What Makes Google Run?

With a simple, uncluttered interface and an uncanny ability to find meaningful results, Google.com has grown into an increasingly popular search engine. But gone are the days when hits on your Web site and display ads (even the innovative text ads found on Google) can sustain a company. So Google has been working at developing—and profitizing—new search technologies that build upon their central Google.com database.

Last April in a flurry of activity, Google released the Google API, a programmable API-Web service that uses SOAP and WSDL to access Google's search database, cached pages database, or its spell checking technology. In doing so, Google distinguished itself by releasing one of the first working Web service APIs. Later that month, Google announced a new research service called Google Answers that allows users to pay researchers to find answers for them, and then at the beginning of May, they announced an enormous win when AOL chose to forgo Overture and use Google as the AOL Internet search engine and also display related advertisements along with the searches (as they do on Google.com).

While this appears be an effort to generate more profitable services in advance of an initial public offering (IPO), Marissa Mayer, the product manager for Google.com disputes this idea. She says the new products and services have sprung from an atmosphere of innovation and they are rolling out services they believe will help their users. Says Mayer, "The IPO will happen. We haven't been planning around that."

Chris Sherman, editor of SearchDay at searchenginewatch.com agrees, saying that there is a persistent myth in the press suggesting that Google is setting up for an IPO. While Sherman agrees that they will go public at some point, he says, "I don't think the focus is on tidying things up in preparation of an IPO. They won't do that until they're ready."

Search Engine expert Greg Notess, who has a Web site devoted to search engine research, suggests that the recent flurry of activity actually isn't anything new at Google. Says Notess, "I don't see it as a sudden change. Google has always been active in trying new ideas." He says the company is set up to promote new ideas and find new ways to expand the search technology. He points to earlier innovations, such as Google's News Search, Image search, and its purchase of the Usenet newsgroups from Deja.com last year as concrete examples.

In fact, they encourage their employees to come up with new ways to use the core search technology. According to Mayer, Google employees participate in regular brainstorming sessions known as Product Discussion Forums. She says these sessions allow people to participate in the development of products and use the creative energy of more than 350 people to build off one another and come up with creative ideas.

Mayer stresses that whatever the idea, the driving force must be to help benefit the search experience for Google users. Even, she says, in the case of the AdWords program, a self-service, text-based advertising service. She says, they don't see this as outside the search engine, their core mission, even though the purpose is to generate revenue. She says that Google wanted to include advertisements that add value. She uses a search for a disk drive as an example. "If you look at a disk drive, you may want to know about disk drive maintenance, or you may want to buy one." In the latter case, Mayer says, the ads are a good fit because they can direct you to vendors selling drives, rather than disk drive manufacturer Web sites, which often don't sell drives directly to the public

When they do decide to put a new product out, they tend to introduce it slowly, bringing it along as a Beta (as they did with the Google API and Google Answers in April), then over time they evaluate the popularity and decide how to use it. The constant change and innovation has the unexpected side benefit of keeping attention on Google in the media. Notess points out that Google likes to brag that they've never had a marketing campaign, that their popularity has grown by word of mouth, but he says, "the constant change, having new things to announce, is like a free public relations campaign."

Whatever makes Google go, whether it's their culture, a profit motive, or more likely a combination of the two, they continue to grow and make a profit. And for an Internet company in 2002, that alone is something to brag about. (www.google.com; www.notess.com; www.searchenginewatch.com)