As Google prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary the company has an eye on its future and declared that for web users “the best is yet to come”.
“Internet search has just gotten started,” Marissa Mayer, Google’s head of search products, told the BBC.
“The best search engine would be your friend, with a photographic memory about you and know what you know.
“It would have access to the world of information and retrieve facts from anywhere in the context of what you know already.”
While employee number 22 admits that gazing into the future is an imprecise science akin to asking “Newton to predict Einstein”, Ms Mayer said the one thing she does know is that the next 10 years for Google “are going to be really exciting with big advances in the world of search.
“The right way to think about search is as a science that will evolve,” she said. “We are still making big breakthroughs and if you think about putting pictures and video into search, then search just gets better.”
Ms Mayer told the BBC that she foresees cloud computing playing an important role in the lives of people in the next decade. Perhaps unsurprisingly it features high on Google’s strategy map going into the next decade.
As its name implies cloud computing involves users storing data on the net and getting at it and the services they want anytime and anywhere thanks to ubiquitous high-speed networks.
“There is a real vision and real story developing around cloud computing and what it means in terms of how people should use their computers,” said Ms Mayer. “We see the cloud as an amazing tool for everyone.”
Don’t be evil
It was 10 years ago this month that Larry Page and Sergey Brin formed Google Inc to “organise all the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” and do it better than anyone else.
From humble beginnings in a garage in California’s Menlo Park, the company is now one of the most recognised brands in the world. It boasts annual revenues of nearly $17bn (£9bn), profits of roughly $5bn (£2bn), growth of 35% and a worldwide workforce of over 19,000 full time employees.
Today it controls around 40% of online advertising as well as 70% of search. Its suite of products is ever expanding and this week it launched its own internet browser called Chrome to compete with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox.
Google’s code of conduct says “Don’t be evil” but some fear its motives as it gathers extraordinary amounts of information on users habits, likes and dislikes.
“Google is an incredible success story and has become the central nervous system for our digitally dependent lives but there is a price to pay for that,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the respected Centre for Digital Democracy.
“Google is not alone in invisibly structuring its operations so it can collect more and more information and data about all of us and deliver our online behaviour to a growing list of advertisers and fatten the Google bank account.”
Industry watchers maintain that in the last couple of years the tide has turned against Google which is “no longer taken for granted to be the good guy.”
For $1700 a month, this garage was Google’s first official office
“To start with Google couldn’t make any mistakes and was the favourite of everybody,” said Laurent Lachal, an analyst at research firm Ovum.
“Recently there has been a backlash with an element of paranoia developing against Google with some saying they are as evil as Microsoft.
“The world is no longer at Google’s feet and looking at the launch of Chrome there was a real deep scrutiny of the product and Google’s motives which resulted in a change to the wording of its end user licence,” he said.
Despite a change in attitude towards the company, Fortune Magazine reports that it tops polls of the most desired place to work. The firm is inundated with applications from people eager to sign up as a potential Googler.
It is famed for its free lunches and dinners, onsite massages and softball games, but none of this is what persuaded Biz Stone to go and work at the famed Googleplex in 2003 to run the Blogger service that Google had bought.
He told the BBC: “I was attracted to the idea of working with a bunch of smart interesting people even though it meant moving from Boston to California and getting a new group of friends. It felt like a real adventure.”
Mr Stone left after two years for another start up which eventually resulted in the founding of micro blogging service Twitter.
He left too early to turn his potentially lucrative share options into cash.
“I had to give up the riches to move but it was a choice between a long and comfortable existence or taking the opportunity to take some chances in life.
“Google was a great place to work because it was so brainy and it was like being at a college campus,” he said. “Friends speak in alarming tones about Google having all this information about us, but I’m not worried because people are getting more and more open anyway and sharing their history, their photos, their opinions online more and more.”
Google’s rise to the top and its ability to maintain that position for so long is what analyst Laurent Lachal described as “no mean feat.”
But as it goes into its next decade with an eye to search and the world of cloud computing, he sees the world of enterprise as vital as the company goes forward.
“Enterprise is crucial to the future success of the company because most of the applications and services they provide are used by the consumer market and not the enterprise market which represents millions in untapped potential.”
Employee no 22 misses the good old days of long hours and canteen food
For Jeff Chester, privacy and security are dual issues, not just for Google, but for the industry as a whole.
“Google will be a digital king maker and it is possible the way it uses the information it has about us all might result in a privacy nightmare as it partners with business to monetise everything they do.”
In response Ms Mayer said that “everyday we strive to be the best and earn the trust of the user”.
But even amid all this sober assessment of Google’s last ten years, Ms Mayer remembers the good old days of 120 hour weeks, fantastic cafeteria food and being interviewed while sitting at a ping pong table that doubled as a conference table.
“There was also a giant wall of beer at one end of the office,” she said of her interview that took place in April in the late 1990’s.
“I was worried that I was coming to work at a hard drinking company but I was assured that this was beer that was left over from the Christmas party and that no one really drank that much.”
This gives a flavour of how Google plans to celebrate its tenth anniversary. There will be no massive party or fanfare just offices doing their own thing – such as staging 10k charity runs.
For most Googlers it will be just be business as usual.