Google's long journey to tech power


Wangari Maathai and Kimani Maruge who enrolled in primary school at age 84, have been commemorated with Doodles

Saturday October 07 2017

Today, Google’s dominance in our world is self-evident. These days, we talk about Googling something instead of searching for it, and we use the phrase “Google is your friend” to rebuke people who ask about things we think they can easily “google”.

We use Google Maps to find our way around, and the Android operating system, created by Google, is used in more than 18,000 digital devices, according to a 2014 survey.

The story of Google goes back to 1995, when Sergey Brin and Larry Page met at Stanford University. According to Wired magazine, Larry Page had been admitted to the university as a graduate student and Sergey Brin, had been assigned to show him around. They argued a lot. However, one year after they met, they had set up Google’s first home page using Stanford University’s computer network, placing the hardware in their dorm rooms.

The search system they created, which they first called Backrub, favoured links to pages that had more links in them, ranking them above those that had fewer links. That improved on the search engines that existed at the time, which searched based only on text.

In the end, the fledgling search engine grew so big that at some point, it occupied half of Stanford University’s total bandwidth, often bringing down the university’s internet connection, according to Wired. The duo was forced to find an off campus office for their invention.


According to Google’s own blog, the company was incorporated in 1998, after a co-founder of Sun Microsystems (creator of the Java programming language) provided funding of $100,000 (Sh10 million at today’s exchange rate).

The money allowed the duo to move into a garage owned by Susan Wojcicki, one of the company’s early employees, who today is the CEO of YouTube. Its mission was “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

The company grew quickly. According to a May 2008, article in Computerworld, Google overtook Yahoo! in US internet users in April 2004, with 141 million visitors to Yahoo!’s, 140.6 million, and become the most visited site in the United States.

Four months later, Google would complete its initial public offering (IPO) on August 19, 2004, with each share costing US$85 (Sh8,773 at current exchange rate), according to Nasdaq records. The company’s market capitalisation was US$23billion (Sh2.37 trillion).

Two months later, the company was more valuable than Yahoo!, with its value rising to US$50.8 billion (Sh5.24 trillion) to Yahoo!’s US$47.8billion (Sh4.93 trillion). Alphabet, Google’s parent company has a current market capitalisation US$677.2  billion (Sh70 trillion), a 29-fold increase in value from when Google went public.

In addition to search, the company would have far reaching effects on the world around it. One way was through Doodles, the playful changes the company makes to its logo to commemorate important events. Every Jamhuri Day from 2010 to 2016 has been marked with a Doodle.

Also, the late environmentalist, Wangari Maathai, Kimani Maruge who enrolled in primary school at the ripe old age of 84, and the East African common market have all been commemorated with Doodles.

Google made much of what it made free for everyone. By putting large tranches of archival information online, Google helped bring information, much of it historical, to people who ordinarily would never have seen it. 

In Kenya, Google placed archives of the Kenya Gazette online, from 1895 to 2012 for free, and has online collections from the Kenya National Archives.

Our sense of the world, and our place in it has changed radically, partly due to Google. That is due to some fateful acquisitions the company made in 2004.

The Sydney-based company, Where 2 Technologies, was owned by two Danish brothers, Lars and Jens Eilstrup Rasmussen, who according to a 2015 story in The Guardian, pitched a searchable, zoomable, scrollable map to Google, which would become Google Maps.

“Yahoo beat Google to web maps and MapQuest beat it to turn-by-turn directions, but people didn’t stand up and take notice until Google Maps came along,” Gary Gale, the UK Ordnance Survey’s head of APIs told The Guardian.


Although Google Maps would not have legal standing in a land case, for example, they have become ubiquitous today, replacing paper maps.

The company also acquired Keyhole Technologies, whose expertise is behind the development of Google Earth, Now, any user around the world, using Google Earth, can pull up historical satellite images of any location and make comparisons to present day images.

Google created massive changes in the world of work. Gmail, its email system was revolutionary for its time. According to Gmail engineer Paul Buchheit, for the first time, users did not need to delete messages to conserve space, because users now had 1000MB instead of the 4MB that was usual at the time. Gmail also introduced the conversation view to email, which allowed a user to see all the replies to a message at once.

Soon Google would take on Microsoft. In 2005, the company acquired 2Web Technologies, which had created a web based spreadsheet programme called XL2Web. The next year, Google acquired another company called Upstartle, which had created Writely, a web-based word processor.

These two products would later become Google Docs and Spreadsheets, which Google offered for free, and through which they aimed to overturn Microsoft’s dominance, which it held through its proprietary suite of Office software. In April 2007, Google announced that it had acquired Tonic limited, which had expertise in presentation software, and allowed Google to provide an alternative to Microsoft’s Power Point. 


Google Docs allowed for co-authoring, where many users could make changes to the same document. But Microsoft would respond, according to tech magazine The Verge, enabling real time editing on its web apps. It went further in 2016, enabling multiple users to edit a document in real time, through its office 2016 suite, which surpassed Google’s capabilities.

Lastly, Google has changed the mobile phone. The Android operating system grew from a company Android, owned by Andy Rubin, which Google acquired in 2005, according to a BusinessWeek Article.  Here was a common platform many manufactures could use, which solved a major problem.

Before Android, “The only way to build apps was device by device and platform by platform—Google had a closet full of hundreds of phones that we tested one by one each time we wanted to launch new software,” the company says on its official blog.

Now Android is the most active mobile operating system in the world, with two billion active devices in May 2017, according to a company announcement. It really has brought smart phones to the people.