Google Everywhere

It all started with the search engine. I think it was sometime back in 2000, while I was working in Argentina.

I was an avid everyday AltaVista user; I found it quite useful since 1996 (when I started browsing using Netscape at the University of Geneva) and I was frankly happy with it; I was not looking for another search engine. All the others I had used were not as good, so I kept using AltaVista for years. I knew how to cope with the poor result sorting, and I would usually find what I was looking for, typically as a link buried in page 4 or 5 of the search results screen. It was like that, it took time, and more often than not, I did not find what I wanted.

However, one day I saw a colleague at work looking for something at a new search engine, called “Google”. I asked her the URL, typed it on my browser, and started to use it. I haven’t stopped since. Google was (and is) amazing. It is rather unusual for me to have to go to page 2 or 3 of the search results: I usually find what I’m looking for, right in the first page. The “I’m Feeling Lucky” button is the sign that shows how smart the backend engine is (as well as the team that created it). Joel Spolsky was among the first to notice this at the time, I think.

I used Google just like that, for a couple of years, and in 2002 I discovered the Google Toolbar. That changed a lot of things in my day-to-day workflow: it seemed stupid, but having that search box in the browser made everything so much faster! I started to include it in every browser of every computer I used, either at home or at work. But then again, I was not using Google for anything else than search. I knew that they offered other services, but I wasn’t too much interested in looking at them. What I learnt to use was the Google search syntax; I found that using “site:” and “filetype:” in my queries were simple yet powerful ways to find what I was looking for.

The IPO in 2004 made the big news. Everyone started to talk again about the web, like when Yahoo! and Netscape went public, nearly 10 years earlier. The big NASDAQ boom seemed to be so far away, and so close at the same time.

Finally, in February 2005 I was invited to open a Gmail account. And I think that everything changed that day; Gmail was so advanced (and still is!). I’ve used Hotmail since July 1996 (I am sure to have signed up for one of the first Hotmail accounts), and I’ve also used Yahoo! Mail extensively; but Gmail was years light ahead of everything. At that time, AJAX was appearing as the new hot technology, and again, Joel saw Google’s advance in Google Suggest.

Nowadays, I’m at Google nearly all day long:

Just to tell you, even in my job toilets I’ve put some of the Google Testing team “Testing on the Toilet” papers, with great success!

But Google’s advance goes beyond what eyes can see; one of the key concepts in their infrastructure seems to be “MapReduce”, a whole infrastructure that allows them to parallelize complex problems in small chunks, in many different programming languages, using their server cluster to do the tough jobs. Again, Joel has written a very interesting article about it. After having worked for Microsoft, Joel is able to see the differences between Google and his former employer, and his insight is really awesome.

I think that Google makes the web a useful tool. I nowadays spend more time in front of a browser (usually Firefox, or Camino on the Mac) than using any other application. I can access all of my stuff easily, fast, without problems. It looks like “the network is the computer”, after all. Sun was right… but Google delivered it through the web.