture capital funding, it was processing 500,000 queries per day. Activity exploded when Google became the client search engine for one of the Web's most popular sites, Yahoo!, and by 2004 users were “googling” 200 million times a day (roughly 138,000 queries per minute). The IPO, which netted more than $3.8 billion apiece for Brin and Page, cemented Google's amazing transformation from dorm room hobby to multibillion-dollar technology powerhouse.

Christopher O'Leary

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Universalium. 2010.

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