2008 Annual Report
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We are all in uncharted waters.
– CEO Eric Schmidt
Query volume index for “unemployment” and “foreclosure” from Google Trends
2008 Founders’ Letter
Since 2004, when Google began to have annual reports, Larry and I have taken turns writing an annual letter. I never imagined I would be writing one in the midst of an economic crisis unlike any we have seen in decades. As I write this, search queries are reflecting economic hardship, the major market indexes are one-half of what they were less than 18 months ago, and els. unemployment is at record levels. Nonetheless, I am optimistic about the future, because I believe scarcity breeds clarity: it focuses minds, forcing g people to think creatively and rise to the challenge. While much smaller in scale than today’s global collapse, e, the dot-com bust of 2000-2002 pushed Google and others in the industry to make some tough decisions — and we all emerged stronger as a result. This new crisis punctuates the end of our ﬁrst decade e as a company, a decade that has brought great change to Google, the web and the Internet as a whole. As I reﬂect on this short time period, our accomplishments and our shortcomings, I am very excited about what the next 10 years may bring. But let me start a little farther back — in 1990, the very ﬁrst web page was created at http://info.cern.ch/. By late 1992, there were only 26 websites in the world, so there was not much need for a search engine. When NCSA Mosaic (the ﬁrst widely-used web browser) came out in 1993, every new website that was created would get posted to its “What’s New” page at p a rate of about one a day. Just ﬁve years llater, in 1998, web pages numbered in the t tens of millions, and search became c crucial. At this point, Google was a small research project at Stanford; later that r year, it became a tiny startup. The search y iindex sat on a small number of disk drives enclosed within Lego-like blocks. Perhaps a few wi thousand people, mostly academics, used the service. Fast forward to today, the changes in scale are striking. The web itself has grown by about a factor of 10,000, as has our search index. The number of people who use Google’s services every day is now in the hundreds of millions. More importantly, billions of people now have access to the Internet via computers and mobile phones. Like many other web companies, the vast majority of our services are available worldwide and free to users because they are supported by ads. So a child in an Internet cafe
in a developing nation can use the same online tools as the wealthiest person in the world. I am proud of the small role Google has played in the democratization of information, but there is much more left to do. Search remains at the very core of what we do at Google, just as it has been from our earliest days. As the scale has changed dramatically over the years, the presentation and quality of our search results have also undergone many changes since 1998. In the past year alone we have made 359 changes to our web search — nearly one per day. Some are not easy to spot, such as changes in ranking based on personalization (launched broadly in 2005), but they are important in getting the most relevant search results. Others are very easy to see and improve search efficiency in a very clear way, such as spelling correction, annotations, and suggestions. While I am proud of what has been accomplished in search over the past decade, there are important areas in which I wish we had made more progress. Perfect search requires human-level artiﬁcial intelligence, which many of us believe is still quite distant. However, I think it will soon be possible to have a search engine that “understands” more of the queries and documents than we do today. Others claim to have...