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the infinite quest
by Robin D. Rusch
August 13, 2001

Everything about Google is simple and clear.

Unlike other search engines that have given over to media portals clogged with banner ads and flashing links, Google has the effect of putting a cool slice of cucumber over each eye and still being able to see. As Google spokesperson, Cindy McCaffrey notes, “It seems counterintuitive to the concept of stickiness, but the point of Google is to allow people to find information as soon as possible and get on their way.”


A mere baby even in the youthful world of the Internet, Google will be three years old as a fully functioning search engine next month (the beta testing began a year earlier). Devised by two Stanford doctoral candidates, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the site grew from an interest in data mining (the patterns and trends that develop when analyzing big stacks of data). Brin and Page devised a fully automated search technique that uses link analyses to return relevant content in response to a search. Other search engines base their searches on text within the web page or use manpower to compile a directory.

Happily this article is about the brand, not the formula, so we won’t dig any deeper into the technology than that. Suffice it to say that its unique selling point is searching specialization. Unlike other search engines, which have evolved into media portals, Google remains completely dedicated to the function of searching. Or as Brin put it in a article in Internet magazine “When people come to Google, all they want is to search. And that’s our product” (Feb 2000).

But Google’s not all tech and no play. Besides the themed logos to represent major holidays, it also shows its cheeky side in the “I’m feeling lucky” option next to the search. Click on that and you will be taken directly to the highest ranked result for your search, which Google assumes is what you’re probably looking for.

It doesn’t always work (especially if you are searching for something obscure with a common name) but then confirming that you’re smarter than the search engine is probably enough of a thrill to make you feel lucky anyway.

In fact many things about the brand are fun. The name and logo were both devised by the founders themselves. Page came up with Google, which is a play on the word googol, meaning 10100, or 1 followed by 100 zeros (googol, itself, was coined by the nine-year-old nephew of the scientist who put forth that such a large number would be finite and definable). The word google is evocative of the technology involved but it is also a silly word, which makes it less apprehensive. What’s more, with 100 million people using the Google powered search engine per day, the name seems like a goal for future growth.

As for the logo, according to McCaffrey, Brin designed the logo “to reflect whimsy and fun. With its colorful rounded edges, it’s approachable and friendly but it’s also serious about what it does.” This ties in completely with the name and the image of the company in general.

So with a great concept, a product that delivers, a fun logo and a relevant name, it’s not hard to believe that Google inspires such high user loyalty.

Travis Freeland, systems section leader in IT at Deakin University in Australia, sums up the user experience best when he says “If it’s on the web and I need to find it, Google will help me.” This kind of spontaneous endorsement encourages word of mouth, reinforces the integrity of Google and feeds potential user interest.

Freeland was one of the early contributors of a Google logo, which is displayed with many others on the “fan page.” What possessed him to spend time on a logo for what is essentially a big business? He met the two founders at a conference while they were still researching the business, and was impressed by their goals. Speaking of the company’s popularity and his own contribution to the word-of-mouth buzz, he said “It’s quite funny how over the years, people have gone from ‘Google?’ To ‘Google!’ ”

Comparing Google with other search engines was easy for Freeland. “The others do not compare. I probably use Google 90% of the time and then any of the others when I know the content must be out there but Google isn’t returning it to me.” Although he’d probably still use it if it were set up like AltaVista or, he said, “I prefer how it looks now, especially their holiday versions of the logos.”

Google is a dot com and so the obvious question is its profitability. The company is privately held and according to its own reporting, it has been profitable on an operating basis for the last two quarters.

Revenue doesn’t come from charging for listing prominence – a practice engaged in by some of the larger search engines. Instead Google generates revenue by offering search services to other companies and portals, such as Cisco Systems, Martha Stewart and Yahoo! Additionally it uses targeted advertising, which, according to Google’s claims, generates clickthroughs that are four to five times higher than industry standards. The ads themselves are discreet, text-based notices, with font size consistent with other content on the page. As McCaffrey notes “If a searcher is waiting for something to download and then they get an advertisement, it’s annoying. We offer great search results with no waiting time.” These revenue-generating sources allow Google to collect income without having to resemble Shibuya on a Saturday night.

The two founders, who’ve yet to collect their degrees despite an outstanding promise to their mothers, have recently moved into co-president roles to fulfill product and strategy. Last week’s appointment of Eric Schmidt to CEO is a sign that the company is shoring up its management roles. However, only time will tell whether Google will continue to delight and impress its users or be forced to compromise to remain profitable.


Robin D. Rusch lives and works in New York City.

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