Google recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. With this milestone, it seemed like a good time to look back at the growth of this remarkable company and how it has affected--and will affect--the Internet.
Google's back story is pretty well known in technology circles. Two grad students at Stanford came up with a better way to do Web searches and started a company that has turned into the behemoth we know now.
But, to me, some of the most interesting things about Google are in how the company has operated and how it continues to operate. In many ways, Google is a unique beast--a company unlike any that we have ever seen before. But, in other ways, it is just like every other company that has grown to dominate a market.
When Google first launched, the idea that you could make money with a pure Web search site had fallen out of favor. Most of the big search sites at the time were downplaying their search capabilities in the rush to become a destination portal site.
Google proved just how wrong this approach was. While the portal sites of 10 years ago are either gone or have become pale ghosts of their former selves, Google has become the dominant force of the Internet today.
It got there by taking a simple approach (at least in concept): Provide better search, and come up with a good way to deliver advertising based on user searches.
In some ways, these are still the main accomplishments of Google. Sure, Google has introduced lots of new products and services during the past 10 years, and many of them are clear successes (such as Gmail and Picasa). But none of these new products or services dominate its market in the way that Google dominates search. Google still lives and dies based on its search engine and its ability to deliver ads on searches.
Outside of technology, the other interesting thing about Google has been its philosophy: "Don't be evil."
Google has done some things that are potentially evil, but the company has been given a bit of a free pass in the minds of many of the technology public. Google often seems to get away with potential privacy intrusions and other possibly "evil" activities that would have alarms ringing in people's heads if other companies seen as being mainly profit-driven did them.
Going forward, though, the mostly positive view of Google will be put to the test.
Already, if you are a heavy user of Google services, the company has the potential to know more about you than most of your good friends do. And as Google continues to expand into more technology areas (the browser, applications, even the operating system of the cloud), this deep reach into your personal data will only increase.
History is littered with leaders whose good intentions became twisted as they gained power and became evil tyrants over the lives of their subjects.
As Google begins its next 10 years, it could become even more powerful than it is now. Will the company be an enabling force to help propel the next generation of the Internet , or will it use its power to gain maximum profit at the expense of people's privacy and rights?
Only time will tell, but, for now, I'll just wish Google a happy birthday.