2018 is the 20th anniversary of the incorporation of the most impactful and powerful companies in history, Google! The past two decades have transformed society as we know it. We live in a time where if you’re walking down the street, you can google the best restaurant to eat at, the cinema with the best movies playing that night, and how to get to both of those places with the quickest route possible. Google has created countless products that have drastically changed how we live our daily lives, and many of those have been introduced in the last couple years. And that’s what I’ll be focusing on in this post! We’ll take a look at what Google has done in the past five years, and then explore what they are looking to do in the next five years (after a quick history lesson).
Quick History: Humbled Beginnings
Founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google started in 1995 as a research project aimed at creating a better search engine. At the time, conventional search engines ranked websites by the number of times the search terms appeared on the page. Page and Brin wanted to produce a more efficient system, so they made BackRub, which based results on the relevance of websites. Using their proprietary technology called PageRank, BackRub determined the relevance of a website by analyzing the number of linked pages to the website and how important those relationships were. BackRub received outside financing from early investors such as Andy Bechtolsheim and raised over $1 million in the following few years.
In 1998, Brin and Page (thankfully) changed the company’s name to Google and moved to a garage in Menlo Park. This garage was owned by current YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and hosted the team as they perfected Google Search. Quick fun fact: the garage was covered in bright blue carpet, which the team partially credits for their use of vibrant colors throughout the company. As Google succeeded, it needed to relocate into bigger spaces. Google moved into Palo Alto offices in 1999, but more famously moved to Mountain View in 2003, where they are currently located. The campus is nicknamed the Googleplex, and it’s so amazing that it warrants a blog post on its own. Here, Google has produced just about everything, from Web-based services (such as Gmail and Google Maps) to software (Android and Google Chrome) to hardware (Google Home and Pixel smartphone).
One of Google’s defining business moves was a complete corporate restructuring. In August of 2015, Google became the leading subsidiary under the umbrella company Alphabet Inc. under new CEO Sundar Pichai. The new conglomerate is led by Google founders Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt, who are respectively CEO, President and Executive Chairman of Alphabet. Alphabet’s main subsidiaries include Google, Calico, Waymo, Nest Labs and Google Fiber.
Why? It seems like a logistical nightmare to reorganize a company of such magnitude. Google had appeared to be handling its operations smoothly, so a restructuring caught many observers off-guard. But it makes perfect sense when you think about Google’s mission. Before Alphabet, Google had a similar situation to Apple: defining its company type was nearly impossible. Not only was it an Internet service company, but it was a platform, advertising*, software and multinational technology company (among others you can think of). Google was working on projects all over the board. Self-driving cars, health initiatives and virtual reality projects were all being worked on while also focusing on its core products.
To provide Google with a clearer mission and a narrower scope, Alphabet took over the ‘moonshot’ projects. It provides the structure and support to allow branches such as Waymo and Calico to continue their autonomous car endeavors and biotechnology endeavors while freeing Google from those responsibilities. Google can concentrate on its main products such Google Search, YouTube and Android. It also helps investors, as they now have better control on their investments. Google reports two financial segments (core and non-core), so investors can break down the strengths of the core aspects and the “profligate spending” of the non-core branches.
Speaking of Waymo
Katie recently touched on this subject in her blog, so you should definitely check it out! Waymo is one of the leaders in the autonomous car industry. Just last week, it deepened its partnership with Fiat Chrysler by agreeing to buy thousands more of minivans from the automaker. Waymo does not have the infrastructure to manufacture its own cars, so this provides an advantage against other tech giants that also don’t have in-house production. In 2016, 100 minivans were delivered to the company. An additional 500 were supplied the following year. Clearly, Waymo is trying to accelerate its progress as they are willing to spend over $40 million on cars alone. Waymo doubled its total autonomous miles count in 2017, driving 2 million miles and putting the total at over 4 million.
DeepMind Technologies and Autodraw
Another of Google’s newest strategies is to foster innovation within the artificial intelligence and machine learning fields. Google acquired DeepMind Technologies in 2014. DeepMind is an artificial intelligence company that’s created neural networks and systems that rely solely on raw pixels as its data input. Nothing is pre-programmed; it learns exclusively from experience. And although these systems were originally meant for video game AI, Google has transformed its purpose into an all-encompassing program.
The technology is being nurtured through AI experiments such as AutoDraw. AutoDraw is a drawing tool that uses machine learning to enhance drawings that users create. You draw a crude image and the program will suggest better-drawn images based on what it thinks you drew. It gathers the users’ responses and interprets the data to improve its future guesses. Other Google AI ventures that leverage this technology include Font Map and Teachable Machine. Although I couldn’t find any explicit proof, Google seems to be using this technology in conjunction with its autonomous car program.
I thought I’d be more artistic than a computer, but apparently not.
Google is aiming to transform our cities into high-tech, digital hubs where everything is connected. Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet, introduced a cloud-based platform called Coord. Coord is for the numerous on-demand mobility services, such as bike-sharing and car-sharing. The goal is to interweave all transportation apps by providing them with standardized API data gathered from various points around the city and using that data to manage congestion on the streets. It’s their first step in creating a ‘smart city’ where everything is more efficient.
Another way to attack this goal is through their use of new construction methods and flexible, sustainable building designs. Sidewalk Labs wants infrastructure to be all weatherproof and data-driven to enable people to use the city as a “public space for social connections”. Personally, I love to hear this. They’ve kept many of their projects under wraps, so it’ll be interesting to see what they achieve in the coming years.
Finally, Google’s initiative to deliver broadband Internet and IPTV to consumers has been growing slowly but surely. Google Fiber is a fiber-to-the-premises service that offers five options, including a free Internet option and a 1 Gbit/s Internet option with television. It is currently offered in nine parts of the United States. It was first launched in the Kansas City metropolitan area and after three years, was announced as a viable business model. Last year, Google Fiber launched in three new cities: Huntsville, Alabama; Louisville, Kentucky; and San Antonio, Texas. The year before, Google Fiber bought Webpass, an Internet service provider that has a significant presence in the Bay Area, Southern California, Florida and Boston. Google Fiber is currently trying to expand its presence in those areas.
These are some of the many projects that Google and Alphabet have been working on recently. I’d absolutely recommend checking out others! Here’s a couple to start you off: Project Fi, Google Station, opensource.google.com and We Wear Culture. Google continues to push for the most innovative products and services. This is why they have been so successful in so many different markets. I’m looking forward to visiting them and learning even more!
Questions One Might Ask:
- Which of these endeavors has the most potential in terms of revenue? impact? longevity?
- How have the companies at Google changed after becoming subsidiaries of Alphabet?
- In what direction does Google want to take the autonomous car project?
- How will the distribution of revenue change as Google advances in new directions (if at all)?
*I’d say Google is an advertising company at this point