When Google first came out, it was a legitimate technology company. Not because it was a search engine, but because it was a search engine that was actually new and useful.
Unlike other popular search engines of the time, Google didn’t just match your keywords to specific websites. It also ranked those websites — based on PageRank.
PageRank is what made Google so special to use. It’s a simple algorithm that ranks the credibility of a website based on how many other websites link to it. It was primitive and eventually many people figured out how to game it — an industry still alive today — but it gave Google search results a tremendous amount of objectivity and trust.
As a result, Google made a lot of money very fast. Between 1999 and 2004, it went from making $220,000 a year to making $1 billion a year. This kind of growth was — and still is — absolutely insane. I mean, they called it a unicorn for a reason.
2004 was also the year when Google launched Gmail, another amazing product. Perhaps it wasn’t as innovative as search, but it was fast and clean, and, from a technical perspective, doing an email service at scale is probably even harder than doing a search engine.
But then, things got kind of weird. Instead of focussing on making new things, Google started pumping out clones of tried-and-true software just for the sake of having one of their own. Some of it worked, like Google Drive (who doesn’t like free storage?) Others, not so well (Google+, you’re not forgotten.)
As Google’s product ecosystem became more and more bloated and incoherent, it became obvious that they didn’t really know what they were doing. This was extremely clear when they tried to build their own hardware (Google Pixel, I’m looking at you) though they had a good excuse — they weren’t trying to actually build a phone, they were just showing Android makers how Android phones should work.
Since we’re talking about Android, the best products Google own today (Android and Youtube) weren’t even built by them, but acquired at crucial moments during the internet revolution.
If we judge Google purely by its technological merits, it’s a war hero at best. Someone who did something brave and important at some time in…