“Google it” wasn’t always synonymous with “find it online.”  Google wasn’t even the first search engine.

The company, founded 20 years ago, has revolutionized the way we use the internet.

Back on Sept. 4, 1998, the internet was a loose collection of millions of websites which were a relative nightmare to sift through.                                                                      

When Google became a registered domain in 1997, it was competing with other search engines like Yahoo Search, AltaVista and AskJeeves but they all used algorithms that rarely gave users exactly what they were looking for. Google changed that by using a PageRank algorithm which prioritized a website’s popularity over its relevance.

This led to websites becoming more connected to each other, popular websites coming up more often during Google searches and unpopular ones promptly dying off. Now, most websites work together and link to each other in what’s called backlinking, a process that contributed to Google’s rise.

“They really just found a new way of ranking pages, it used to be just done on keywords … (now) it’s all about backlinking and it changed the world completely,” researcher and futurist speaker Nikolas Badminton told CTV’s Your Morning Tuesday.

Futurist Nikolas Badminton talks Google
Futurist Nikolas Badminton tells CTV's Your Morning how Google "changed the world completely" in the way it organizes website searches.

Online ad revenue, the primary way to make money on the internet today, was an untapped resource during theweb’s infancy. But Google was one of the first companies to realize the potential of building a business model around that. Companies now rely on this method to make money and use Google itself to make their products, services and voices easily searchable online.

During the internet’s nascent era, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail both competed for email traffic; virtual calendars were unconnected on different platforms, and mapping websites like MapQuestweren’t tailored to changing road conditions. But by creating similar products and services of their own, like Gmail and Google Maps, Google arguably became the most centralized hub on the internet to get all those services in single place.

In the past several years, Google has leaned into that description by expanding into online communication with Google Hangouts and online storage like the Google Cloud. Products like Google Docs, Google Sheets and the Android operating system for mobile devices have also helped Google become a “lifestyle brand,” Badminton said. 

Humble beginnings

The company was founded by Stanford University PhD students Sergey Brin and Larry Page and like a lot of internet startups at the time, it began out of a garage. As Google grew, it bought smaller startups and other companies to integrate their technology into its products. For example, Google bought the video streaming service YouTube for US$1.65 billion in 2005, which catapulted it into popularity.

Google also bought music-streaming service Songza and incorporated it into its own music service, Google Play in 2014.

The company quickly began expanding the number of services it offered by releasing its own web browser, Google Chrome, in 2008, to compete with Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer. In 2010, Google delved into the world of smartphones with its Nexus brand that was eventually replaced by Pixel in 2016.

Android P, Google's latest operating system, coming in the "Pixel 3," was unveiled at the Google I/O 2018 conference. (Google Google I/O 2018)

In October 2015, a corporate restructuring of Google formed a conglomerate called Alphabet Inc., with Google still being its leading subsidiary. With offices around the world, including New York City, Sydney, London, and Toronto, the company boasts more than 85,000 employees as of March 2018.

But Google’s overarching power and integration into our lives has led to a flurry of concerns of privacy intrusion and data mining over the years, which some activists have argued are far cries of the company’s initial motto of: “Don’t be evil.”

“People believe in the mantra of making the world a better place, not being evil and doing good in the world through technology,” Badminton said.

As for Google’s future, Badminton said it’ll be about “dominance.”

“They’ve already got 75 per cent of search traffic and 90 per cent of mobile search traffic. They’re going to be everywhere—they’re going to be in sensors and in (self-driving) cars.”