If Page Hadn’t Met Brin, Would We Still Have Got Google?


By Vivek Kaul

Here is a question: If Larry Page wouldn’t have met Sergey Brin at the Stanford University, would we still have got Google? Google began as a research project between Page and Brin in 1996. It gradually changed the world.

If we wouldn’t have got Google, the world would have been a very different place than it currently is. It is something so basic to our lives now that even imagining a world without Google is impossible without Googling. And that is some paradox.

So, would there have been no Google, if Page and Brin, hadn’t met?

While there wouldn’t have been something exactly like Google, the world would have still got a search engine. In fact, by the time Google came around in 1996, the world already had more than a few internet search engines.

As Matt Ridley writes in The Evolution of Everything: How Small Changes Transform Our World: “The search engine was ‘ripe’ for discovery in 1990. By the time Google came along in 1996, there were already lots of search engines: Archie, Veronica, Excite, Infoseek, Altavista, Galaxy, Webcrawler, Yahoo, Lycos, Looksmart … to name just the most prominent.”

Having used a few of these search engines in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, I can say with some confidence that none of these search engines were as good as Google was. Nevertheless, there is nothing to say that if Google hadn’t come around, these search engines wouldn’t have become better and would have continued to operate in their old way.

In fact, Google and a whole host of other search engines hitting the world, almost at the same point of time, isn’t an exception. It happens more often than not with many big inventions and discoveries.

As Riddley puts it: “The truth is, almost all discoveries and inventions occur to different people simultaneously.”

Let’s take the example of the light bulk, which was a very important invention, as inventions go. It played a huge role in increasing human productivity and the overall productivity of the global economy.

In India, we grow up learning that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. But was that really the case? As Ridley puts it: “In fact there are no fewer than twenty-three people who deserve the credit for inventing some version of the incandescent bulb before Edison, according to a history of the invention written by Robert Friedel, Paul Israel and Bernard Finn. Though it may not seem obvious to many of us, it was utterly inevitable once electricity became commonplace that light bulbs would be invented when they were.”

And what is true about search engines and light bulbs, is also true about a whole host of other things. Kevin Kelly in his book What Technology Wants tells us that when it comes to inventions, we know of six different inventors of the humble thermometer. There are three of the hypodermic needle, four of the decimal fraction, four of photograph, five of photography, five of the steamboat, six of the electric railways, and so on.

Why does this happen? It happens simply because any big invention can’t be made in isolation. It is based on past inventions, designs, research and thinking. Or to put it more simplistically, copying makes the world a much better place.

But the system of patents and awards recognises on individual for an invention, leaving behind the others. And that is really not fair. As Ridely writes: “Simultaneous discovery and invention mean that both patents and Nobel Prizes are fundamentally unfair things. And indeed, it is rare for a Nobel Prize not to leave in its wake a train of bitterly disappointed individuals with very good cause to be bitterly disappointed.”

To conclude, the two points that we can draw here are: 1) In life, unfairly winner takes it all. 2) Nobody can stop an idea whose time has come.

Algolia Reports

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