Friday, September 23, 2005

What Google's Up To...

Several years ago (back in the late 90s, early part of 2000) when Google was still young, it was easy to figure out what it was up to. Google did search, and it did it very well. Then about 2001 Google started to expand and change, but its core business, web search technology stayed its primary focus.

One of its earliest explorations out of search technology was AdWords. Google needed a revenue generation model and this was it. Adwords allows advertisers to buy ads on Google, and on other web sites. Advertisers bid on keywords, and then if they get a click on their ad Google charges a fee. I really believe if it wasn't for the AdWords network, Google's stock would not be worth 300+ dollars a share.

Then in 2000, Google wanted to increase its market share, and created the Google Toolbar. I am not sure who created the first Search engine toolbar (Google, MSN, or Yahoo), but soon every search engine started to create their own search toolbar.

In 2001, Google acquired Deja.com's Usenet Archive which it now calls Groups. Groups lets you search the Usenet posting dating back several decades (before the World Wide Web, there was the Usenet). Recently Google has added announcement lists, mailing lists and public discussions as part of this service.

Other things that happened in 2001 were:
  • Zeitgeist: Shows the hottest topics that people are searching on Google.
  • Image Search: Allows you to find specific images based on your search request.
  • Catalog Search: Allows you to search through printed catalogs. It seems like this application has been left to die on the vine, and never really took off.
  • Google Translate: Provides text and web page machine translation services.
Then in 2002 Google released its Search Appliance (This was really nothing more then a 1U WinTel class server running Google's software). Then opened up its Labs to let people preview new technologies that their engineers were playing with. Note: New and interesting technologies are always showing up on this site.

Other things that happened in 2002 were:
  • Google Programming Contest: A competition that Google sponsored for the best programmer. Google's Local technology could have been conceived from this contest. The winner Daniel Egnor, created a program that searches web pages within a specified geographic area.
  • Google API: API stands for Application Programming Interface, which allows developers to incorporate Google search into their applications.
  • Google Compute: This was Google's experiment into distributed computing. It seems that Google recently abandoned this technology (see the following post).
  • Google News: A great resource for up-to-date news. [Still in Beta]
  • Froogle: A product/price search engine. [Still in Beta]
  • Google Answers: An extension of its conventional search, where humans provide answers to visitor questions for a fee.

In 2003, Google acquired Blogger and created the Google Deskbar. The Blogger acquisition was a logical expansion of its core business, and considering how Blogs are still maturing it will be really interesting where Google goes with this technology. The Deskbar in my humble opinion was a toy when they first released it, but in its recent carnation its now one of my favorite pieces of must have software (I will explain why later).

Google also enhanced its News service by adding the Google Alerts feature. This features sends you an email when new news articles that matched your search criteria are found. This feature was later upgraded to also monitor other Google content areas.

In 2004 Google began to add a lot of new features and made some very aggressive moves into new territory. For example: Google introduced it's Local Search, GMail, and filed for its IPO with SEC (more on this later). I have to admit I am a big fan of GMail, I have using almost since they released it. GMail was so radical for its time by offering a gigabyte of email storage that they forced a huge changed the free email world. Currently, GMail is on track to offering 3GB of storage by 2006.

Other things that happened in 2004 for Google were:

  • Google Scholar: This service indexes and searches academic literature. [Still in Beta]
  • Google acquired Picasa (this is an awesome program for managing digital images on your hard drive.) Part of the acquisition was the Hello service (a strange little program for posting images to Blogger, and offered some IM services), but I have never seen this technology take off.
  • On August 19 Google's IPO hits the market, its symbol is 'GOOG' on the NASDAQ exchange. In typical Google style, it uses a little-known Dutch auction process to attract a broader range of investors.
  • Google Desktop Search was released. Like GMail, this technology started a desktop search war between the other major search Engines. All of them were competing for the customer mind share, to drive more traffic to their site.
  • Google SMS (part of Google Mobile services): If your cellphone supports SMS, you can search Google by sending and receiving SMS messages. This is a great idea with a lot of short comings, but its better then not having it.
  • Google acquired Keyhole Corp., a digital satellite image mapping company. When Google first acquired this company, I was trying to figure out what they were going to do with this technology. We had to wait a little while to see what they were up to.
  • The Google Print program is announced, with agreements to digitally scan books from the private collections of large libraries (such as: Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, the New York Public Library, and the University of Michigan).
  • Google created Orkut: Google's experiment into the Social Networking fad. What is interesting is that you will find very little information about this service on Google's site.

Then in 2005 Google's future expansion continues to grow. Google improves some of it's search technologies like announcing the new Google Mini (search appliance) and Desktop Search. It also introduces two new services called Google Video (searches closed caption text from TV broadcasts), and Google Maps (similar to MapQuest only better) [Utilizes satellite images from Keyhole].

Other things that happened in 2005 for Google were:

  • Desktop Search for the Enterprise: Allows companies to search across it's networks.
  • My Search History: Saves a history of everything that you searched.
  • Personalized Homepage: Allows you to personalize Google's home page with content.
  • Google Sitemaps: Allows site owners to specify which pages on their web site they want crawled more often by the Google index spider.
  • Google Earth: Allows you to zoom in on just about any part of the Earth. [Utilizes satellite images from Keyhole]
  • Google Deskbar (updated): This is the most significant update to this program, adds a new plug-in technology (that allows you to receive news, photos, weather, RSS feeds, and more), and incorporate the Google Desktop Search functionality.
  • Google Blog Search: Allows you to exclusively search blog content. Google wants to pull blog content out of it's main search engine to avoid 'link spaming'. Link spaming is where people put hyperlinks in into a blogs content (generally in the comments sections) to drive up the page rank of another site.
  • Google Secure Access: Free VPN software for communicating in public hotspots.
  • Google Talk Allows you to voice chat or send instant messages to other people.
  • Google Web Accelerator: Serves up cached web pages over a broadband connection.
Eating Yahoo's Lunch
Google has always been out to eat Yahoo's lunch since it first started. Its first volley into this arena was the inclusion of the Google Directory to compete with Yahoo's directory. The data for this site is from the Open Directory Project (ODP), which publishes a parsed version of its database for other sites to use.

As I stated earlier, Google created services like: Google News, Gmail, a Personalized Home Page, Local and Image searching. They have also released products like the Toolbar, Desktop search, and more. All of these services are designed to establish Google as more then a search engine, but an Internet portal site.

Google is also not resting on its plurals, there are rumors that it wants to become an nationwide wireless ISP, and its building it's own network. Here is some of the proof that Google is thinking about building this network:
Here is the scary part for privacy advocates. The reason Google is doing this, it wants to precisely target advertising at a user’s location. Plus, they will have a huge amount of user traffic data that they can parse and use anyway they want.
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