TR: Why is the Google.com home page so simple?
Brin: When we started, we didn’t have a webmaster. The result was a nice, simple interface. And we have stayed true to that because we realized it helps people get their searches done faster. They don’t want to hang out on a home page when they want to get information quickly. Page: Other search companies have turned into media companies. We have remained focused on search. Over half of our company is devoted to engineering.
TR: What makes one page more valuable than another?
Brin: The premise of our PageRank system is that a page that is pointed to by many other sites is important. In other words, external approval raises a page’s ranking. That’s where PageRank comes in-it is based on an analysis of the linkage structure of the Web. At the end, there are millions of variables, but we manage to do a lot of math, very fast, and in the end we rank pages in a way that’s very close to how you would do it intuitively.
TR: Is Google actually any different from other search engines in how it goes about hunting for information on the Web?
Brin: Google is different from other search engines in that the others use traditional techniques-which pages do the search terms occur on? Google factors in much more information including the link structure, fonts, headings, text of nearby pages and so forth.
TR: Why is it when I search for “Sergey” on Google, your Stanford home page comes up in the second position?
Brin: I was kind of upset about that myself. I was upset it was not number one. I should clarify. “Sergei” is usually spelled with an “i, ” not a “y. ” And then my page has good presence on the Web. There are links to quite a few articles that I authored, and those links in turn are linked to by other pages, so my placement by the PageRank system would be comparatively high.
TR: Is there any place where PageRank doesn’t work?
Brin: There are many places where it falls down. For instance, while the technique works very nicely to measure the relative value of a particular Web page, it doesn’t necessarily measure relevance: Is this page really delivering what you’re looking for?
TR: Couldn’t I create a series of Web pages at every site offering free space, link them to each other, and thereby create higher rankings for myself?
Brin: No, that wouldn’t work. The way the math is designed, you need external approval.
TR: Isn’t there a celebrated Google failing-namely that if the search is for “What is more evil than Satan,” Google points to Microsoft’s home page?
Brin: We fixed that. Now if you type in that phrase, you get articles about Google. This was a result based on technology that looks at what other Web pages are saying about a particular page. Lots of sites label Microsoft as evil-even though that is not how Microsoft is principally described. We view that as a not-great performance of that algorithm, which we’ve since worked on.
TR: How did you two start working together?
Brin: I had been in the PhD program for a couple years when Larry joined in 1995. I was working on data mining, the idea of taking large amounts of data, analyzing it for patterns and trying to extract relationships that are useful. When Larry joined, he started dabbling with the Web and started gathering large amounts of data. That data intrigued me, and I wanted to run various experiments on it.