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Life at 10 years AG (After Google)
By: Scott Bradner
There were many ways to search the net before Google came along, but none of them turned into a verb. These days a big deal is being made by a lot of the media of Google turning 10. Most of the coverage has had a bit of an edge to it, as if people do not want to accept the success that Google has enjoyed. (e.g., http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/090508-as-google-turns-10-enterprise.html, and http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/090508-at-10-year-mark-googles-glossy.html) This anniversary does provide a good excuse to take a look back at where we came from.
A few years ago, someone asked me what was my biggest surprise in what the Internet turned out to be based on what I expected 15 years ago. My answer: "mom surfing."
Fifteen years ago the Internet was big, at least it seemed to me at the time, but web was only just announced (in April, 1993) and was yet to be seen as anything significant. But there were Internet search tools around in 1993. Archie, Gopher and other tools searched and indexed ftp sites but were mostly used by geeks like me. The idea that my mother would either want to use such tools or have any reason to want to do so never occurred to me. The web started the change that led to lots of people's moms are now using this once geek-friendly environment but it was the development of search engines that completed the change from geek-possible to mom-friendly.
In 1993 there were a few hundred web sites on the Internet, in two years this had grown to 10s of thousands and to over 2.5 million when Google was founded. For comparison, there are well over 100 million Internet websites today (according to the usually unreliable numbers). This is about 1 fifth of the number of Internet hosts (http://www.isc.org/index.pl?/ops/ds/host-count-history.php).
Even with "only" a few million web sites finding things on the Net was next to impossible so the need for something to index the sites was rather clear. Web crawlers and search engines started right when the web did and there were quite a few by the time the Google guys announced theirs. I remember using AltaVista quite a bit - it seemed like a bit of a wonder at the time. The wonder is still there but most people no longer even think about what goes into providing the instant information gratification that the web has become.
What makes Google special? For most people it is not just the ability to search the web. Yahoo and MSN do that just fine. (just for giggles, I searched for myself (as people are wont to do), Google came up with 122K hits, MSN: 153K and Yahoo 352K) There are a lot of differences in what comes up on the first screen, they all work quite well. Seems to me that what makes Google special is that they never sit still, it seems like new things are announced every day (today's announcements included the news that Google has been indexing old newspapers (http://news.google.com/archivesearch) ). Google is a lot more than search these days.
Regular readers of this column will know that I do not much like Google's data retention policies (e.g., Google: looking good by doing less evil - http://www.sobco.com/nww/2007/bradner-2007-03-26.html). But I do use Google, it works, and works well. It is also one of the basic reasons that lots of moms are not only surfing, but are also finding what they are looking for - and much more besides.
Disclaimer: Harvard knows that if you only find what you look for in an educational setting then the setting has failed but the university has not expressed any opinion on Google, the verb.