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Google Turns 25: Key Moments in Its History

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

The search giant celebrated the 25th anniversary of its launch last week - and it's hard to envisage what life was like before. Few companies have become so integral to society that they become a verb, but the search giant remains the shorthand for looking something up online. Here are some of the company's key milestones over the past couple of decades.


Google logo

1998 - Launch Day: In 1996, Stanford University computer whizzes Larry Page and Sergey Brin dreamt up a search tool that could better organise the internet's websites. Two years later their project was noticed by investor Andy Bechtolsheim, who wrote them a $200,000 cheque. They used the cash to start an office in the California garage of their friend, and future YouTube boss, Susan Wojcicki. After buying the domain name Google.com, they got to work.


2000 - AdWords: Now located at its own campus in Mountain View, California (the area of Silicon Valley where it's still based), the company launched AdWords. This allowed advertisers to purchase search terms they wanted to be in the results for - and started a money train that would turn Google into one of the world's richest firms.


2001 - Pictures: This year saw images added to the website's search results for the first time. It's break-out moment was driven by demand for snaps of Jennifer Lopez wearing a Versace dress at the Grammy Awards in 2000. This frenzy inspired engineers to build Google Image Search.


2004 - Email to Gmail: Generally you shouldn't take anything announced online on 1 April seriously, but Google's Gmail announcement was no joke. The free web email service now has more than 1.8 billion users.


Remember Andy Bechtolsheim? The man who invested $200,000 in 1998? By now his stake was worth around $300m.


2005 - Maps: Not content with changing how we navigate the web, Google started to change how we navigate the real world with Google Maps and Google Earth. The former is now the de-facto satnav for drivers, while the latter gave anyone with a computer the chance to explore all corners of the world.


At this stage in its history, Google was valued at around $62bn.


2005 - Android: Google acquired Android for $50m. It has become the backbone of just about every non-Apple handset, and batted away competitors like Microsoft and Nokia to become the iPhone maker's only real rival.


2006 - YouTube: Google purchased YouTube for $1.65bn. The internet's most ubiquitous video platform has become an essential tool of the creator economy - and established an entirely new breed of celebrity.


2006 - New Verb: Google is added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Listed as a verb, the dictionary entry said: "To use the Google search engine to find information on the internet. To search for information about (a person or thing) using the Google search engine."


2007 - Street View: Google Maps was bolstered by the launch of Street View, whereby the company sent out legions of cars with huge cameras strapped on their roofs to capture pictures of the world's roads.


At this stage in its history, Google was valued at around $161bn.


2008 - Chrome: Much as Gmail has become many people's preferred email client, so too has Chrome become the browser of choice. Its dominance of the market is quite something given that it's not the default option on Windows PCs or Apple Macs.


2010 - Nexus: Five years after buying Android, Google took its own stab at making a phone, called the Nexus.


2012 - Google Glass: High-tech spectacles powered by augmented reality. It bombed, and was killed off three years later.


2014 - DeepMind: Google snapped up British AI research company DeepMind for around $500m in what now looks like a rather prescient move. Its team is key to Google's overarching AI strategy as it looks to compete with rivals like OpenAI and Microsoft.


2015 - Alphabet: Google got a major makeover with a new logo across its search engine and other products. It was also the year of a major restructuring, as the company folded itself into a new company called Alphabet (with a market value of around $528bn) alongside other divisions, like the smart home platform Nest.


2016 - Pixel: Google started making a smartphone called the Pixel, replacing the old Nexus branding and joining its recently launched smart speakers - Google Home - in stores.


2016 - Waymo: Google's driverless car project was spun off into a company called Waymo. It's still not yet succeeded in making this a mainstream product - with just a few not entirely glitch-free cars operating in San Francisco.


2019 - End of an Era: Co-founders Page and Brin relinquish control of Alphabet, handing the reins over to Google's chief executive Sundar Pichai. Today, Alphabet is valued at around $1.7 trillion.


Whatever happens next, it's likely that Alphabet's chatbot Bard - and AI - will be key.

 
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