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The History of Google & How Search Engines Work - Behind the News

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How do search engines actually work and how have they changed over time?

This week, one of the biggest companies in the world, Google is turning 20. But the lead up to its big day was marked by criticism from US President Donald Trump who claims the search engine prioritises negative articles about him over good ones. It got us wondering how do search engines actually work and how have they changed over time.

Life is full of questions. Some more useful than others. But luckily, the internet is full of answers. But getting all that handy information wasn't always just a few clicks away. It's hard to imagine now but in the 90s the internet was still a brand, new shiny thing.

There were only about 100,000 websites on the whole world wide web that's compared to around 162 million now. Still, it was a lot of info and what would be the point of it if no one could find anything? That's where search engines came in. At their most basic, search engines are programs that can look for specific keywords in documents or files and then come back with the results of where those keywords were found. In the 90s, there were heaps of different search engines popping up and some became really popular for a while. But they were generally pretty slow, confusing and the results often weren't what you were looking for.

That's where these guys came in, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They met at this uni in the US and decided they could make a better search engine. They found a way to tell the program how to measure the importance of a page not just by how many times a keyword was mentioned in it but by how many other relevant pages linked to it, then it could quickly rank the results. They called their new search engine BackRub. Eventually, they wanted a new name. Can't think why. They chose a play on this word, a mathematical term for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros. And on the 4th of September 1998 that famous company was born, in a friend's garage.

20 years and a much nicer office later, it's the most popular search engine in the world. 4.5 billion users in 160 countries, speaking 123 different languages type in important searches every day like. How do you make slime? What is kimchi? And my personal favourite, why is my poop green? (These were genuinely a few of the top searches last year). In 2006, Google was officially entered into dictionaries as a verb.

So why is it that this well-known internet search engine is still used more than any other? Well, experts reckon it's because it's remained simple, fast and most users feel like they’re getting the most relevant results. Now, whether that's true or not it’s also that people are pretty used to using it, so it’s kind of difficult to get them to switch to anything else. So, while it isn't everyone's preferred search engine, there's no denying the impact it's had on the history of the internet and how we get our information.


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For the past 50 years, Behind the News has been helping to break down current issues and events for young people all around the world. The program is a high-energy, fun way for people to learn about the stories we see in the news, while providing background information that isn’t usually given by other news bulletins.

We have over 1000 stories on all sorts of topics - everything from politics & volcanoes, to online security & fortnite. If you're looking for help to understand something, you'll probably find it on BTN.

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