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Google is an Internet search engine that not only stores information about
web pages, but also the pages themselves: it caches a large part of the
World Wide Web.
It was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Stanford Ph.D.
candidates, who developed a technologically advanced method for finding
information on the Internet. The company is headquartered in Mountain View,
California. As of 2002, it was the most popular search engine, handling
upwards of 80% of all internet searches through its website and clients like
Yahoo! and AOL.
The word "Google" is a play on the word 'googol', which was coined by Milton
Sirotta, nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner, to refer to the
number represented by 1 followed by 100 zeros. Google's use of the term
reflects the company's mission to organize the immense amount of information
available on the Web. Originally the search engine was called 'Googol'. When
the founders presented their project to an angel investor, they received a
cheque made out to 'Google' ! They thought about it for a couple weeks, then
decided to open an account in the name 'Google'.
Google has become such commonly used, that the verbs "googling" or "to
google" is often used to express that you are doing a web search on
something (see references below).
Google uses an algorithm called PageRank to rank web pages that match a
given search string. The PageRank algorithm computes a recursive figure of
merit for web pages, based on the weighted sum of the PageRanks of the pages
linking to them. The PageRank thus derives from human-generated links, and
correlates well with human concepts of 'importance'. Previous keyword-based
methods of ranking search results, used by many search engines that were
once more popular than Google, would rank pages by how often the search
terms occurred in the page, or how strongly associated the search terms were
with a each resulting page. In addition to PageRank, Google also uses other
secret criteria for determining the ranking of pages on result lists.
Google employs a farm of more than 10,000 GNU/Linux computers to answer
search requests and to index the web. The indexing is performed by a program
("googlebot") which periodically requests new copies of the web pages it
already knows about. The links in these pages are examined to discover new
pages to be added to its database. The index database and web page cache is
several terabytes in size.
Google also has a usenet archive, called "Google Groups" (formerly an
independent site known as Dejanews), a news service, experimental machine
translation services (see link below), and an image search function (called
Google Hacks from O'Reilly & Associates is a book about many tips of Google.
The Commercial Value of Google Listings
Since Google has become one of the most popular search engines, many
webmasters have become interested in following and attempting to explain
changes to the rankings of their websites.
An industry of consultants has arisen to assist websites in improving their
rankings at Google, as well as other search engines. This field, called
search engine optimization, attempts to discern patterns in search engine
listings, and then develop a methodology for increasing rankings.
Forums can be found on the web where phenomena such as the "Google dance"
are discussed. The Google dance is a period of a few days towards the end of
a month when Google updates its database and ranking algorithms. Changes to
the database can be observed by examining the number of results to a search
such as "link:www.yahoo.com".
During the "dance" period, a site's ranking may change dramatically over a
short period of time and different Google servers (e.g., www.google.com,
www2.google.com, www3.google.com, www.google.co.uk etc.) may give different
results for the same search. The dance period appears to coincide with the
time at which the googlebot examines "stable" sites. Rapidly changing sites,
highly ranked sites and news sites are examined more often, although apart
from news, only minor adjustments are made to rankings during most of the
month. In some cases it may take two or three months before new pages appear
in search results.
One of Google's chief challenges is that as its algorithms and results have
gained the trust of web users, the profit to be gained by a commercial web
site in subverting those results has increased dramatically. Some search
engine optimization firms have attempted to inflate their Google ranking by
various artificial means, attempting to draw more searchers to their
clients' sites. Google has apparently managed to defeat or weaken these
attempts by reducing the ranking of sites known to use them.
Google publishes a set of guidelines for website owners interested in
improving their rankings using legitimate optimization consultants. 
Google and the Courts
For its efforts, Google has drawn a possibly barratrous lawsuit from a
company, SearchKing, that sought to sell advertisements on pages with
inflated Google rankings. Google has stated in its defense that its rankings
are its constitutionally protected opinions of the web sites that it lists.
Google has been criticized for placing long-term cookies on users' machines,
enabling them to track a user's search terms over time. However, most of
Google's services can be used with cookies disabled.
A number of organizations have used DMCA laws of the USA to demand that
Google remove references to material on other sites that they claim
copyright over. Google typically handles this by removing the link as
requested and including a link to the complaint in the search results. There
have also been complaints that the "Google cache" feature violates
copyright, however the consensus seems to be that caching is a normal part
of the functionality of the web, and that HTTP provides adequate mechanisms
for requesting that caching be disabled (which Google presumably respects;
Google also honors the robots.txt file.)
In 2002, there were news reports that the Google search engine had been
banned in China. A mirror site (in all respects, including mirrored text) called
elgooG proved useful to get around the ban. The ban was later lifted, and
reports indicated that it was not Google itself that was targeted. Rather,
Google's feature of a cached version of a website, would allow Chinese
users to circumvent any ban of a website itself, by merely visiting the
cache instead. It is interesting to note that a better caching service is
provided by http://www.archive.org/, yet this site was not banned.
Google introduced a beta release of an automated news compilation service,
"Google News" in April 2002. At first, articles from 150 sources were
updated hourly. By September 2002, the number of sources had been expanded
to over 4000, and continuous updating was initiated. Since then, the service
had expanded to German and French news sites.
In February 2003, Google acquired Pyra Labs, owner of blogger.com, a
pioneering and leading blog-hosting website. Upon first glance, the
acquisition seemed inconsistent with the general "mission" of Google.
However, it was soon theorized that Google perhaps plans to utilize
information gleaned from blog postings to improve the speed and relevancy of
articles contained in Google News.
In May 2002, Google launched a new service called "Google answers". Google
answers is an extension to the conventional search - rather than doing the
search yourself, you pay someone else to do the search. Customers ask
questions, offer a price for an answer, and researchers answer them. Prices
for questions range from $2 to $200, Google keeps 25% of the payment,
passing the rest to the researchers, and charges an additional 50c listing
fee. In May 2003 this service came out of beta, though the site hasn't
attracted as many customers as hoped.