Project BackRub a.k.a. Google

by SMD 

There’s a terrific story in this month’s Wired magazine called the Birth of Google. It goes back to Stanford University in the summer of 1995 and tells the story of how Larry Page and Sergey Brin first met.

More interesting to me was the detailed account of the evolution of the ideas and concepts that lead to the Google search engine and the concept of PageRank.

It was based on the academic notion of judging a publication’s importance by the number of citations that it received in other publications. Larry Page extrapolated the notion to the web and developed a project called BackRub [see: Google History].

From Wired: Page and Brin noticed that BackRub’s results were superior to those from existing search engines like AltaVista and Excite, which often returned irrelevant listings. “They were looking only at text and not considering this other signal,” Page recalls. That signal is now better known as PageRank. To test whether it worked well in a search application, Brin and Page hacked together a BackRub search tool. It searched only the words in page titles and applied PageRank to sort the results by relevance, but its results were so far superior to the usual search engines – which ranked mostly on keywords – that Page and Brin knew they were onto something big.

After a couple years of refinements; in 1998:

From Google/history:..the two began calling on potential partners who might want to license a search technology better than any then available. Despite the dotcom fever of the day, they had little interest in building a company of their own around the technology they had developed.

Among those they called on was friend and Yahoo! founder David Filo. Filo agreed that their technology was solid, but encouraged Larry and Sergey to grow the service themselves by starting a search engine company. “When it’s fully developed and scalable,” he told them, “let’s talk again.” Others were less interested in Google, as it was now known. One portal CEO told them, “As long as we’re 80 percent as good as our competitors, that’s good enough. Our users don’t really care about search.”

[Don't you just love those stories of 80 Billion dollar companies that started out by being turned down by everyone they asked for money.]

It is a very interesting look at the concepts that lead to the Google Corporation and how they came to dominate the search engine market with a tiny shift in thinking. Worth a read for any Google searcher, but if you’re a web entrepreneur using Adsense or Adwords and worrying about page rank, it is essential.

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4 Responses to “Project BackRub a.k.a. Google”

  1. Eric Hamil on June 12th, 2007 10:51 pm

    “Worth a read for any Google searcher, but if you’re a web entrepreneur using Adsense or Adwords and worrying about page rank, it is essential.” While the article is historically interesting, and a good introduction to the basic concept of PageRank, it doesn’t really give you enough information to effectively act on. For that, you need a better understanding of the scale and economy of PageRank. I used the idealized formula and a spreadsheet to get answers to a couple questions that I encounter frequently in my line of work (web marketing). How Many Links Does it Take to Reach PRx? Because link quality is a major factor along with link quantity, there’s no single answer. A single PR7 link can give you PR5, while it would take somewhere in the neighborhood of 17,000 PR1 links to accomplish the same feat. As a general rule, if you want to move up one rank on the toolbar (a discrete display of continuous data), you need 3-4 links from R+1 sites, where R is the rank of your page, OR 1 link from an R+2 site, OR 18 – 19 links from sites with the same rank. How Do Outbound Links Effect PR Passing? One fact that wasn’t mentioned at all in the article is that a page doesn’t pass its full rank to every page it links to. Actually, it passes a portion of its rank (85%, according to a really outdated published formula) divided by the number of links on a page — that prevents pagerank from feeding back… So the common question is, just how many links is too many? The short answer is that the number and quality of inbound links is a much larger factor than the number of links on the page in determining how much PR is passed to the pages you link to. For example, a PR7 page with 90 outbound links passes about eighteen times as much PR as a PR4 page with only 1 outbound link.

  2. Nikki on June 12th, 2007 10:51 pm

    True. When talking to the Google engineers at the Webmaster World conference they emphasized over and over again that you cannot lose rank by linking to someone else, but you gain rank from the number of inboud links. Of course, this is contradictory to the confirmed notion the inbound links are somehow tempered by outbound links. Basically they were saying don’t be afraid to give because in doing so you will receive. Interesting how they used that time tested Truth.

  3. Google me this… « The Ministry of Charles on September 15th, 2009 4:28 pm

    [...] as Google. There wasn’t a multimillion-dollar research lab funding their unfortunately named “BackRub” project in their Stanford dorms. Similarly, Web 2.0’s beauty, and enigma, is exemplified in [...]

  4. Top 10 Tools & Techniques for Recruiting » 2009 » December » 05 on December 5th, 2009 9:57 am

    [...] fact, when Google’s predecessor started out as Larry Page’s “BackRub” <; in the 1990s, finding backlinks was its only aim! However, not all backlinks are shown in [...]

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