“A great comedy duo” is how Time Magazine describes Sergey Brin and Larry Page. But these two dropouts from Stanford’s doctoral program in computer science look to be the ones set to do the proverbial laughing all the way to the bank. That’s because they left Stanford in 1998 to launch Google.com, and in just a couple years their search engine has become the Web’s coolest.
Talk with Page and the Russian-born Brin, both 27, and one-liners are more likely to roll off their tongues than algorithms. But these are unquestionably brainy guys who started with the shared assumption that Web searching was broken: As the Web grew, finding good information got harder. So they devised a wholly new approach to sorting search results that they call PageRank: The more links there are to a page, the higher it vaults in Google’s hierarchy. Another innovation: To climb high in the search results, a page needs external validation. Proprietary algorithms that parcel out rankings to pages aren’t influenced by spamming and the other techniques that marketers sometimes use to boost a page’s rating in other search engines. The math gets complicated-some 6,000 computers get involved-but for the user, Google is simple and easy to use.
When Brin and Page began talking up their sorting strategy, Andy Bechtolsheim, a founder of Sun Microsystems, heard their pitch and promptly wrote out a check for $100,000 to help seed-fund their venture. Later, the founders assembled an all-star venture capital team, with money from both Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital (between them, these firms funded Apple, Amazon.com, Cisco Systems, Netscape and Yahoo!). That kiss of the gods of Silicon Valley means big things are expected of Brin, Google’s president, and Page, the CEO.
And they have been delivering-a fact underscored in June when Yahoo! dumped its relationship with longtime search leader Inktomi and installed Google as its default search tool. Google is the first engine to index more than one billion pages, and it won this year’s “Webby” award for technical achievement, presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.
Brin and Page both like talking about how they got to where they are and where they hope to take Google. They provided commentary in conversations with Northern California freelance writer Robert McGarvey.