Sept. 4, 2009 — -- Happy birthday, Google. There will be candles and presents for you at three.
Or maybe there won't.
Today is actually the 11th anniversary of a fairly mundane event in Google's history. On Sept. 4, 1998, the company filed papers establishing it as a California corporation.
But does it celebrate today? Actually, no. The corporate history says Google has sometimes marked Sept. 7, or Sept. 27, and a few years ago it gave up on the specifics and posted a page saying, "Google opened its doors in September 1998. The exact date when we celebrate our birthday has moved around over the years, depending on when people feel like having cake."
Even 1998 may not be so meaningful to the company's history. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the two Stanford graduate students who started Google, met in 1995 -- when Page was considering going to Stanford and Brin was assigned to give him a campus tour.
In 1996, they began working together on a search engine called BackRub -- which was successful enough to crash the Stanford computers that hosted it. By Sept. 15, 1997, they had registered the online name "Google" (there's an archived version of their original home page, but you'll find it doesn't work), and in 1998 they began to run it out of the garage of a friend, Susan Wojcicki. Brin would later marry her sister, Anne.
Those were heady days in Silicon Valley, with companies popping up out of nowhere, attracting venture capital even if they had no idea when they would turn a profit. Google insisted on going slowly; it would not start selling stock until 2004.
"We sort of wanted to be profitable much before it was fashionable," said Page in an interview with ABC News in 2002.
"The people who were out there just to get rich quick, those have faded off," said Brin.
Today the company is big enough to be a verb -- you "Google" something if you search for it on the Web (you don't "ExxonMobil" your car when the tank is low, or go "Walmarting" for bargains). Alexa.com, a service that monitors online traffic, reports that 34 percent of global Internet users visit Google on a given day.
Happy Birthday Google
And if you go onto Google.com and search for Google itself, you'll hit news stories about how it's running into resistance in its efforts to digitize the world's books. It has designed a computer operating system, integrated with its year-old Chrome Web browser, to compete with Microsoft's Windows. Its managers talk a lot about "cloud computing," in which your documents, programs and other material are stored online, instead of in your own machine or handheld.
The company's sheer size and dominance on the Web have led to lawsuits and accusations that they want to rule the world -- and they've had to play down the "Don't be Evil" slogan that took hold more than 10 years ago.
"If they were putting together a moniker today, I think they'd be a little more savvy about it," said Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand.com, a Web site that follows Google and its competitors.
"They want to do good things, make the world a better place, but they're also a corporation."
It would be hard to squeeze all of Google's 19,000 employees into one room for cake. But one day this month, as they have each year, they'll probably alter their home page to include a cupcake in the logo.