💾 The Invention of Google

Henry Belcaster
Henry Belcaster
3 min read

Good morning Googly Eyes!

I think we’re all fairly familiar with the fact that Google was named after the mathematical term for the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes.

A googol.

Here’s the number 1:

Here’s a googol:

I know what you’re thinking.

That illustrated number doesn’t actually look that big.

You’re right.


But it is. Trust me.

If you’ll humor me for just one second..

The number of atoms in the observable universe is about 1080.

The number of atoms!!

A googol is STILL 1020 TIMES LARGER. That’s one hundred billion billion times larger for the people that like words.

So put our first observable universe on a human hair:

Ya but like on the cross section.

Thank you.

Okay then this one hundred billion billion times larger number would be like a country that’s 100km wide in comparison:

That two-headed bird holding a globus cruciger (which symbolizes the ruler’s dominion over the world nbd) is Montenegro.

So human hair OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE compared to an entire funny-sounding country.

This number is so unfathomably large that…well…let’s just stop fathoming it.

Because before Google was Google, their company name was actually BackRub.

It’s an awesome story.

1996. Stanford University.

There’s these two buds – Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Now unlike you and I (I’m assuming because you subscribe to a newsletter called Smart Nonsense…), these guys actually liked school.

They were so gung-ho about school, in fact, they were PhD students in computer science at the best, most computer science school in the world.

Now let’s get something straight.

Today when you have a question your brain doesn’t know the answer to, you Google it.

Or if you’re lazy like me and can’t click a couple links, you run it through Google Bard. That minx will just spoon feed you the answers to all your problems.

Are they always true?

Usually never.

But hang on young gun!

The internet didn’t always work this way.

In Larry & Sergey’s day, the internet was an atrocious place to try and get your questions answered.

You were better off cracking open an Encyclopedia Britannica.

Why?

Well let's say I wanted to search the results for Bill Clinton’s 1996 election.

I’d boot up my agonizingly slow IBM ThinkPad 701C:

Hop on a web directory – maybe Yahoo! Directory or LookSmart — to run my search:

And get back–!

Literally nothing useful.

Websites were usually organized by category. So in this case you’d look for the “Politics” or “Government” category and then hope you stumble into a website that mentioned Bill Clinton’s election.

Oh wait, you found one!!

Too bad it’s a random 6 year old that did a class project on Bill Clinton. Not really sure why they were learning about Monica Lewinsky, though.

Okay back to 1996.

Larry and Sergey are sick of this terrible internet search problem.

So they start to look for a new way to organize all of internet search lol.

Something I’ve also spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about when I get a chance.

But these smarties notice something profound…

Academia.

Kind of.

More like the fact that in academia, you write research papers.

If your papers are good, they get cited by other research papers.

A couple links down the chain, and the best research papers have the most citations linked to them.


You picking up what I’m putting down?

No?

Run that same algorithm on internet page links:

If a lot of people are linking to a webpage, it must be good!

That’s the basis of Google.

A page citation idea stolen from academia that the guys called BackRub – a way to analyze the importance of a website based on its backlinks.

The name was kind of silly and the guys had to publish a serious PhD thesis, so they changed the name to PageRank.

Here’s that original thesis:

There’s even all kinds of fancy math stuff about linking things if you’re so inclined to check that out:

So the BackRub idea became the PageRank thesis.

And when Larry and Sergey dropped out of Stanford, the PageRank thesis became Google.

And there you have it – the 100% true story of how Google came to be.

Hey Bard, write me an outro for an awesome email newsletter about the invention of Goog–

Oops, wrong browser.

Stay Cute,
Henry & Dylan 🌈

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