Project BackRub a.k.a. Google
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.