10 Neat Facts About Google

Google in 1998 (notice the exclamation mark)

Sure, everybody knows that Google was created by Stanford Ph.D. students Larry Page and Sergey Brin who became gazillionaires. But did you know that Google's first storage device was cobbled together with LEGO? Or that Google's first investor wrote a $100,000 check even before the company officially existed? Or that it has its own "official" Google dog?

Neatorama presents the Top 10 Neat Facts About Google:

1. Before Google, There Was BackRub

In 1996, graduate students Larry Page and Sergey Brin worked on a research project to understand the link structure of the World Wide Web. They're particularly interested in determining the importance of a given web page based on its backlinks or how many other web pages link to it (which later became the concept behind Google's "PageRank" algorithm).

The project was named BackRub (yes, a play on the word "backlink"). You can see an archived page of BackRub in the Wayback Machine:

8) Your logo is upside down: Why is the light source obviously below the image? It looks quite unnatural...

The logo is simply a scan of my hand, from a flatbed scanner converted to black and white. The "back" in the picture is the scanner cover, and the shadows are from the scanner light.

2. The Original Google Computer Storage

Photo: Stanford Infolab's Computer History Exhibits Photo

Larry and Sergey needed large amount of disk space to test their PageRank algo, but the largest hard disks available at the time were only 4 GB. So they assembled 10 of these drives together.

While he was an undergrad at Michigan University, Larry had built a programmable plotter out of LEGO, so it's only natural that he used the colorful bricks to create Google's first computer storage!

3. Google's First Investor

Sun Microsystem co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim knew a good thing when he saw it. After talking to Larry and Sergey about Google for 30 minutes, he whipped out his checkbook and wrote a check for $100,000, made out to "Google, Inc." Problem was, Google, Inc. hasn't existed yet!

Oh, by the way, the Sun in Sun Microsystem stands for "Stanford University Network."

4. Google Garage

Talk about getting lucky tenants. In 1998, Susan Wojcicki rented her garage to two Stanford students - you know who they are - for $1,700 a month to help out with the mortgage. That turned out to be a life-changing decision for Susan - it got her a key early job at Google which translated to a top executive position later on, introduced a future husband to her younger sister Anne, and created a mini cottage industry for the rest of her family. (Photo: Jack Gruber/USA Today)

In 2006, Google bought the house which had become a tourist attraction (the busloads of people who show up to take pictures were so annoying that Google decided not to publish the address - though ironically, you can still Google Map it.)

5. Google's First Dog

Despite the Internet's obsession with cats, dogs rule Google. In 1999, a Leonberger breed named Yoshka came to work with Google's first VP of Engineering Urs Hölzle and became the company's "first" dog. (Photo: Google Timeline)

If you must know, Leonbergers are big dogs with lionesque mane that look really majestic. They are, however, useless as guard dogs because they're much too kind and gentle.

6. Just How Many Servers Does Google Have?

A sign near the Googleville data center. Photo: ahockley [Flickr]

The real Googleville. Photo: Melanie Conner/NY Times

Good question. Nobody outside the company knows, and Google ain't talkin'. The company's famously secretive when it comes to its data centers (Heck, no one even knows for sure how many data centers the company has!)

For example, The Dalles or "Googleville" data center in a small Washington Oregon town, was cloaked in secrecy:

"No one says the 'G' word," said Diane Sherwood, executive director of the Port of Klickitat, Wash., directly across the river from The Dalles, who is not bound by such agreements. "It's a little bit like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in Harry Potter."

Recently, Google Fellow Jeff Dean gave a revealing talk on large-scale computing systems in which he discussed technical details of a new storage and computation system called Spanner, which is designed for up to 10 million servers. Skynet, anyone?

7. "Green" Search

All those hardware must use a lot of electricity (indeed, Googleville data center is calculated to require about 103 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 82,000 homes or a city the size of Tacoma, Washington), but just how much energy do you use when you perform a Google search?

Google calculated that it uses about 1 kJ (0.0003 kWh) of energy to answer the average search query. It's so efficient that your PC will likely use more energy in the time it takes to do a Google search.

Photo: Google Solar Panel Project

To offset its electricity consumption, Google even installed 1.6MW solar panels on the rooftops of the Googleplex. A total of 9,212 solar panels generate 4,475 kWh daily, the equivalent of about the amount of electricity used by 1,000 California homes.

8. Google Trike

[YouTube Clip]

I'm sure you're all familiar with Google Street View and the camera-topped Google Car, but what about all of the interesting places inaccessible to cars? Enter the Google Trike, which started as a project by Daniel Ratner, a Senior Mechanical Engineer on the Street View team:

"I began thinking about building a bicycle-based Street View system after realizing how many interesting places around the world - ranging from historic landmarks to beautiful trails to shopping districts - aren't accessible by car," says Dan. "When I'm riding the trike, so many people come up to me and ask where it's off to next or how they can get imagery of their favorite spot, so I can't wait to see what our users come up with."

Previously on Neatorama: Google Car Pulled Over by the Cops - Now in Google Street View!

9. I'm Feeling Lucky Costs Google $110 Million a Year

The "I'm Feeling Lucky" button on Google's homepage takes you straight to the first web page result. Because it bypasses Google's own search result page, where users are shown ads, the button actually costs Google around $110 million a year.

Why keep it? Google Vice President of Search Product and User Experience Marisa Mayer said:

You know Larry and Sergey had the view, and I certainly share it, that it's possible just to become too dry, too corporate, too much about making money. And you know what I think is really delightful about Google and about the "I'm Feeling Lucky," is that they remind you that the people here have personality and that they have interests and that there is real people.

10. Googlebot, Revealed At Last!

Image: Ben Rathbone

In 2005, Ben Rathbone (then at Google's Hardware Operations) gave us a glimpse of humanity's future. I, for one, welcome our new Googlebot overlord:

Then I pondered the question: what does Google do? The grossly simplified answer that I came up with is Google connects the world with the Internet.

It all snapped into place: the idea of a robot, connecting a world with the Internet, with wires, that connect to big cabinets of computers. It was not hard then to make the leap to representing the internet as a world, or globe, made up of pages.

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