Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Google's a Giggle

Legend has it that the Google name itself was a misspelling of Googol (a nonsense word meaning 10 to the power of 100, coined in 1920 by 9-year-old Milton Sirotta, when asked by his mathematician uncle, Edward Kasner, to think of a way of expressing an unimaginably long series of zeroes after an integer).

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, Inc

Two computer science students at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, became obsessed with the problem of trawling through rapidly increasing masses of documents to retrieve specific data. Their prototype search engine would be named Googol - but, as luck would have it, neither knew the "correct" spelling of the word, hence Google, Inc - which, in less than a decade, has enhanced the net worth of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both only 34, to US16.6 billion, ranking them the 26th richest humans on Earth.

It's amazing how Google has insinuated itself into our virtual lives in just nine years. When a brandname becomes a commonly used verb, you know it's here to stay. Gone are the days when you had to go to your nearest library to look something up. These days you simply Google it.

I remember my very first email account on Hotmail, circa 1998. Then Yahoo! came along and lots of folks switched. In those pre-spam, pre-pps days, nobody even thought about mailbox capacity. Along with broadband came obese files and all it took was one inconsiderate friend to send you a 3MB file - and that was enough to jam your inbox. Then Google introduced Gmail with the incredible offer of one free gigabyte of storage space... and before long we had all these Google AdSense wordlinks popping up on every webpage. One of the most exciting ideas presented by Google is, of course, Google Earth - a program that allows you to zoom in on your own house from an earth-orbiting altitude (remember that poignant scene in Men In Black when Agent K decides to look in on his long-lost wife via live satellite feed on his computer?)

What's Larry Googling for?

What I personally like about Google is that they have managed to retain the quirky sense of humor that sets the best and brightest computer wizards apart from run-of-the-mill nerds. If you look to the right of Google's famous search bar and click on "Preferences" you'll be offered a vast choice of interface languages - including Esperanto, Pig Latin, Serbo-Croatian, Quecha, Scots Gaelic, Sundanese, Telugu, Tatar, Uighur, Xhosa, and Zulu. Just for the sheer hell of it, you may also opt for Bork, bork, bork!, Elmer Fudd, Hacker, and Klingon.

When George W. Bush, "the worst president in history," bombed Baghdad in March 2003, his tech-savvy political detractors decided to "Google bomb" the White House, crosslinking Congressman Dick Gephardt's infamous description of Dubya as "a miserable failure" with the official White House website bio of President George W. Bush. Emails circulated the Internet urging people to key in "miserable failure" on Google - and then click on "I'm Feeling Lucky." It was absolutely brilliant and everybody was mystified by this remarkable show of quasi-omniscience by the #1 search engine. Pressure from the White House forced Google to fix the problem; and now when you key in "miserable failure" and hit "I'm Feeling Lucky" you get directed to a BBC news story, dated 7 December 2003, with the headline: 'Miserable failure' links to Bush, and the subheading: George W Bush has been Google bombed.

Indeed, internet guerrillas had a field day Google bombing Bush. Run a search for "weapons of mass destruction" and you'd hit on a spoof webpage announcing: "These Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed." You then had a choice of exiting the site gracefully - or typing the name of any country you wished to attack and hitting the REGIME CHANGE button. The site included a wry admonition: "If you are George Bush and typed the country's name in the address bar, make sure that it is spelled correctly (I-R-A-Q)."

Larry Page seems very pleased with his search results ;-)