Inside The Wide World Of Google

computer, google AP / CBS

When you want to find one Web page among the billions on the Internet, where do you start?

Well, if you're like most people, you start at Google.com.

(CBSNews.com and Google have an Internet advertising sales business relationship.)

Google can help you find just about anything: facts, phone numbers, recipes, song lyrics, even the dirt on a prospective date.

"Googling" has become so commonplace that it is now a verb. Google can search 5 billion Web pages in 2/10 of a second, and people do it 200 million times a day, in 100 different languages, from German to pig latin.

But, as CBS News Sunday Morning Contributor David Pogue reports, the inside story of Google may be more interesting.

Google began at Stanford University. It was a research paper by a couple of computer science PhD candidates, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

"Myself and my partner, Larry Page, were just doing research in managing large amounts of information," says Brin. "That's called data mining, which means finding patterns in them. And eventually we turned to the World Wide Web, which is basically most of human knowledge, all together in kind of a very heterogeneous dispersed form."

The name was supposed to be "Googol," which is the mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeroes.

"It was before the Google spellchecker existed," according to Brin.

Page and Brin dropped out of Stanford and rented a room from Susan Wojcicki. Today, she is Google's director of product management.

"I had bought a house, so we decided we'd rent some of it out to a student," Wojcicki says. "We thought, 'Well, they'll probably just be there during the day while we're at work. We won't notice.' But they were actually there 24 hours a day, all the time. But in the end, it worked out well. And we got free Internet access at the same time."

A buddy named Craig Silverstein dropped out to help them, becoming Google's Employee Number 1.

"We found a place with some extra space and moved in and worked in a garage, like a good Silicon Valley startup should do," remembers Silverstein.

In just a few years, the three guys in a garage grew into a company of 1,000 employees worldwide, taking in $1 billion a year. Today, Google is headquartered at a Silicon Valley campus called the GooglePlex.

From the look of the place, one would think it was still 1999 -- before the tech bubble burst.

Need to get a tune out of your head? Play the grand piano in the atrium. Or let the grand piano in the atrium play itself. Need a lift to the next building? Hop onto one of the company's fleet of Segway scooters.

Googlers also get free gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner -- all prepared by the former chef of the Grateful Dead. They get free medical care. Everywhere you look, there's another free and all-you-can-eat snack bar stocked with healthy snacks, and not-so-healthy snacks. There's even a massage chair in the lobby.

But according to co-founder Sergey Brin, there's a good reason why Google isn't frugal when it comes to pampering its staff.

"Volleyball courts, masseuses, all these things -- these are all actually pretty well thought-out," says Brin. "For example, our lunch and dinners that we provide for employees -- it really saves a lot of time. People don't have to drive off campus, park, go somewhere, wait for a long time for food. You can sit and chat with your colleagues and talk about all kinds of work projects. Learn about new things. And head back to the office."

One may think it might be fun to work at Google, and they're not alone.

"We get over 1,500 résumés a day of people who are applying to Google," according to Susan Wojcicki.

But if you want to get hired, you'll have to have to fit in with Google's corporate philosophy, which is: "Don't be evil."

Today, Employee Number 1 Craig Silverstein is Google's director of technology.

"The focus that Google has on our users, you know, a very slim homepage and so forth -- text ads, not banner," says Silverstein. "We do that because we don't want to go to sites with banner ads. We don't like them."

Not being evil also means keeping advertising out of the search results.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with having advertisements, you should just label them appropriately," says Brin. "Some search engines out there, today, sort of mix in paid results with regular results, and they don't label them. So the user doesn't know that that would not have appeared had they not paid for it. And I think that's really wrong."

If one goes to the Googleplex in hopes of peeking behind the curtain and seeing the Google computers at work, they'll be disappointed.

"We use commodity PCs, the kind of things that you could go down to your local Radio Shack and buy," says Silverstein. "We have over 10,000 of these things all hooked up together. And it's certainly not all in one location, because that's very vulnerable. So, we have it spread out in various locations throughout the country, various locations throughout the world."

So if Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote the software years ago, why does the company need 1,000 workers? Well, to keep ahead of Microsoft and Yahoo, who are out for Google's blood.

"Anything that you develop is a garden left untended, so to speak," says Brin. "If we were to just all go on vacation, I'm sure there would be plenty of weaknesses. But we don't. We're here working hard to improve it every day."

One way they improve it is by adding new features. For example, in a box on the Google Web page, one can type in an equation, such as a FedEx or UPS package number, units of measurement you want converted, a stock symbol or, even an airplane's tail number.

Just about everyone at Google has a favorite Google trick.

"When you type something in, you can say, you know, 'What is the average rainfall in the Amazon basin?' And you know, that'll work fine, actually," says Silverstein. "But when you're searching for something, it helps if you phrase it in the form of an answer. And maybe Web pages will pop up."

One may get better results by typing, "The average rainfall in the Amazon basin is."

In fact, you could fill a book with all the Google tips and tricks. Rael Dornfest did just that.

"I think most people don't even notice some of the bits that are hidden in plain sight -- one of which, for example, is the images search," says Dornfest.

Google is like a popularity contest. It ranks your Web page according to how many other Web pages connect to it. Nowadays, there's even a geeky Google game in which people try to manipulate the search results. It's called "Google bombing."

"It began when one writer decided to call another writer publicly a talentless hack, so he got a bunch of friends together and they all linked to this poor fellow's Web site with the words 'talentless hack,' the net result being that if you search Google for 'talentless hack.' you end up at this guy's Web page," says Dornfest.

What's next for Google? Going public, for one thing. Analysts are putting Google's value at $20 billion -- the first major Silicon Valley stock offering in years, and the biggest ever. Google won't talk about it, but brokers worldwide have dilated pupils and sweaty palms.

At that point, hundreds of instant millionaires will walk the halls of the Googleplex, and a few fancier new cars will fill the parking lot.

But despite the tiny distraction of $20 billion, Google's executives hope they can keep their eye on the ball. For them, cataloging the Web is only the beginning.

"My guess is about 300 years until computers are as good as, say, your local reference library in doing search," says Craig Silverstein. "But we can make slow and steady progress, and maybe one day we'll get there."

Click here for some of David Pogue's favorite Google tricks.
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