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Google's headquarters is located in Mountainview, Calif., but it might as well be Mount Olympus given the company's wild success and seemingly unending acquisition spree. The Google search engine, which handled 70 percent of all online requests at the time we wrote this, is just the tip of a rapidly expanding empire. Over the years, Google has introduced a suite of innovative applications and services, ranging from Gmail and Google Apps to AdWords and AdSense. The company also has ventured into the smartphone fray (and is no doubt hatching new plans as we write). No wonder the company's stock consistently sells for $600 a share or higher on the Nasdaq exchange.
What's astounding is not the level of success the company has achieved, but the timeline in which it has done it. IBM history dates back to 1911, Microsoft and Apple to the mid-1970s. Google doesn't have to look back nearly so far. All things Google began in 1995. That's when Sergey Brin, a 21-year-old student at Stanford University, took University of Michigan graduate Larry Page, just a year older, on a tour of the campus. Legend has it that the two disliked each other and bickered the entire tour. But it must not have been a complete disaster because Page enrolled in Stanford and began working to fulfill the requirements of his Ph.D. program in computer sciences.
Page considered several topics for his doctoral thesis but finally settled on the World Wide Web, which, although growing in the mid-1990s, was still little more than a curiosity. Page decided to focus his attention on the link structure of the Web. Was it possible, he wondered, to use links between Web pages to rank their relative importance? And, if this was indeed possible, could he develop an algorithm -- a set of mathematical rules -- to count and qualify every back link on the Web?
By 1996, Page was knee-deep in the project, but the complexity of the math proved challenging. He reached out to Brin, the outspoken grad student who first introduced Page to the Stanford campus. Brin began working with Page to further refine and develop the math, so that links pointing to a site could be ranked according to importance. They named the resulting algorithm PageRank and then inserted it into BackRub, a search engine that started crawling the Web, beginning with Stanford's home page and working outward from there, across the 10 million online pages that existed at the time.
We'll continue the story of these two innovators on the next page.