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Search giant Google turns 14 today. Quite incredible, isn’t it? I still remember so clearly when Google first arrived on the scene like a breath of fresh air in the late 90’s – simple, clean, effective.

Special Google doodle for the company’s 14th birthday.

With the search engine trend at the time being to desperately try and be all things to all people (the dreaded ‘one-stop portal syndrome’), Google was startling in its simplicity. Going completely against the portal trend, it presented a simple search engine that was nothing but a search engine. And people flocked to it in droves, so much so that Google completely changed the search landscape, becoming so ubiquitous that ‘googling something’ became part of everyday speak.

Of course it wasn’t all that simple – Google was brilliantly designed, and it’s search engine quite frankly took Internet searching to a new level. Where conventional search engines used search term counts to rang results, Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with the innovative idea of calculating a page’s relevance by the number of pages (and the importance of these pages) that linked back to the original page. This approach, called ‘PageRank’, proved much more effective in providing relevant and useful search results.

Combined with it’s unofficial slogan “Don’t be evil”, Google’s mission statement has always been “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. And they’ve certainly been effective at that.

Since it’s search engine beginnings, Google has grown to incorporate a huge range of disparate products and applications, including Google Docs, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Translate, Google News, Google Buzz and more.

A significant step in Google’s continued expansion has been the release of it’s Android operating system for mobile devices, which it acquired and subsequently released as an open source project. Andoid has since become one of the dominant mobile platfoms in smartphones, tablets and the like. Another open source initiatives that Google has ventured into is the Google Chrome web browser, followed by the Google Chrome OS, an open source Linux-based operating system.

In 2011 Google launched Google+, their social networking service to compete with Facebook. After 4 weeks of operation, Google+ claimed to have reached 25 million users, and there has been predictions of the service reaching 400 million users by the end of 2012. (Uptake of this service has, however, not been quite up to expectations, with Todd Wasserman from Mashable reporting earlier this year that the amount of time people are spending on Google+ has been constantly decreasing since the end of 2011, and appears negligeable compared to time users still spend on Facebook.)

The past 10 years saw incredible growth and diversification from Google – some people (myself included) feeling that perhaps they’re spreading themselves too wide, again approaching the ‘all things to all people’ trap they so impressively sidestepped when they first appeared. As with any supersize company, they’ve also had their share of criticisms – some valid, some less so – regarding their operations. Throughout all this, however, it has to be said that Google has managed to retain an enviably informal and positive corporate culture, adhering to casual principles such as “you can make money without doing evil”, “you can be serious without a suit” and “work should be challenging and the challenge should be fun”.

In 2004, Google also created a non-profit, philantropic organisation called Google.org, aimed at creating awareness about issues such as climate change, public health and global poverty.

Pretty impressive stuff all around, I have to say.

Happy Birthday, Google – it’s going to be really interesting to see what the next decade holds!

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