A note recently popped up in my Gmail inbox to offer me 20 per cent off everything in the Google store. It’s a celebration of Google’s 20th birthday.
Google is no longer a teenager. Has any company ever had such as impact on our lives in such a short space of time? Whilst writing this article I will undoubtedly check various facts using Google search, my Pixel 2 phone will feed me (and two billion other Android users) a constant stream of information, social media and other distractions. On my way to a meeting later I will navigate with Google’s maps service. Any photos I take will be backed up to the cloud automatically via the company’s photo service and my steps will be tracked by Google’s fitness app. Google has taken over my whole world.
Of course, there have also been some notable Google failures. The Google Plus social network is, as far as I can see, only used by Google employees. Chromebooks have probably not been as successful as the company would like and I seem to be one of a minority that wants to carry a Pixel phone. My Google Home Mini is, frankly, not very good at telling me useful information. Yet outside of hardware it is difficult to think of many services that the company has launched that have truly flopped.
A whole generation has grown up not knowing any other way to access information other than via Google. So, let me take you back for a moment to 1998. Search at that time was a bit of a gamble. You input the thing you were looking for and either got something vaguely accurate, or completely random. Every search engine was also looking to push further content to you. Under the search bar was information about news, sport, entertainment, shopping.
Then Google launched its search engine, with nothing other than a single space to enter what you were looking for. This was revolutionary at the time – it just did what you wanted it to. And the search results were unerringly accurate. It was a moment in time. Once you used Google you never wanted to go back to the old way. You shared this new service with anyone who would listen. Suddenly something worked how it should.
A friend of mine is a designer. He believes that all design is either complete disruption of the status quo or degrees of tweaking on the road to perfection. The first time you used Google, compared to the previous options, was utterly recognisable as disruption. Despite this I doubt even Sergey Brin and Larry Page could visualise what they had created and the impact it would continue to have on the world. On the other hand, perhaps they were the only ones that did.