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Google Turns 25: 10 Ways Search Has Evolved Over a Quarter Century

Remember how you scanned the web before everyone learned to ‘Google it’

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In September 1998, actress Renée Zellweger graced the cover of Vogue; hit NBC shows ER, Friends and Frasier topped the Nielsen TV ratings; and Bill Clinton was mired in a scandal with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky that weeks later resulted in the president’s impeachment.

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If you were seeking information on a personal computer near the turn of the century, you probably turned to an early internet search engine. Perhaps it was AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos or Yahoo! Search.

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Google co-founders Larry Page, left, and Sergey Brin in April 2003 at company headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Kim Kulish/Getty Images

But something else of consequence in search was going on at the time: Stanford doctoral students Sergey Brin and Larry Page launched a startup called Google around a search engine they built in their dorm room. It briefly had another name, Backrub.

Digitizing records was on the upswing

Google seemed to hit at the right time. Many consumers were infatuated by this information superhighway called the World Wide Web though only about 2 in 5 households had a computer at home and a little more than a quarter had internet access.

“The old Library of Congress card catalog, encyclopedias [with] cross-references, the Yellow Pages, all of this stuff was the way to search for information on paper,” says Marc Weber, curatorial director of the Internet History Program at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. “That started to get computerized for 30 years before the web, but it wasn’t really accessible to the ordinary person,” something that began to change by the mid-to-late 1990s.

Google’s role was enormous, he says.

The name became synonymous with search

Indeed, most people know how the story played out.

Page used his company’s new name as a verb — “Keep googling” — right as the company was starting this month 25 years ago. Google officially celebrates its birthday on Sept 27.

Four years later in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow Rosenberg asked the title character, “Have you Googled her yet?” In another four years, 2006, Google the verb would be listed in both the Oxford English and Merriam-Webster dictionaries.

Let me Google it” became a phrase synonymous with let me search for practically anything online. Brin and Page, now both 50 years old, became billionaires many times over.

In the quarter century that Google has been around, the search engine has amassed a more than 90 percent market share, light-years ahead of runners-up Microsoft Bing and Yahoo!, according to digital analytics firm Similarweb. The federal Justice Department is suing the company, now under parent Alphabet Inc., accusing it of abusing its monopolistic position in online search, and this year Google agreed to pay $23 million as part of a settlement of several class-action privacy lawsuits.

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Early Google home pages listed the number of web pages the search engine indexed. Google removed the counter from the home page in 2005.

“Larry and Sergey first wrote down our mission 25 years ago: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet, recently blogged. “They had an ambitious vision for a new kind of search engine to help people make sense of the waves of information moving online. The product they built, Google Search, went on to help billions of people around the world get answers to their questions.”

Those questions have evolved over time, and in lieu of typing your query into a text box or hitting the “I’m feeling lucky” button, so have the ways you may ask those questions. You might snap an image, use your voice or pull a phone out of your pocket.

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Results give you more than lists of links

Even after 25 years, you still may not be aware of a bunch of useful Google search features. Among them:

1. Busy time tallies. Baseball legend Yogi Berra supposedly famously quipped, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Through Google, you can tell if a restaurant or museum you want to visit is overcrowded. Google displays graphs with Popular times, lists wait times and tells how long people typically spend at a place.

2. Crisis responder. Google’s Person Finder tool, launched in response to a disaster, can help you find someone in an area that’s had an earthquake, flood or other weather emergency. It allows you to post information you may have about a missing person. You also can see SOS alerts when you search an area in crisis with Google Maps and news stories related to an incident.

3. Ear worm eliminator. If a tune is stuck in your head but you can’t remember the name nor which artist performed it, Google may be able to identify the song when you hum it. Just remember to click the microphone icon in the search bar of the Google app on your phone, then the Search a song button below the four dancing dots. Of course, you can also play a recording of a song to get it recognized, similar to the Apple-owned Shazam tool.

4. Emergency hotline. If your kid has accidentally swallowed something poisonous or a loved one is thinking of harming themselves, enter “poison control” or “suicide” as search terms. Google surfaces hotline phone numbers at the top of search results.

5. Foreign phrase translator. The days of carrying a foreign-language dictionary in your pocket are passé. You can ask Google to translate foreign words and phrases so you know how to ask strangers for directions to a landmark or, when nature calls, to a public restroom. Google can translate more than 100 languages. And if you don’t know what antidisestablishmentarianism or other words mean, you won’t have to carry a pocket English dictionary either.

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6. Image search. At, upload a photo to find out not only what it is in the image — perhaps an animal, plant or landmark — but also where else on the web the picture may reside. It can also help you find similar images, which can assist shoppers searching for just the right dress or pair of shoes. Through the related Google Lens feature you can point a smartphone camera at a foreign language sign to translate the text in real time. According to Google, 12 billion visual searches are conducted via Lens each month.

7. Measurement converter. Trying to convert yards to meters, Celsius to Fahrenheit, the U.S. dollar against the euro and other foreign currencies, and so on? Ask Google to perform these conversions for you.

8. Multisearch. Use text and images in the same query. Google offers this example: Snap an image of your dining room table, then type in “coffee table” and with a little luck, find a suitable match.

9. Tip calculator. Are you a bit math challenged? Enter “tip calculator” in Google search to determine the share for your server. Fill in the bill amount, tip percentage and, if you want to split the tab, the number of people dining with you.

10. Work in progress: Artificial intelligence (AI). As Google and rival Microsoft figure out ways to combine what we think of as conventional search with the emerging capabilities of generative AI, we’ll see rapid changes in search.

Microsoft is leveraging technology from OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, to add AI to its newly revamped Bing search engine. Google’s conversational AI tool is called Bard, and while Google still isn’t putting Bard side by side with regular Google search, it is now integrating Bard with other Google services, including Docs, Gmail and YouTube.

If you’re traveling to France with a bunch of friends, Google says you’ll be able to ask Bard to find the dates that work for everyone in your group from Gmail, look up real-time flight and hotel information, peek at Google Maps for directions to the airport, and watch YouTube videos for things to do once you’re there.

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