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Friday, December 28, 2007

Before Google There Was BackRub

Google’s precursor in 1996 was called “BackRub,” a search engine research project headed by Larry Page at the computer science department at Stanford. BackRub might have been a reference to the underlying algorithm which counts backlinks as affirmative votes, the same approach that was then turned into PageRank.

In August 1996, according to a cached copy of the BackRub engine from, the number of “HTML URLs” this “web search engine” indexed was 75 million, with 30 million HTML pages downloaded by the crawler. BackRub was written in Java and Python based “on several Sun Ultras and Intel Pentiums running Linux.”

On the backrub homepage, Larry Page thanked Scott Hassan, Alan Steremberg and Sergey Brin for their help. Larry Page was still pretty much the owner of the project at the point. The hand in the logo was his own, scanned. And as the FAQ stated, if there was any question unanswered, his email address and phone number were available for you to directly reach him.

Later, BackRub turned into “the Google Search Engine,” which may have looked like the following in 1997, though it’s quite possible the logo back then was different than the one in the screen shot:

I’m using a gray background color as default as the HTML doesn’t serve its own color, a color set-up which wasn’t too unusual in 1997, and the white background color on the logo may be another indicator the logo file as used by isn’t the original (Google was not able to confirm this in either direction).

As the cached copy shows, searching Stanford was still a priority over searching the web – or at least, it was listed first. Also, Larry and Sergey found themselves with 1.7 million crawled email addresses in their hand back then... though utilizing those would have become quite a different, more shady business model than the one of search ads introduced in 2000.

[Thanks Beussery, Colin Colehour and Tony Ruscoe!]


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