When I started my courses in the doctoral program, one of our professors, from a Greek university, talked about the interesting research that two students from Stanford University had done. Those students, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, had just laid the groundwork for founding the search engine that is today the absolute emperor of the Internet kingdom.
At that time there were much better developments in the scientific literature to create content search algorithms on-linevarious proposals to order and be able to find the needle in the haystack of the newborn world Wide Webbut only one, Google, has ended up dominating the world.
Bring order to the web
In 1999, Larry and Sergei, in collaboration with two other researchers, published an article that is part of the history of technology:The PageRank Citation Ranking: Bringing Order to the Web. In that article they described PageRanka method to qualify web pages objectively and mechanically, effectively attending to human interest and the attention it devotes.
His proposal was a novel way of ordering information. Essentially, that’s the basis of a search engine’s job: going through all the web pages to collect the existing information; model it and, finally, show us the links to the pages that are closest to our query. But PageRank it included a key element, different from the rest of the search engines in development, and that placed it first in the race.
The key: page link sources
novelty of PageRank it’s the way you order, how you choose the first thing you offer. The algorithm weights the importance of the sources that link to each page in the score. This was then, in the first decade of the century, a Eureka!a key idea that ignited the engine of the Google machine.
For example, if the page contains information about universities, it will be more important if another university, such as www.deusto.es, links to it from its website than if it is linked by a mechanic shop. But if the information is about mechanics, the better if the workshops link it (and the more the better).
Until then, the task of ordering and prioritizing so much information required a large amount of time and computer resources. Google lowered these costs so much and achieved such efficiency in the process that companies welcomed it with a red carpet.
Google’s push to big technology companies
in his book Thanks for being late…the journalist Thomas L. Friedman highlights two scientific articles that analyze how the development achieved by Google was the basis that allowed the takeoff of several of the leading technology companies that today run the richest in the world.
Scientists noted that Google allowed large amounts of data to be processed on multiple computers simultaneously(MapReduce: Simplified Data Processing on Large Clusters and that the files, despite being scattered across many different servers, could be viewed as if they were on a single computer. What does this mean? It means hyper-efficiency and savings, a transformative change in the way of working with large volumes of information.
The revolution that Google brought about: ordering the world’s information
In the pre-Google era, the trend was to process information on large servers, which quickly reached their limits. No matter how big a processor was, at a given moment it was overwhelmed. Google, on the other hand, is virtually infinite. It allows ordering and storing information in ordinary computers connected to the network, which works as a single computer. This was a Eureka! more, the one that conquered the native internet companies and catapulted them with an ambitious goal: “organize the world’s information and make it accessible and useful for all users”.
Step by step, company by company, user by user, everyone chose Google.
And the money came pouring in
The business definitely took off when Google found a way to monetize all the stored information through ads. Although it was not their initial idea, given the growth they were experiencing and the need for financing, in 2000 they created Google Adwordsnow Google ads.
This platform allows, through a system of auctions in real time, to show personalized advertising to each user based on the information it has about them. The system, among other actions, has meant that if Google were a state it would have more money than forty African countries combined.
The dark face of so much power
But the machine has problems. To be as effective as possible, the monitoring of the actions carried out by the user has to be very high, and this undermines a fundamental right, privacy (although Google argues that the data does not leave the company).
Google, in addition, is judge and part in the whole chain. You have in your hands the most used mobile operating system in the world (Android), the most used web browser, a large network of advertisers and the key to the gateway to the internet: the search engine.
Today the debate is not only focused on what Google supposes as an algorithm, in terms of performance optimization and efficiency. Also in ethics and fundamental rights.
If it’s not on Google, it doesn’t exist.
The search engine offers a priori the results that better fit the expectations of the users, but they do not have to be objectively better than those that do not appear in Google. Thus, the only information that counts is what the search engine has chosen. The rest does not exist.
Google is at the center of the explosion of the information capture process, it attracts the best professionals from different fields, not only technological ones. The user has become accustomed to the results that Google gives and does not search for more. If something isn’t on Google, it definitely doesn’t exist, or it doesn’t matter if it does.
As my Ph.D. professor used to say, there were much better proposals in the scientific literature for creating search engine algorithms. However, Google has won the race of the century by a long shot.
Borja Sanz Urquijo does not receive a salary, does not perform consultancy work, does not own shares, or receives funding from any company or organization that may benefit from this article, and has declared that he has no relevant links beyond the academic position cited.