Google: little internet start-up turns 10

An inspirational tale for all you budding billionaires - the start-up of all start-ups turns 10 this month.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Or 11, if you count when it first registered its domain name - this week in 1997. While we may be able to debate the exact date of its birth, the strength of its story is much harder to dispute: as entrepreneurial successes go, Google's is pretty hard to beat.

Larry Page and Sergei Brin are now billionaires, and the company is posting net quarterly profits of over a billion dollars. It's regularly considered one of the world's coolest brands, has a huge dominance of the online ad market, and has world leaders falling over themselves to be seen visiting its famously alternative HQ. Even the Queen is heading there soon. These days its fingerprints are all over lives: it owns Web 2.0 pioneer YouTube and recently launched Chrome, a browser designed to pull the rug from under Microsoft.

Bill Gates' old empire holds a potentially sobering lesson. Microsoft's own dominance of the computer industry looked untouchable not so long ago. But it's looking more vulnerable these days: another victim perhaps of the 20-30 year typical lifespan of the average company. Having shot to prominence in the late '80s, and dominated the '90s, Microsoft is now looking out of touch. For the first time it could feasibly be unseated by younger pretenders, from Apple to Google to open-source pioneers.

Google's lifecycle is showing similar signs, and quicker. First there's the change in public perception: initially it was the uber-hip darling of the internet counter-culture; now it's catching flak for the civil liberty implications of its all-reaching empire, from Google Earth to its logging of people's searches and e-mails. Then there's this week's controversy over anti-abortion ads, its dominance of the ad-search field - accusations of a monopoly will be all too familiar to the people at Microsoft - and its willingness to comply with censorship demands in order to gain access to controversial but lucrative markets such as China. To many it's all a long way from its informal company mantra: don't be evil.

It may well be that Google can reverse the paradigm and dominate for a lot longer. It's certainly looking strong right now. But the problem for any brand which is considered the internet's coolest: if it is in fashion one day, it will inevitably go out of fashion at some stage. The question for Google is when.

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