September 27, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Google!

A googol is a really, really large number: a one with 100 zeros.


And the inventors of the web-search engine Google wanted a name that would hint that their search engine was connected to a really, really large number of websites. So they took the math term, gave it a small spelling tweak, and Google was born!

Before there was Google...

Yes, there really was life before there was Google. There was even an internet, also known as the World Wide Web, before there was Google. After all, Google is only 13 years old today!

Back in the “olden days,” the early 1990s, there was Archie, a program that downloaded the directory listings of all the files available on the web. If you knew a file name, you could manually search for it in Archie. (The name Archie comes from the word “archive,” which means a collection of documents or records.)

Then there were Veronica and Jughead. (These program names come from characters in “Archie” comic books, so these names were a play on the name of the original web tool.) With Veronica, people could search using a keyword; and with Jughead, people could get menu information.

Wandex was an index of the World Wide Web and probably the first true search engine. It was invented in 1993. At least five more search engines were produced during the following year; but then, in 1995, there was a “BOOM” of search engines offered up to users. (Notice how quickly we moved from “first” to “boom” – just two years!) These included Magellan, Excite, Infoseek, Inktomi, Northern Light, AltaVista, and Yahoo! Yahoo was the most popular and is still used today – but since its launch in 1998, Google took over. These days, Google is used for 91% of all searches, Yahoo! is used for only 4% of all searches, and the third-place search engine, bing (launched just a few years ago), is used for 3% of all searches.

So I guess you could say that Google pretty much dominates the scene!

Why Google? Users can search the internet more easily because the Google algorithm searches entire web pages for keywords (not just the directory or website names), and it displays results arranged from the most-linked-to websites to the least-linked-to sites. This is based on the idea that the best, most useful, most interesting, and most beautiful websites will be linked to most often.

A Name Is a Noun, Except When It's a Verb

Not only has the name “Google” become almost synonymous with the term “search engine,” because of its enormous popularity, but it has become a verb, even. “Why don't you google that?” means, “Why don't you look that up on the internet?” We could say “google it” when we mean look something up on Ask Jeeves or on—but we probably say “google it” because we know with 91% certainty that the person is going to look it up on Google!

There have been a few other names of companies that have become nouns that mean a particular item of any brand—for example, we often use “kleenex” to refer to facial tissue of any brand—but there have been few company names that have become both nouns and verbs. Can you think of any?

  • One is “xerox,” which can mean either “a copy” or “to copy,” even if the copying machine is made by a company other than Xerox. For example:

Please bring a xerox of your birth certificate.
Don't forget to xerox your birth certificate.
  • Another is "rollerblades" (the noun, which is often used for in-line skates of any brand) and "rollerblading" (the verb).
  • Some people say “hoovering” to mean "to vacuum," after a famous vacuum cleaner manufacturer, Hoover.

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