Conjunction Juncture

“The advent of Google marks off two very distinct periods in Internet history. The optimists remember the age before Google as chaotic, inefficient, and disorganized. Most search engines at the time had poor ethics (some made money by misrepresenting ads as search results) and terrible algorithms (some could not even find their parent companies online). All of that changed when two Stanford graduate students invented an ingenious way to rank Web pages based on how many other pages link to them.” — Don’t Be Evil, The New Republic

If you are under 30, you may not recall a time when Yahoo! was as central to the online experience as Google is now. In 1998, when the search provider was nearing its zenith, I had a realization: I no longer thought of Yahoo! as a “website”, but rather as the Internet itself. I felt as if you could peel back any page available on the net and find Yahoo! beneath it, as though it were the canvas on which the entire web were painted.

Now, of course, I feel that way about Google. And I distinctly remember the day when my allegiance shifted. It was 1999, I was a programmer at, and one of my colleagues, a young guy fresh out of school with a degree in CS, was showing me this new search engine that everyone in his class swore by. He punched in a few words and clicked [Google Search] to illustrate. The moment the results came back I knew I would never use Yahoo! again.

Why? Was it because of Google’s “ingenious way to rank Web pages based on how many other pages link to them”? No, of course not–I was nowhere near savvy enough to pick up on something like that. It was for a much simpler and fundamental reason: Google took your search terms and only returned pages that had all of them, whereas Yahoo!, by default, returned pages that contained any of them. Put another way, Google joined all your words with “and”s where Yahoo! used “or”s. Tired of punching “board games” into Yahoo! and getting lumber companies, I set Google as my home page that same day.

Google’s rapid adoption in the late 90s owes a lot to its web page ranking system, no doubt. But the founders should also get credit for recognizing the fundamental shift in what searchers wanted: fewer results, not more. Where Yahoo! continued to boast about the sheer volume of websites that they would hurl at you, Google, simply by using a different conjunction, was delivering more specific and relevant information at a time when that was desperately sought.

It’s small and simple ideas like this that can make you the most powerful company in the world.

Here are three more recent articles about Google:

My aunt was going through my late grandfather’s effects, and found a carbon copy of a letter he sent to US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT a few months before he died.

Grandpa's letter

Perhaps it’s best that he wasn’t around to endure the iPhone hype.

More on Grandpa’s epistles here.

1983.5 (Beta)


CHENEY sits behind a desk. He is playing NINTENDOGS on his DS, but, instead of trying to teach them tricks, he is STABBING the puppies with his STYLUS.

CHENEY: Not so tough now, are you? Answer me! Oh, you want some too, bitch?!

The INTERCOM on CHENEY’s desk buzzes. He sighs, reluctantly puts the DS in his DESK DRAWER, and presses the intercom BUTTON.


SECRETARY: John Poindexter is here to see you.

CHENEY: Tell him I’m out.

SECRETARY: I tried that, sir, but he can smell the brimstone.

CHENEY: Bah! Send him in.

A moment passes. The DOOR opens, and John Poindexter enters, left.

POINDEXTER: Heeeeeeeeeeeeeey, Doctor Doom! Howz’it–

CHENEY: SILENCE, MINION! A, I told you never to call me that again. B, you have thirty seconds, five of which you squandered on the “hey.”



Several moments pass.

CHENEY: You may begin. Twenty seconds.

POINDEXTER: Well, look, just wanted to tell you about a new National Security idea I cooked up last night. Oh man, this one is a doozy.

CHENEY: Dexter, your last idea–the future’s market where people would bet on upcoming terrorist attacks–wasn’t exactly a barnburner. And we’re still dealing with the fallout from the whole wiretapping boondoggle. So I’m afraid we’re going to have to pass.

CHENEY reaches over and puts his HAND on the LEVER to the left of his desk, preparing to open the TRAP DOOR.

POINDEXTER: Wait! My new plan would egregiously violate the civil rights of countless Americans!!

A beat. CHENEY reluctantly removes his hand from the lever.

CHENEY: Okay, I’m intrigued.

POINDEXTER: Imagine this: a mechanism that would track the activities of thousands of Internet users. Where they go, what they’re doing, who they see–everything.


CHENEY: We’ve had that for years, knucklehead. We collect IP addresses, sent emails, site logs, the works.

POINDEXTER: Sure, of course. But I’m talking about a system that would keep tabs on Internet users when they are not online, while they are walking around in the real world.

CHENEY: Hmm. I like the way you think, Dex, but I’m afraid that idea is pretty much DOA. We got a Democratic congress now, and there’s no way they’ll allow us to amend the PATRIOT ACT to allow it.

POINDEXTER: Ah, but that’s the best part. The program would be entirely voluntarily!

CHENEY snorts derisively.

CHENEY: Why would anyone voluntarily reveal information about their everyday activities?

POINDEXTER: Oh, you know: we’ll just say the whole thing is some kind of Web 2.0 Social Networking website. We’ll use lots of pastel colors, cutsie icons. Call it “Trackr” or “Twitter” or something. Trust me, Doctor D.: the hipster and early adopters will eat, it, up!