A history of Google’s search page

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  • May 30, 2008
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google, has been giving some interesting insight into how the Google search page was developed.

It’s fascinating to see just how revolutionary the Google homepage was in the late 90’s. In an era of clipart and flashing text it was unheard of to use white backgrounds and hardly any images.

Mayer said that back when Google was a relatively unknown 80-person start-up, the company tested Stanford students on how well they could use Google to find which country won the most gold medals in the 1994 Olympics. The result: students would sit in front of the Google screen for 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 45 seconds, a minute…Google was perplexed.

So Mayer would eventually intervene and ask what was holding up the searchers. “I’m waiting for the rest of it,” they’d say. Clearly they expected more of the flashy ads and busy text of other search pages of the 1990s.

As a result, the company put a copyright notice at the bottom of the page. “It’s not there for legal reasons,” Mayer said. “It’s there as punctuation. That’s it. (It tells the searcher) ‘Nothing else is coming; please start searching now.'”

Mayer oversaw much of Google’s design, but the sparse start page wasn’t her doing and wasn’t even part of a plan, she said. Instead, it was the design of co-founder Sergey Brin.

Why so minimalist, she wondered? Sergey’s response: “We didn’t have a Webmaster, and I don’t do HTML.”

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