Before the mid 1990s, to get any sort of information, one went to the library. Indeed the American Library Association (ALA) by happenstance expressed its motto: Ask Librarian Anything.
With the coming of the World Wide Web of Internet, you could seek simple information and expect to find answers from the first generation search engines: Lycos, Altavista, Yahoo.
But it took two graduate students at Stanford University (United States) to raise search engines to a new robust level.
Larry Page and Sergei Brin, worked in their dormitory to create a better, bigger search engine and on 27 September 1998 — 25 years ago — Google Inc was born.
“The product they built went on to help billions of people around the world get answers to their questions,” says Sundar Pichai, India born CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet since 2015.
Suddenly, the biblical exhortation: ‘Seek and ye shall find’ took a whole new and exciting meaning.
But Google has moved further and wider than simple search. Today Google offers 15 separate products and each serves over half a billion people worldwide.
Gmail, which was launched in 2004 has 1.8 billion users today — over 22 per cent of the world’s population.
YouTube, the video channel which Google acquired in 2006, a year after its creation has two billion active users and the number of YouTube videos out there, while difficult to quantify, are estimated at over 800 million.
Google Maps, which was launched in 2005, leaped into popularity only after it became available on Android mobile phones: even 10 years ago, it was the world’s most popular smartphone app and currently has about 2.5 billion active users.
With Google Cloud launched in 2008 the company set eyes on the enterprise market. That was also the year when Google launched the Android platform for mobile phones and offered it free to device makers. Today Android runs on three billion devices.
And again in 2008 (a crowded year for Google!) the company created a web browser — Chrome — which was first available in Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system for desktops.
With the Pixel phone and the Chromebook laptop, Google entered the hardware business, which while not the company’s largest — have the advantage of enveloping customers in a tighter Google embrace.
This has been good and bad for Google — and nations, especially in Europe, have become wary of Google’s increasingly near-monopoly in some sectors of its operation and the consequent dilution of competition.
Indian Talent At Google
Over the years, the contribution of Indians in Google’s key operations has been significant — if not always heralded.
St. Joseph’s Boys School Bengaluru and IIT Madras alumnus, Krishna Bharat led the team that created Google News in 2011, one of Google's first endeavours beyond offering just plain text searches on its page.
Bharat was also one of the founding leaders of Google’s India research and development centre and is today a Distinguished Research Scientist at Google headquarters.
News 18 has documented other members of the India diaspora, who today head key verticals at Google.
CEO Sundar Pichai, a Vani Vilas School and IIT Kharagpur graduate has been with the company since 2004 and was key to the development of Google Chrome.
Peeyush Ranjan, an IIT Kharagpur grad who is today vice-president in charge of Google Pay.
Neal Mohan who moved from Microsoft to the position of chief product officer at YouTube in 2015 and is currently its CEO.
Amy Arora, a Harvard Business School MBA who is global strategy and corporate development lead for Google’s core consumer internet businesses.
Thomas Kurian, formerly president of Oracle who today is CEO, Google Cloud.
Asia — especially India — has been central to Google’s roadmap in its core area of search.
A 25th anniversary blog on Search evolution in India points out that the ability to listen to search results was first launched in India in 2021, so people could hear information in Hinglish and five Indian languages.
During the 2019 elections in India Google helped voters navigate the registration and voting processes by collaborating with the election commission.
Flood forecasting was started as a pilot in partnership with the governments of India and Bangladesh and its success led Google to scale the feature to other countries around the world.
The sheer size of the Internet-driven customer base here is likely to see Google continue to use India as an ideal launch pad for innovative offerings in the future.
And they will be fuelled by artificial intelligence (AI).
When he became CEO, Sundar Pichai decided: Google should pivot to be an AI-first company. Today it is happening. The generative AI tool Bard is already there for free in Google Workspace to write and create.
And the future?
This is the Pichai vision: “Over time, AI will be the biggest technological shift we see in our lifetimes. It’s bigger than the shift from desktop computing to mobile, and it may be bigger than the internet itself. It’s a fundamental rewiring of technology and an incredible accelerant of human ingenuity.”
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