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Google : The World at Your Fingertips
by Dr. Anjana Maitra

GoogleGoogle – the world’s most widely used search engine- has become a household word for internet users. Thousands of search requests pour in every second, a weird but compelling barometer of world curiosity. To answer every question, Google sifts through almost two and a half billion web pages.

The co-founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both around 30, faced a lot of initial difficulties while trying to set up the now famous search engine. In 1995 the two postgraduate students met at Stanford University and realized that they were both in the ‘mining’ of large volumes of data. They joined forces and tested their theories on the World Wide Web, then having 30 million pages. Gradually they developed a way to analyze the ‘links’ of the web to relevant pages and determine how many times they were used. This gave them a way to rank the web pages in order of popularity.

Gradually they went deeper into their theory and christened the search engine ‘Google’, a play on the word ‘googol’ a number with 100 zeroes. They never advertised, but Google’s speed and effectiveness spread by word of mouth. Today their private company makes most of its estimated $50-$100 million a year from big-name corporations who use its technologies.

At Google’s headquarters in California, visitors sit in the lobby transfixed by the words scrolling by on the big white screen behind the receptionist’s desk. The projected display, called ‘Live Query’, shows updated samples of what people around the world are typing into Google’s search engine. The terms scroll by in English, Japanese, Korean, French, Chinese, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch etc – any one of the 86 odd languages that Google tracks.

Today some 60 million people around the world use Google. To keep up with the rocketing growth of the World Wide Web, more computers are continuously slotted in – over 16,000 according to an estimate.

Each request typed in Google represents a thought from someone, somewhere with an internet connection. Google collects these queries – 150 million a day from more than 100 countries – in its databases, updating and storing the computer logs millisecond by millisecond.

Google Zeitgeist, the brainchild of a Google engineer named Lucas Pereira is a listing of the top gaining and declining queries of each week and month. It is a barometer of the ups and downs of people and places in the minds of Internet users the world over.

After 9/11, searches for the World Trade Centre, CNN, Pentagon, Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden shot up immediately. Over the next few days Nostradamus became the top search query, fuelled by a rumor that he had predicted the WTC destruction.

Today teachers all over the world are facing a new dilemma regarding the topic of projects given to students – they should not be able to Google it and download readymade information. In fact the makers of Google frown upon our using the word as a verb, they prefer it to be a noun.

The dream of Brin and Page is to make all the information instantly available to everyone – and it may soon be a reality.   

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