Google's Greatest Hits and Misses

  1. Google Timeline

    Google Timeline

    At the beginning of 1998, Google (GOOG) was just a mathematical project for a couple of doctorate students at Stanford University. The first investor wrote a $100,000 check to a company that didn't exist and the rest, as they say, is history. Audacious is one way to describe Larry Page and Sergey Brin, also known as the Google Guys.

    In the company's first press release, Brin said Google was headed toward being "a perfect search engine" that will "process and understand all the information in the world." The hubris paid off. Google was founded at the right time, with the right technical requirements to become a verb. The company's initial public offering in 2004 remains the largest for an Internet company, making Brin and Page billionaires many times over. As the services Google provided became essential to everyday life, the company grew rapidly, opened offices around the world, and added thousands of employees.

    Google sites now handle more Internet searches in the U.S. than all other search engines combined, according to ComScore. Becoming a global corporation has invited greater scrutiny—and missteps. Google's power approaches that of a monopoly in enough areas that acquisitions are followed by months of negotiations with the U.S. Justice Dept. Before the company pulled out of China, Google agreed to censor search results in the country, drawing fire from human rights groups. And in numerous areas, the corporation has acted as if it is above the law, though the revelation in 2010 that Google's self-driven vehicles had secretly logged thousands of miles on public roads seemed to cause as much excitement as it did controversy.

    Click to read about the high points in the rapid rise of the company that owns the world's most popular search engine.
  2. Larry Page, Meet Sergey Brin

    Larry Page, Meet Sergey Brin

    Summer of 1995

    Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Google Guys, met on the campus of Stanford University. Page was a prospective graduate student and Brin was showing him the campus. According to Wired, Page said he thought Brin was "pretty obnoxious." Or as the Google website puts it, "they disagree about most everything during this first meeting." The pair laid the foundation for Google in scientific papers published while at Stanford. In one, Page, Brin and two others wrote: "We have taken on the audacious task of condensing every page on the World Wide Web into a single number, its PageRank." The result was the subtitle of the paper, "Bringing Order to the Web."
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  3. Google Incorporated

    Google Incorporated

    Sept. 4. 1998

    Armed with groundbreaking research on Web search engines and a $100,000 check from Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, Page and Brin opened Google's first offices in a garage at 232 Santa Margarita (above) in Menlo Park. The fledgling company incorporated in September and launched a home page prototype in November.
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  4. Google's First Round of Venture Capital

    Google's First Round of Venture Capital

    June 7, 1999

    Google's first press release announced a $25 million round of venture capital funding from Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins (now Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers). Partner John Doerr (above), shown in a photo taken in 1998 at The Washington Post's headquarters, joined the board of Google when the firm invested in the fledgling company. In the press release, Sergey Brin's comment read: "A perfect search engine will process and understand all the information in the world. That is where Google is headed." The No. 1 query during Google's first full year was Pokemon.
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  5. The First Webby Awards

    The First Webby Awards

    May 12, 2000

    Larry Page skated in the lobby of a San Francisco opera house after winning a Best Practices Webby Award in 2001. Winning Webby Awards became somewhat standard practice for Page and Sergey Brin, starting with recognition for Technical Achievement and Peoples' Voice in May 2000. By the end of that year, Google was being offered in 10 languages and the company had launched ads related to keyword searches. The fastest-growing search term of 2000 was Napster.
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  6. Eric Schmidt Named Chairman

    Eric Schmidt Named Chairman

    Mar. 26, 2001

    Eric Schmidt, shown above in 2005, was named chairman of Google in March 2001 and chief executive officer in August of that year. He would serve in those posts for the next decade. The company was already growing quickly, with Google sites launched in 26 languages and an office in Tokyo opened before the year was out. Nostradamus was the quickest-rising search query that year after rumors spread that the French seer had predicted the 2001 attack on New York's World Trade Center.
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  7. More Webbys

