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The Rise of Google

Internet Advertising, Search Engine Optimization, New Methods

In 1996, Larry Page, Google's cofounder, discovered that using a new search engine called AltaVista produced not just a list of Web sites but a list of highlighted links. Those same hyperlinks had make the World Wide Web into a web that Tim Berners-Lee had decided to highlight and that crawlers now crawl to produce an index. He and Sergey Brin, both Ph.D. students at the University of Stanford's School of Computer Science, decided to use these links as the basis to order search results.

In the academic world, especially in the sciences, the importance of a research article can be established or even quantified by counting the number of times other researchers refer to it in their printed works, or how many times it is cited.

Hyperlinks, decided Page, could be used like citations. An incoming hyperlink to a Web site was like an endorsement saying that the Web site had merit or was important. He would evaluate the worth of the incoming links on the same basis. If many Web pages were linked to one Web site, then that site would come back early on in the list of results for a query concerning the subjects of that site. It was a way to rank the importance and relevance of individual Web pages to one single query, and Page dubbed the system PageRank, in part a pun on his own name. PageRank would later be the basis of the famous, secret, and often-refined Google algorithm. (An algorithm is a set of mathematical equations.) Other elements of PageRank that influenced search results included how close together keywords appeared and whether they were capitalized or lowercase.

In 1997, Google became the basis of a search engine for use by Stanford students and faculty. It was named “Google” for googolplex (the number one followed by a googol—or 100 zeros), and it captured their sense of the hugeness of the amount of data that existed on the Web. At the time, Google was the only search engine using anything like a page-ranking algorithm that returned results in order of relevance. It quickly became the search engine of choice on the Stanford campus. The domain name was registered on September 15, 1997, and the company was incorporated one year later. Still, it took a while for Google to make a profit. Although Page and Brin originally wanted to sell the patent, they found no immediate buyers and instead went into business for themselves.

In a 2002 television interview with Jim Lehrer, Larry Page described the search engine process: “Your search gets sent out to hundreds or thousands of computers and they all work on it for a short amount of time, a tenth of a second. And then they send back all their information and the computers put it all back together and send it to you [to answer your query].”

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