Google at 20: how two ‘obnoxious’ students changed the internet

It is two decades since Larry Page and Sergey Brin moved their fledgling startup out of their dorms. With threats to its power growing, how long can the company dominate?

In the summer of 1995, a second-year grad student called Sergey Brin was giving a tour of Stanford University to prospective students. Larry Page, an engineering graduate from the University of Michigan, was one of those being shown around the Palo Alto, California campus.

“I thought he was pretty obnoxious,” Larry Page said of the encounter. “He had really strong opinions about things, and I guess I did, too.”

“We both found each other obnoxious,” said Sergey Brin. “But we say it a little bit jokingly. Obviously we spent a lot of time talking to each other, so there was something there

The technology of the web at the time meant that you could tell where a webpage links to just by reading its code; but the only way to find out where it is linked from is to see it linked to from another page. In other words, to get an exhaustive list of every page that links to, say, stanford.edu, you need to check every other website on the internet.

Page’s “Backrub” project aimed to qualify these backlinks, a complex task that not only demanded huge computing resources, but also required extremely complex mathematics, which is where the maths prodigy Brin came in.

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