In 1998, Sergey Brin and Larry Page launched a search engine that would forever change our lives – Google. Fast forward 20 years, and Google – while still synonymous with search – has evolved into an enormous technology empire, with an extensive suite of products and services that many of us cannot live without.
Google’s fingers are in many pies – from email and messaging to productivity tools, web browsers, cloud storage, analytics, mobile operating systems, and smart speakers. Gmail, Google Drive, Chrome, Maps, Android, and Google Home – many of these are now household names. All of these aim to make our lives easier, but also create a level of dependency among users in the Google ecosystem. By using these free or low-cost services, we’re generating massive amounts of personal data that fuel the company’s primary revenue source – online advertising. This revenue effectively finances the companies ‘moonshot projects’ – projects that aren’t part of Google’s core business: Project Loon, Brain, and Chronicle are just a few examples. Some of these moonshot projects are viable, others are not. But it doesn’t matter – they help keep the company at the forefront of innovation and big thinking.
Google’s growth hasn’t been entirely organic. It has scaled its empire through several acquisitions, including YouTube, SkyBox Imaging (for Google Maps), and Android – the world’s most popular mobile operating system. These have gone on to become some of Google’s biggest successes.
As the Google ecosystem evolves, the relationship between its products and services starts to make more sense. Gmail, Google Calendar, Drive and Maps all complement one another. For example, if you receive a meeting request in your Gmail that has an attachment, you can save the attachment directly to Drive and you can get directions to your meeting location by tapping on it and opening Maps. Unlike closed garden environments (I’m singling out Apple as an example), Google doesn’t force users to solely use its own tools. Google Docs, for example, is compatible with Microsoft Word. The Google Home smart speaker plays nicely with hundreds of third-party applications, including Spotify and Netflix. Google offers open APIs for most of its products, meaning developers outside of Google can build upon them and integrate them into other platforms and applications.
Google Home works with hundreds of third-party services.
Sometimes, Google is slow to act in certain market segments. Despite a huge head start, it completely missed the boat on social networking. Google Plus, which launched in 2011, seven years after Facebook, failed to gain any major traction. What it first called a ‘social network’ later became a social layer across all other Google services. The number of active Google Plus users has always been a bit dubious because user registrations were often just a byproduct of signing up for other Google services – more popular ones, like Gmail and YouTube. The active time people spent using Google Plus, a more accurate way of measuring success, paled in comparison to the likes of Facebook.
But Google Plus hasn’t been a total waste – while the service still exists, the company has seen huge success with spinoff standalone products, such as Google Photos, which boasts more than 500 million monthly active users. Interestingly, Google has also cleverly integrated a quasi-social / gamified experience into Maps.
Users can add ratings and reviews of places, provide useful information, as well as upload photos and videos of locations in exchange for virtual badges and achievements. Maps, of course, has a logical link to Google Earth and vice versa. By crowdsourcing photo and video content for both these apps, users can virtually visit places around the world from their mobile device. Businesses can get themselves on the map (so to speak) through a service called ‘Google My Business’, and doing this is important for two reasons:
1. For your local SEO strategy
Providing information about your company, like your address, phone number, and business hours is perhaps the easiest and most effective way of securing that coveted spot at the top of search results for local queries.
2. To get found on Maps / Earth
Showing up on Google search results is important, but so is showing up in Google Maps and Google Earth. People often use these while out and about, not just for navigation purposes, but to find venues nearby.
Another area where Google has long struggled is in the messaging space. Google has spent nearly a decade trying – and failing – to fix this. Apple users have enjoyed the simplicity of iMessage, a native messaging app on all iPhone devices. I’m a proud Android user, but I have to admit that we’ve been left out to dry in the messaging arena. Google is now focusing not on a new messaging app, but an entirely new technology that it hopes will replace SMS.
The company is arguably leading the artificial intelligence race and has stakes in virtual reality, blockchain, and other emerging technologies. Furthermore, it handles more data than we could possibly imagine, giving it a huge advantage in predicting patterns, trends and behaviours. While Google does not publish information on how much data it has stored, some estimate it to be between 15-20 exabytes. Yes, exabytes. One exabyte equates to one million terabytes or one billion gigabytes, so multiply this 15-20 times.
It’s hard to believe how far Google has come in 20 years, and how much it’s changed our lives. The company’s enjoyed much success but hasn’t been without failures. So long as its core revenue stream remains healthy, Google can continue to experiment with moonshot projects without shareholders getting too pissed off – a luxury many organisations aren’t fortunate enough to have. If Google continues to remain by and large ahead of the curve, it will no doubt remain a powerful and game-changing business. And, as users, we’ll only become more dependent upon the intuitive and intelligent services it offers.
Happy birthday, Google. Here’s to another 20 years.
Content marketer, blogger, author and tech geek.