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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hubert Chang Claims He Co-Designed Google

In 2007, Hubert Chang in a YouTube video claimed Google was designed by Larry Page, Sergey Brin and him in February 1997... but that he didn’t want to continue with the project and put his name on a paper to be submitted for a conference, because he wanted to do his PhD, a wish of his father. In late 2002 after finishing the PhD, when Hubert contacted Google again the responses apparently weren’t too fruitful, according to Hubert. “It’s been 10 years, and I think this information needs to be known,” Hubert said last year.

There were a lot of ifs and whens before Google became successful, back at a time when it was risky to believe in the project. For instance, in the early days Larry and Sergey went around Silicon Valley pitching their search concepts to many tech companies (which also may show success takes more than a good idea, but also needs sticking through). Some, like Infoseek, strictly rejected them. “Jerry Yang and David Filo, the founders of Yahoo, were more encouraging, but they, too, took a pass,” John Battelle writes in his book The Search.

For people at Yahoo, and also Hung Hsien Chang, it might be a bit of a bitter memory. On the one hand, everyone has to live with the decisions they make, but on the other hand, if Hubert played an important role in the early Google design, perhaps Google might want to credit him their history pages. I’ve contacted Google and Hubert for more information.

[Thanks Brinke Guthrie and MBegin!]

Update: Here is Google’s comment:

There is no substance to Hubert Chang’s claims – he had no involvement in the creation of Google. Neither Larry or Sergey have any recollection of meeting him – however, given the number of people they’ve met in the last decade it’s impossible to say categorically that they never have. Rajeev Motwani, the Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at Stanford, believes he may have shared some emails from Mr Chang with Larry and Sergey in 1997 or 1998. But in any case PageRank had already been developed by that time and was a working prototype.

Also, Valleywag points to an archived page of Hubert’s homepage which indicates that either he believes he had influence in a lot more than just Google, or that Hubert’s just pulling pranks. Plus, TechCrunch has a statement by Stanford Professor Rajeev Motwani:

To the best of my knowledge, his claims about being a founder of Google, coming up with the name and/or the business plan etc, are completely unfounded in reality. I am sure I would have noticed a third founder, if one existed, since I was working closely with Larry and Sergey at Stanford the time.

I do recall receiving a couple of emails from Hubert Chang in 1997 or 1998. Its been such a long time that I don’t have any recollection of their contents but it’s probable I shared those emails with Larry and Sergey. In any case, by that time the basic idea of PageRank was already in place and there was a clear intent of building a company around this. I am pretty certain that none of the three of us actually met with Hubert Chang during that time period.

[Thanks Mbegin!]


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