What Happens When You Do a Google Search for "Google in 1998"

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 27 2013 12:13 PM

What Happens When You Do a Google Search for "Google in 1998"

Google in 1998
What Google looked like 15 years ago.

Screenshot / Google

Google is 15 years old today—well, approximately today—and the search engine is going all-out for its Quinceañera.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

The most obvious celebratory flourish is today’s Google Doodle, which lets you whack a Google-colored piñata by hitting your space bar. For Internet nerds, though, the niftier trick is what happens when you type “Google in 1998” into your browser’s search window. The search engine transports you to a results page straight out of its birth year, complete with its googly-looking original logo, which sported a Yahoo-esque exclamation point at the end.

Advertisement

Clicking the links on Google's 1998 results page will take you to archived versions of early Google pages, via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. For instance, a page called “Why Use Google?” offered a basic explanation of Google’s algorithm, including some boasts about things that Google could do that its competitors could not. For instance:

Unlike many other search engines, Google only returns pages which match all of your search terms, either in the text of the page or in the link anchors pointing to it. No more frustration with your search terms not even being in the results pages.

That does sound like an improvement, although I wonder whether it's still strictly true today. Google was also apparently quite proud of its “I’m feeling lucky!” feature, offering it as whiz-bang proof of just how confident the search engine was that it could get the right result first for “common queries like company names.” There’s an interesting parallel here with some very recent Google features like “quick answers” and the Knowledge Graph, in which Google responds directly to certain common queries before it even displays the Web search results.

The 1998 results also remind us that before there was google.com, there was google.stanford.edu. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin met as Ph.D. students at Stanford and began working on their search engine there in 1996 before forming the company two years later. What the Wayback Machine doesn’t tell us is that, before there was google.stanford.edu, there was BackRub, the original name that Page and Brin gave their project. We can thank Page and Brin for a lot of things today, but let’s not forget to thank them for taking a few minutes to come up with a better name before they formally incorporated. Otherwise, today we’d be celebrating 15 years of BackRubbing things, and people, and ourselves.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.