    More Webbys

    June 18, 2002

    Google was launching such new products as Google News and Google Product Search (first released as Froogle) that swiftly became intuitive parts of the Web search process. As Time noted, "Google News is an innovative stab at solving the info-glut problem that plagues so many of us." Above, Larry Page (left) and Sergey Brin after accepting a Webby Award in 2002.
  8. Gmail Launches

    Gmail Launches

    Apr. 1, 2004

    Cloud-based Gmail revolutionized the idea of e-mail for users and advertisers alike, as Google announced plans to digitally read e-mails and then direct advertising to each user. The BBC reported some opposition to the new service due to privacy concerns. At the same time, Google's slow rollout made Gmail addresses a popular commodity before the service opened to all, according to a Washington Post article about a high-schooler who made thousands of dollars selling Gmail accounts on eBay.
  9. Google Goes Public

    Google Goes Public

    Aug. 19, 2004

    It's easy to look back at Google's initial public offering as the biggest investment opportunity you missed in the last decade. Back then, as BusinessWeek pointed out at the time, it wasn't so easy to see the track Google would take to being a company valued at $168.7 billion (as of Apr. 18, 2011). Schmidt, Page, and others (above) rang in the first day of trading on the Nasdaq. The Google Guys were instant billionaires, along with an untold number of the more than 1,000 employees that the company said had been given stock options, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
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  10. European HQ Opens in Dublin

    European HQ Opens in Dublin

    Oct. 6, 2004

    Google's Dublin office officially opened in 2004 with 150 employees. There are now more than 2,000 employees in Ireland at the current European headquarters (above). In February of this year, Google spent $136 million to buy the tallest building in Dublin, with plans to expand. According to Bloomberg News, Google cut its taxes by $3.1 billion from 2007 to 2010 by using income tax loopholes that involved maneuvering income through Ireland and other areas in strategies known as the "Double Irish" and the "Dutch Sandwich."
  11. Google Books

    Google Books

    Dec. 17, 2004

    Seven prestigious libraries signed up with Google to have books scanned online in a long-term project to make texts available in a giant database. The books project set off a legal battle with the Authors Guild the following year. A proposed settlement between the guild and Google was struck down by a Federal judge in March 2011 as "unfair to authors." Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild, wrote a letter to The New York Times reiterating the Guild's disagreement with Google: "We believe that without first obtaining permission, Google is prohibited from copying books for commercial purposes. That's why we sued. Judge Denny Chin, who faulted Google for 'wholesale, blatant copying' without permission, seems to agree."
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  12. Elinor Mills Rankles Eric Schmidt on Privacy Issues

    Elinor Mills Rankles Eric Schmidt on Privacy Issues

    July 14, 2005

    Taking note of growing concern about Google 's threat to privacy, CNET News reporter Elinor Mills Googled CEO Eric Schmidt and published so-called personal information in an article. She later wrote that the story resulted in "a very stern corporate silent treatment from Google for nearly two months."
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  13. Google Maps Launched

    Google Maps Launched

    Feb. 8, 2005

    One of Google's signature features, Google Maps, launched in February 2005 and was followed rapidly by upgrades with satellite views and Google Earth. Above is a recent photo of a Google employee using a Google Earth display at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
  14. Google Battles With Microsoft

    Google Battles With Microsoft

    Dec. 22, 2005

    The tech world got a peek at the bitterness developing between executives at Microsoft (MSFT) and Google during a battle over a key employee named Kai-Fu Lee (above right, with Google CEO Eric Schmidt). Lee went on to become the founding president of Google China and is now considered one of the most influential people in China's Internet world. Ostensibly, the spat was about a one-year noncompete agreement that Lee had signed with Microsoft. The broader battle served as a window into what Lee described as Microsoft's "incompetence in China," according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
  15. Google Launches China Site

    Google Launches China Site

    Jan. 27, 2006

    As part of the terms for doing business in China, Google agreed to censor search results in the country, stirring controversy. The company was criticized by Human Rights Watch and other organizations for actions that went against Google's informal slogan: "Don't be evil." At the same time, Google grew in other areas, launching Gchat, Finance, Calendar, Documents, and Maps in Europe.
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  16. YouTube Acquired for $1.65 billion

    YouTube Acquired for $1.65 billion

    Oct. 9, 2006

    Google bought popular video site YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006. It was the company's largest publicly disclosed acquisition to date. Just seven months later, Google paid $3.1 billion for DoubleClick, after a bidding war with Microsoft, as a way to expand into online display advertising. As one analyst told The New York Times, ":keeping Microsoft away from DoubleClick is worth billions to Google."
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  17. Google Passes Yahoo!

