Feature

Making information accessible

Venetia Thompson found the information needed when she met the man behind the Google search engine

Ranked the 13th most popular search engine and boasting clients in 20 countries, including Yahoo, Virgin.net and Netscape, its mission is to organise the world's information and make it accessible and useful. Google also focuses on delivering the best search experience through technological innovation, both on its own Web site and by licensing its technology to other sites.

The search engine's name is a play on the word "googol", which was coined by Milton Sirotta, nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner, to refer to the number represented by one followed by 100 zeros.

Founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Stanford PhD graduates, Google developed from a research project that was so technologically advanced it became a major company. It is privately owned by Kliener Perkins Caufield and Sequoia Capital.

Director of technology Craig Silverstein helped to develop it, but, he says, "I also help to maintain it on an ongoing basis."

Google runs on a proprietary database and off-the-shelf commodity hardware, Linux. Skills used include C++, Python, Java as well as using GNU/Linux tools.

"It was online at Stanford as a research project - very soon after the idea came up. Of course, the site has changed since then," explains Silverstein.

Since then, Google has grown rapidly. When it was a research project, just four developers worked on the site, now there are 150. Some 75 engineers are currently working on Google projects. There was no deadline as such while it was a project, but Silverstein says, "Now there are many, each with its own deadline and budget."

Google uses Pagerank to interpret a link from page A to B as a vote. It also analyses the content of the page and determines its usefulness to the user. Higher quality pages receive a higher Pagerank. Accurate searches are based on previous hits, not on how much a company has paid to be first in a search engine.

Silverstein says he is very pleased with the site's success - it is the 55th most visited site on the Internet. He says the best moment working on the site was "looking at our historical traffic graphs and watching the exponential growth". He still works on the site and says he wouldn't change anything.

As for Silverstein's next project, he will be striving to make Google even better.

Curriculum vitae

Name: Craig Silverstein

Age: 28

Qualifications: MA Computer Science (Stanford), AB Computer Science (Harvard)

IT skills: C++, Python, Java, GNU tools

Favourite book: Anna Karenina

Favourite pub: local, neighbourhood bar in California


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This was first published in January 2001

 

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