The undisputed king of search, Google
has far more to its portfolio than ubiquity when it comes to the online world. From wearable tech to the Android operating system and driverless cars, Google is at the leading edge of tomorrow’s world. No wonder their execs require a fleet of private aircraft and now their very own California FBO.
P1 starts from page 1 of the Google legend.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin began work on a college research project in 1996. That project became the foundation of Google, a company that has completely transformed the shape of information gathering, and has made its founders billions.
At the age of 23, Page, then a PHD student at California’s Stanford University, woke in the middle of the night with an idea: “You know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a vivid dream, and you know how if you don’t have a pencil and pad beside the bed it will be completely gone by the next morning,” he said during a commencement speech at the University of Michigan.
“Well I had one of those dreams when I was 23, when I suddenly woke up I was thinking, what if we could download the whole web and just keep the links, I grabbed a pen and started writing.”
In partnership with college friend and collaborator Sergey Brin, Page’s dream inspired the creation of an innovative computer algorithm, named PageRank. The algorithm could crawl across the web, indexing and sorting links and then use that data to rank the links based on their importance.
Later they implemented PageRank into a search engine, which they named BackRub, and they quickly recognised how effective their creation was. BackRub returned results that were far superior those delivered by existing search engines and these results would only improve over time as the world rapidly adopted the internet; more web pages meant more links, and a greater ability to determine what was relevant and what wasn’t. BackRub was perfectly designed to grow in parallel with the web itself.
The domain name Google.com was registered on 15 September 1997, after Page and Brin renamed BackRub. The name Google is a play on the word “googol,” a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeroes. Page and Brin felt the term encapsulated their ambitious goal to organise the seemingly infinite amount of information online.
The company began to take shape following an investment of US$100,000 from Sun microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim which led to Google’s first ‘office’ at 232 Santa Margarita, Menlo Park; a garage belonging to Brin’s sister-in-law. The company incorporated on 4 September 1998.
Google grew rapidly and its simplicity and effectiveness made it a popular tool for the growing number of internet users. In December 1998 it was named search engine of choice by PC Magazine in a poll of the Top 100 websites of the year. The magazine highlighted the effectiveness of the PageRank algorithm by saying Google, “has an uncanny knack for returning extremely relevant results”.
In the following years Google moved into offices in Palo Alto, home to several other noted Silicon Valley technology start-ups and appointed Eric Schmidt as CEO. The company also introduced Google AdWords, an online advertising service that enables advertisers to display brief advertisements to web users based on keywords that might link the advert to the content of web pages they are browsing. This service has become the company’s main source of revenue.
By 2004 Google had indexed over 3 billion websites and had become the world’s largest search engine, and on 19 August 2004, Page and Brin took the company public. Attached to the IPO filing was a clear message from the founders; a letter that began by stating: “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.”
The IPO filing highlighted how strong the company had become in its short six-year history, reporting revenues of US$961.9 million in 2003 and a net profit of US$106.5 million. The IPO raised US$1.7 billion and made many Google employees millionaires. It also made Google’s top executives, Page, Brin and Schmidt three of the wealthiest men in Silicon Valley.
Despite their financial success, Brin said in an interview with ABC News that it was not wealth that drives the company to success: “Obviously everyone wants to be successful, but I want to be looked back on as being very innovative, very trusted and ethical and ultimately making a big difference in the world.”
The focus on innovation and the development of productivity tools has helped Google to stand above the crowd of competitors and evolved the company into more than just a search tool. The most well known tool they offer outside of search is Gmail, which was the first online email service to retain emails from the same conversation together in one thread and also the first to offer users 1GB of free storage.
Other notable projects include the open source web browser, Google Chrome, the mobile operating system Android and the social networking service Google+. In 2014 Android reached close to 1.16 billion users, which is over four times more than Apple’s iOS and OS X combined, and over three times more than Microsoft Windows.
Google has also acquired the popular video-sharing website YouTube, which currently has over 1 billion users worldwide and sees over 300 hours of video uploaded every minute. The advertising platforms AdWords and AdSense have been incorporated into the site, helping to generate revenue for both the uploaders and the company.
With their phenomenal success in the tech-world, Page, Brin and Schmidt have been able to become joint owners of another company that few have heard of, Blue City Holdings LLC, which is set up for the sole purpose of managing the trio’s private fleet of aircraft.
Between them they are reported to own a total of eight aircraft including a modified Boeing 767, dubbed the “party plane”, a 757, two Gulfstream Vs and a Dornier Alpha Jet. The aircraft are not owned or operated by Google and it has no affiliation to Blue City.
While little is known about the specifics of these aircraft, court documents revealed in the Wall Street Journal during a lawsuit over the firing of aviation designer Leslie Jennings in 2006, gave a fascinating insight into disagreements over the “party plane”:
“Mr. Jennings says Messrs. Brin and Page “had some strange requests,” including hammocks hung from the ceiling of the plane. At one point he witnessed a dispute between them over whether Mr. Brin should have a “California king” size bed, he says. Mr. Jennings says Mr. Schmidt stepped in to resolve that by saying, “Sergey, you can have whatever bed you want in your room; Larry, you can have whatever kind of bed you want in your bedroom. Let’s move on.” Mr. Jennings says Mr. Schmidt at another point told him, “It’s a party airplane.”
