Ten years ago this week, two of the most influential words in the geek lexicon became legally merged into a single, world-changing concept: Google Incorporated. On Sept. 7, 1998, Larry Page and Sergei Brin officially formed the for-profit enterprise that has revolutionized Internet search, online advertising, and the modern information landscape. Pretty good for a student project that almost didn't happen. Larry Page considered one of several subjects for his PhD dissertation in mathematics, and it was his advisor — noted artificial intelligence expert Terry Winograd — that convinced Page to focus on the structure of the World Wide Web. Page teamed up with fellow Stanford math student Sergei Brin to handle the project.
Specifically, Page and Brin were looking into a mathematic annotation for the citation of academic papers. Papers that have been cited the most are by inference the most influential, and thus the most valuable. Coherently and efficiently mapping the complex web of cross-cited academic writings required some extremely savvy math — the kind that earns you a PhD from Stanford.
The result of Page and Brin's academic citation research was the BackRub algorithm — so named for its tracing of Internet backlinks to papers published online. (Lest we forget, the Internet was originally populated almost entirely by academic papers, and academic content still made up a sizeable percentage even into the late 1990s.) It was a minor leap to run the same algorithm over the entire World Wide Web — with a few tweaks that became the original PageRank system — which formed the basis for Google's original search index. Throw in a geeky number pun nickname and a quirkily constructed custom storage array, and you've got google.stanford.com.
Google got its own URL on Sept. 15, 1997, and less than a year later, it became a full-fledged corporation. Between those two dates, Page and Brin needed access to a resource even their mathematic aptitudes and Stanford's considerable academic assistance could not provide: money. Luckily, the Palo Alto area is not exactly bereft of fiscally resplendent individuals who might comprehend the potential of a better, faster Internet search engine. Thus, an angel investor who had helped create another Silicon Valley heavyweight that still wields considerable cachet in technical circles became the first man to give Google money.
WHICH SILICON VALLEY HEAVYWEIGHT WAS GOOGLE'S ORIGINAL INVESTOR?Get the answer.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.