Google is the only multi-billion-dollar company in the world that is also a spelling mistake. Back in the palaeolithic era (that's the palaeolithic era in the internet sense, i.e. autumn 1997) its co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were graduate computer science students at Stanford. They were working on an insanely cool new search engine, wanted to incorporate it as a company, and needed to find a name. David Vise, in his breezy book The Google Story, tells how they came up with one. A fellow graduate student suggested to Page and Brin that they use the name given to what is sometimes, erroneously or metaphorically, called the largest number, 10100: google. They looked up the name on the internet, found that it wasn't taken, and registered their brand-new brand, google.com. The next morning they found that the reason the name hadn't been taken was because it should be spelled googol - and that googol.com had, of course, already been bagged. (It belonged, and still belongs, to a Silicon Valley software engineer and home-brewed beer enthusiast called Tim Beauchamp: 'The links on this page are a mishmash of eclectic destinations that may be of interest to you. Actually, they may only be of interest to Tim but what the heck. It is his site!') Lesser men might have considered that a bad omen, but Larry and Sergey are not bad-omen kind of guys. Just over eight years later, Google is the fastest-growing company in the history of the world - with, at the time of writing, a market capitalisation of $138 billion. Larry and Sergey, the Wallace and Gromit of the information age, are worth more than $10 billion each.
LRB 26 January 2006 | PDF Download