Google may need to google to know exactly when its birthday is


I was a mint-fresh graduate, terribly new to ‘computers’ and a Yahoo! fan when a college senior who was crushing on me asked me to check out another search engine. I promptly did and there opened a rather empty page with a logo using all primary colours declaring ‘Google!’ (Yes, with the exclamation mark) urging me to use it (and only it, said the tone) to search the web.

And then there were more exclamation marks. How young and naïve were we! It was still a BETA version but that didn’t deter it from being quirky; it told me I could ‘feel lucky’ and I decided to test my luck by searching for my Cancer yearly horoscope. Yeah, droll.

Google is home

Eighteen years later, Google, now a strapping teenager who has thankfully lost that exclamation mark, is in our lexicon, in our grammar, in our sensibilities, in our jokes, in our bloodstream really.

Google is home, with a still sparse homepage. As an aside, there is an apocryphal story about the homepage too. The homepage apparently looked the way it did because its founders did not know enough HTML to make it jazzy. And just like every home has its nooks and corners, its secrets and idiosyncrasies, so does Google and whatever you might feel about monopolist corporations, you can’t help agree its eccentricities and its occasional wit has given it life – made it warm, human even.

Google is human

Whether a deliberate strategy or an instinctive understanding of how to forge connections, Google, the search engine as well as the company, has consistently been original, unpredictable, famously ‘fun’ and sometimes downright funny. On the threshold of adulthood, let us peek into some of the oddities that have shaped this little big giant of the internet.

  • Backrubwas its name. Almost. Yes, really.The name came about because originally it found and ranked pages based on back links. (I told you Google was human!)
  • Grew up with Lego. Like any other toddler, Google loved its Lego. When Google was started, it was stored in 4 GB hard drives, 10 of them, in a Lego casing at Stanford University. (Now the casing is a prized showcase piece at the University). The Lego design was to make it easy to expand the storage capacity.
  • Brush up that spelling (or maybe don’t) Larry Page and Sergey Brin wanted to register the name of their search engine as ‘Googol’, a mathematical term for the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeroes – to indicate the amount of information that the search engine is promising to organise. But they were felled by a misspell. Some say the culprit was a fellow student while others believe it was the work of potential investors who had come for a dekko. So instead of the prim-sounding Googol, what got registered as a domain on September 15, 1997, was the jaunty Google!

Don’t be evil, said the giant…

That is apparently the company’s unofficial motto. But clearly, they don’t take it too seriously, those Googlers. On April 1, 2000, Google announced the launch of ‘Mentalplex’, a new, revolutionary technology that will read your mind as you visualise your search. Cue: Evil laughter. That was the first of many April fool hoaxes that Google played on its increasingly loyal users.

…but play number games

The company that Larry and Sergey built at Stanford is today valued at over $400 billion; it handles over 1 billion search requests in a day and its search index is more than 100 million gigabytes in size. The company has 70 offices in over 40 countries and has acquired more than 120 companies in the last decade or so. Have you had enough of number crunching? Then try this:

Google is the first word uttered by more than half of American kids. Not kidding.

Perhaps the inspiration for Alpabhet Inc, Google’s parent company and essentially a conglomerate, which was established in October 2015, to ‘clean up’ Google’s internet services and make everything more accountable. It is also housed in Googleplex, Google’s famous corporate headquarters in California.

Googleplex is itself a reflection of all that Google is (and isn’t). It has, wait for it,

  • Pink flamingos
  • A Lego figure
  • T-rex nicknamed Stan
  • Android statues
  • Ball pits
  • Yes.

On good days, you might also spot hundreds of goats that Google hires (true story) to munch, sorry, mow the weeds that sprout up around the HQ and an assortment of dogs, which are welcomed if they are potty trained and friendly. Though apparently, cats don’t get the same treatment – maybe because they don’t prefer dogs? (Cats, not googlers).

Oddly enough, Google might need to google to know exactly when its birthday is.

Though the domain name was registered on September 15, 1997 (and ought really to be the ‘birth’ date), Google has celebrated its birthday pretty much on several days in September.

Till 2005, it feted itself on September 5, the day the company was formed; on its fourth birthday, it had a birthday doodle on September 27; on its fifth, it was back to September 8 and then again it shifted to September 7 the next year.

From its eighth birthday, it has been rather more consistent and has had its celebrations on September 27. This is as similar as it can get to the behavioural patterns of a whimsical teenager!

It now remains to be seen whether it will eventually grow into a sober adult with a streak of moonshine or continue to be the friendly neighbourhood imp that it is now for many of us.