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I think, therefore I Google: search giant's quest to capture knowledge

Tony Wright (via SMH) | Nov. 29, 2011
If you want to find out something these days, you Google it. But being the planet's go-to search engine just isn't enough for the booming company, which is fast moving towards a radical new technological frontier, writes Tony Wright for the Good Weekend magazine.

Page and Brin are both aged 38, but Google itself is a mere teenager. It celebrated its 13th birthday on September 27. While almost every serious company in the world would rather slit its own wrists than play around with its brand, Google celebrated, as teenagers tend to do, in frivolous fashion. It designed a birthday Doodle, dressed up its famous blue, yellow, red and green logo with party hats, added an exclamation mark and sat the brand name behind a table heaped with wrapped gifts and a white birthday cake with 13 candles.

Google has been having fun with its brand for years. One of its most famous Doodles is the name refashioned as a guitar to celebrate the 96th birthday of the great musician Les Paul. Anyone can find it (and play it) on YouTube, Google's on-line video arm, bought in 2006 from an unprofitable start-up company for $US1.65 billion.

Critics questioned YouTube's staying power at the time of the purchase, citing all sorts of copyright concerns. Today, almost one hour of video is loaded onto YouTube every second, reportedly attracting more than $1 billion in revenue this year from advertisers delirious at the thought of all those eyes looking at all those moving pictures. It's the No. 1 video site in the world. No. 2 is Google's YouTube for mobile devices. So much for frivolity.

Yet there are no working hours or even, apparently, designated working places at the Googleplex (the labs - including Google X, the hub of such out-there ideas as driverless cars and the space elevator - are where the serious and mostly secret work is done and are off limits to visitors).

Google's computer engineers - and this is, above all, an engineering outfit - are granted 20 per cent of their time, or a day a week, to work on their own pet projects. The best-known result of this generous arrangement is Gmail, an email service that offered users, in the mid-noughties, a stupendous gigabyte of storage, hundreds of times what was then available from competitors like Hotmail (and which is vastly more now).

Launch date was April 1, 2004, leading commentators to suspect an April Fools' joke, something of an art among Google's young pranksters. The engineers were so self-satisfied they chose not to include a delete button, arguing that emails were a user's own property, so why should they want to delete them? The argument didn't stack up with those who couldn't imagine why they'd keep messages forever, and such a button was later introduced. Google got a nice return -hundreds of millions of dollars, year on year, from carefully targeted advertising every time a Gmailer sends or receives an email.


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