    Google Passes Yahoo!

    Dec. 22, 2006

    Google became the second-most-visited site globally at the end of 2006. Less than four months later, at some point in March, Google overtook Microsoft to become the most visited site. Microsoft and Yahoo! (YHOO) then rapidly lost search engine market share. Google continued to grow rapidly, with staff head count topping 10,000 in 2006.
  18. Street View Launched

    Street View Launched

    May 25, 2007

    To create a feature called Street View, Google dispatched cars with cameras mounted on their roofs. Certain photos taken from street level aroused privacy concerns. For example, Privacy International released a report in June 2007 that named Google as the worst Internet company on privacy issues. Street view also sparked legal battles. A Pittsburgh couple sued Google on issues related to privacy after the car taking photos for street view used a private road. Google's response to the lawsuit was that "complete privacy does not exist." In 2010, Google admitted that it had wrongly collected information circulating on Wi-Fi networks while taking Street View images.
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  19. Android launched

    Android launched

    Nov. 5, 2007

    Google launched a new software platform for mobile phones called Android. The main competitor to Android software also happened to be the fastest rising query of the year, Apple's (AAPL) iPhone. Google's staff continued to grow, reaching a total of 16,805 employees at the end of the year.
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  20. Chrome Launched

    Chrome Launched

    Sept. 1, 2008

    Google entered the browser market with Chrome, which was released days before the company's 10th anniversary. That year, Google indexed its one-trillionth web page. The year's fastest-rising search term was Sarah Palin.
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  21. AdMob Acquired for $750 million

    AdMob Acquired for $750 million

    Nov. 9, 2009

    Google made a big expansion into the Web and app display ad arena in the growing area of mobile advertising in 2009, when it acquired AdMob for $750 million. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission took months to approve the deal, which went through despite "serious antitrust concerns." Michael Jackson was the fastest-rising query that year.
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  22. Google Pulls Out of China

    Google Pulls Out of China

    Mar. 22, 2010

    After four years in China, Google pulled the plug. The company had endured criticism from human rights groups but only quit China after an attack by hackers in that country led to code being stolen. The New York Times opined that the move was a "belated acknowledgement that Internet companies cannot enable a government's censorship without becoming a de facto accomplice to repression." Yahoo! and Microsoft did not follow suit. Many investors saw a growth opening for Chinese search giant Baidu (BIDU).
  23. ITA Software Acquired for $700 million

    ITA Software Acquired for $700 million

    July 1, 2010

    The thriving online-travel business was jolted when Google bought ITA Software, provider to such websites as Kayak and TripAdvisor, as well as to numerous airlines. The U.S. Justice Dept. would reach an agreement with Google in April 2011 that required the company to make the software available on the open market after the acquisition. Google's growth has slowed somewhat, with an increase from 23,331 employees to 24,400 during the year. The fastest-rising search term of the year was Chatroulette.
  24. Larry Page Takes the Helm

    Larry Page Takes the Helm

    Apr. 4, 2011

    After more than a decade with Eric Schmidt as chief executive, co-founder Larry Page (in the driver's seat) became CEO in April 2011. As Schmidt put it in a conference call: "It's time for him to have a shot at running this." Shares dropped 2.4 percent on the day of the announcement. Schmidt (behind the car) took the role of executive chairman. The vehicle, by the way, was one of Google's autonomous cars that logged more than 1,000 miles without human assistance during 2010, according to The New York Times.