Google celebrates its 25th anniversary: A look at the evolution of information access


On September 4, 2023, Google marked its 25th birthday, a significant milestone in the history of the internet. With billions of daily search queries, it’s challenging to imagine life without this search engine. But what was it about Google that revolutionized information access, and how will it adapt as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly intertwined with its services?

1950s: Libraries as Information Hubs In the post-World War II era, successful cities were those that provided open access to information, primarily through local libraries. Librarians acted as human search engines, helping people find information quickly and accurately. Libraries served as more than just book repositories; they were hubs for health advice, travel tips, and marketing guidance. While this system was free, it relied on librarian support and manual cataloging, making answers to complex questions time-consuming.

1990s: The Emergence of Paid Search Services The 1990s saw the integration of personal computers and online access into libraries.

Commercial search companies thrived by offering access to information through expensive subscription services. Dialog, developed by Lockheed Martin, was a notable example, offering access to vast databases of peer-reviewed literature. However, these systems were complex, requiring specialized training to use effectively, and users paid for search results.

Access to valuable information was quick but came at a high cost, up to £1.60 per minute in the 1990s.

The Rise of Google The launch of the World Wide Web in 1993 led to an explosion in the number of websites. Libraries provided public web access, and librarians taught users how to find information online. However, complex search systems struggled to handle the growing volume of content and users. In 1994, “Managing Gigabytes,” a book by New Zealand computer scientists, introduced solutions to this problem. Larry Page and Sergey Brin applied these principles to create Google in 1998.

Google’s success was attributed to its simplicity, a single search box, and a novel presentation of results that summarized their relevance to the query. Google’s algorithm, which counted web links in a page (PageRank) and analyzed anchor text linking to a page, played a crucial role in its effectiveness. Google quickly surpassed competitors like AltaVista and Yahoo Search, now commanding over 85 percent of the search engine market share.

Google’s Expansion and the Future Google has expanded far beyond search, offering services like Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Calendar. With the introduction of AI tools like Bard and Gemini, Google is set to redefine search once again. Generative AI capabilities will enable quick information summaries at the top of search results pages. However, a challenge will be ensuring users don’t blindly trust these generated outputs, emphasizing the importance of fact-checking against original sources.

As AI tools advance, they may impact public access to information, potentially leading to content behind paywalls or subscription models. This shift raises questions about the balance between public access and powerful commercial entities.

In the next 25 years, Google will continue to evolve, adapting to technological advancements and the changing landscape of information access while addressing challenges related to accuracy and access.


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