Through a company called H211 LLC, the Google execs pay US$1.3million a year to NASA to house the fleet at Moffett field, a former US Navy air base close to Mountain View that is also home to NASA’s Ames Research Center. As part of the NASA deal the aircraft have had scientific equipment installed so the space agency can conduct flights with its own researchers to gain scientific data.
While the Moffett deal was made outside of Google, it wasn’t the first time the execs had dealt with the space agency. In 2006 Google signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA Ames Research Center, the agreement established a relationship that would involve collaborating on a variety of challenging technical problems ranging from large-scale data management and massively distributed computing, to human-computer interfaces.
With the H211 lease at Moffett coming to an end, Blue City Holdings partnered with Signature Flight Support in 2013 and began development on an US$82 million fixed-base operation (FBO) at San José International Airport. It will reportedly include an executive terminal, seven hangars, ramp space for converted airliners and servicing facilities.
The 50-year lease agreement for the San José FBO will not just benefit the Blue City fleet. It will also be available to other private jet owners and give the airport an additional US$3million a year in rent. The plans have been met with some controversy however, the San José Mercury News reported that approval for the FBO was given without adding a curfew provision that had been omitted in the bidding process. This omission, which could allow jets to operate outside of the airport’s curfew hours of 11:30pm to 6:30am, has attracted complaints from competitors who have accused San Jose of changing the rules to benefit the Google executives.
Bob Harmssen, co-chair of Citizens Against Airport Pollution objects to the development and told San Jose Mercury News in 2013 that: “It’s a David vs. Goliath battle, with the little people getting hosed year after year, their homes worth less than they were even before. How would you like to live with that airplane noise waking you up in the morning or the night?’’
In November 2014 a county judge rejected a lawsuit filed by Atlantic Aviation that challenged the approval. Atlantic is the main FBO at the airport and has said there are environmental and safety concerns over the project.
Atlantic plans to appeal the decision and following the ruling said: “We strongly believe our case shows that the city rushed through the development process, placing airport revenue above proper planning, environmental analysis and community interest.”
The San José FBO does not end the Google execs’ relationship with Moffett Field as NASA announced on 10 November 2014 that the Google subsidiary Planetary Ventures LLC will pay US$1.16 billion in rent over 60 years for the property.
NASA said in a statement the deal would save it US$6.3 million in annual maintenance and operation costs. “As NASA expands its presence in space, we are making strides to reduce our footprint here on Earth,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “We want to invest taxpayer resources in scientific discovery, technology development and space exploration — not in maintaining infrastructure we no longer need.”
Planetary Ventures will use facility for research, development, assembly and testing of technology relating to space exploration, aviation, robotics and other emerging technologies. The company’s occupation of Moffett highlights Page and Brin’s continuing efforts to innovate and explore new markets and illustrates that Google is still, as the founders promised, not a conventional company.
Google At A Glance
Android is a mobile operating system (OS), designed for use with touchscreen mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. As of 2015, Android has the largest install base of all operating systems. Android also offers Google Play, an online store that has over one million Android applications – including P1.
Considered Google’s flagship Android line, Nexus is Google’s electronic devices that run on the Android operating system. The product family is made up of smartphones and tablet computers, including the current Nexus 6 smartphone and Nexus 9 tablet.
YouTube is a video-sharing site that allows users to view, upload and share content. Google allows the uploader of the video to share the revenue produced by advertising on the site through a system based on their advertising platform AdSense. Today YouTube has more than 1 billon users worldwide with the number of hours watched each month up 50% year on year.
Maps is a desktop and mobile mapping service that offers route planning using satellite imagery, street maps, and street view perspectives. It also allows users to browse nearby restaurant, hotels and shopping centres and provides up to date traffic coverage.
Google Chrome is a free web browser that operates on both desktop computers and mobile devices. It is also the most popular browser on all platforms and as of January 2015 it is the most used web browser around the world with 51% of web users. When it launched in 2008 PC World praised the browser for its ease of use saying, “At the touch of a button, Chrome lets you make a desktop, Start menu, or QuickLaunch shortcut to any Web page or Web application, blurring the line between what’s online and what’s inside your PC.”
Google produces the Chromebook, a laptop computer that operates on Chrome OS. The computers are primarily intended for use while connected to the Internet with most applications and data being stored in the cloud. Chrome OS is designed by Google and initially designed to be a web client OS but it has since expanded after the company encouraged developers to build offline applications.
Google Glass is a wearable device that is worn like a pair of glasses and gives the user an optical head-mounted display. A prototype was made available to “Explorers” in the US on 15 April 2013, and later made available to the public on 15 May 2014 for US$1,500. In early 2015, Google announced that while it remains committed to the product, it would stop producing the Google Glass prototype.
Google has been developing the technology for automated, self-driving cars. They use video cameras, radar sensors, a laser range finder and detailed maps to navigate the road ahead. The company’s goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions. While the Google cars are still in a testing phase, Chris Urmson, Director of the Self-Driving Car Project said in a blog post dated April 2014 that the vehicles had logged nearly 700,000 autonomous miles.
In April 2015, Google announced plans to become a wireless carrier with its first entry into the wireless industry. The service, which switches between Wi-Fi and cellular networks to lower data use, will work only on the company’s Nexus 6 phones and be hosted through Sprint Corp and T-Mobile’s networks.
Limiting the service to just one device could be mainly for testing purposes and it has been speculated that in the future Google could be become a big name in the mobile network industry.