25 surprising facts about Google

Do you know what Google’s original name was? How about what the first Google Doodle was? Get those answers and 23 more interesting Google facts.

25 surprising facts about Google
25 things you probably don’t know about Google

Google (now officially a subsidiary of Alphabet) has a relatively storied history for being such a young company. Founded in the late 1990s by Stanford grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s search engine quickly supplanted more established players in the search space before ultimately becoming synonymous with search altogether. Today, Google is much than a search engine, as the company leveraged its success to branch off into many other tech areas, including mobile operating systems, robotics, and self-driving cars.

With a unique corporate culture that has arguably influenced Silicon Valley at large, Google is a quirky company to say the least. But don’t let that quirkiness fool you: Google still finds itself on the vanguard of tech innovation and employs some of the smartest minds on the planet.

A fascinating company to follow, Google keeps us intrigued. It’s fair to say there’s no other institution quite like it. While many people likely know a good deal about the company, there is no shortage of interesting Google-oriented facts that have long flown under the radar. That being the case, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of little-known facts about Google that will amuse, impress and undoubtedly surprise you.

Google's code base
Google’s entire codebase weighs in at 86 terabytes and includes 2 billion lines of code

If you add up the code from every single Google service, from Gmail and search to Google Docs and YouTube, you’ll end up with 2 billion lines of code and a whopping 86 terabyte file. This tidbit came directly from Google when an engineering manager divulged these facts during an engineering conference a few months ago.

More than 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute

Google’s 2006 acquisition of YouTube for $1.65 billion looks like a steal in hindsight. Today, YouTube is the second-most popular website in the world and is the deficit place where individuals go to upload and watch videos for hours on end. Impressively, Google notes that more than 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every single minute. Extrapolating a bit, that’s 157 million hours of video uploaded to YouTube every single year.

Google’s original name was Backrub
Google’s original name was Backrub

A little known fact is that the original name for Google (back in 1996) was Backrub. If you’re confused, that’s certainly understandable. Here’s the scoop: What made Google so unique as a search engine is that it didn’t solely rely on keywords and matching strings of phrases. Rather, Google’s rankings were based on the quality of backlinks pointing to any given website. In turn, the name Backrub was initially chosen as an offshoot representation of Google’s unique search algorithm.

first google doodle burning man
Credit: Google
The first Google Doodle in history featured a Burning Man icon

There have been thousands of Google Doodles over the years, but the very first one stretches all the way back to 1998 and, believe it or not, featured a Burning Man logo from the Nevada festival of the same name. As the Google co-founders tell it, they placed the Burning Man logo behind the Google logo as a somewhat offbeat message to users that they were “out of the office.”

Google’s first tweet was in binary
Google’s first tweet was in binary

Always up for a mathematical based joke, Google’s first tweet upon joining Twitter was this: “I’m 01100110 01100101 01100101 01101100 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01101100 01110101 01100011 01101011 01111001 00001010.” The translation from binary reads, “I’m Feeling Lucky,” an overt reference to Google’s homepage.

Google Search
Google Search handles more than 100 billion searches a month

Google hasn’t provided any recent updates on this matter, but as of 2015, the search giant boasted that it handles more than 100 billion search queries every single month. Breaking things down, that’s 1.2 trillion searches a year and approximately 38,580 individuals per second.

Google Street View
Google Street View has photos of more than 5 million miles of roads and 20 petabytes of data

Google Maps is undoubtedly incredible, but the introduction of Google Street View in 2007 really took the service to the next level. Last we heard from Google, its Street View cars have taken photos of an astonishing 5 million miles of roads throughout 50 countries. As Petapixel points out, “To put that in perspective, that means that the street view cars have travelled enough miles to complete 10 round trips to the moon (and then some) and have stored more than 80 times more information than is contained in the U.S. Library of Congress.”

Atari Breakout Easter egg
Google has an awesome Atari Breakout Easter egg hidden on its homepage

If you do a Google Image search for “Atari Breakout,” your browser will magically transform into a vintage game console and let you play the classic 1972 Atari game of the same name. Interestingly enough, and as a random point of trivial, the original Breakout game was put together by Apple co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

Google will rent out goats
Credit: Google
Google will rent out goats to keep its corporate lawn tidy

Google, always one to care about the environment, will famously rent upwards of 200 goats so that they can mow the lawn the old-fashioned way. Instead of employing noisy and pollution-prone lawn mowers, the goats will just as easily get rid of weeds, unwanted brush and mow the lawn.

As Google explains, “A herder brings about 200 goats, and they spend roughly a week with us at Google, eating the grass and fertilizing at the same time. The goats are herded with the help of Jen, a border collie. It costs us about the same as mowing, and goats are a lot cuter to watch than lawn mowers.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

Google recruiting engineers
Google has a very cool and secret way of recruiting engineers

If you do a search on Google for something sufficiently tech-y, Google’s search results page will offer users a challenge wherein they can see if their technical skills are up to snuff with what Google is looking for. From there, users who successfully pass a number of subsequent technical and coding challenges can land an interview at the search giant.

Word of Google’s clever recruiting campaign was initially made public via an August 2015 blogpost from Max Rosett. Rosetta eventually got a job at Google. He says of his experience: It’s a “brilliant recruiting tactic. Google used it to identify me before I had even applied anywhere else, and they made me feel important while doing so. At the same time, they respected my privacy and didn’t reach out to me without explicitly requesting my information.”

The Google name should really be spelled “Googol”

Named after the number 1 followed by 100 zeros, the correct mathematical referenced is spelled as follows: Googol. This was initially supposed to be how Google was spelled, but that never happened thanks to a $100,000 check that Sun co-founder made out to “Google” instead of “Googol.” And from there, the offshoot spelling stuck.

Google death benefits
If a Google employee dies, Google will take care of the employee’s spouse

If it ever so happens that a Google employee dies, Google will famously pay the surviving spouse 50 percent of the deceased employee’s salary for 10 years. Say what you will about Google, but it’s impossible to deny that the company cares about its employees. 

Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button
Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button costs the company money

The “I’m Feeling Lucky” button on the Google homepage is a quirky option, but it actually ends up costing the company money. Clicking on the link transports users to the top search result as opposed to displaying a page of varied search result options. In turn, users effectively bypass any paid search ads that they might have otherwise seen. According to some reports, the use of the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button—even though it is used sparingly—still ends up costing the company as much as $110 million a year.

Google Maps
Google Maps covers more than 28 million miles of roads and streets

If you thought Google Street View was impressive, Google Maps is really something to stand in awe of. As of a few years ago, Google Maps had successfully mapped out more than 28 million miles of roads and streets across an even more impressive 194 countries. All told, photos from Google Street View and Google Maps account for an estimated 20 petabytes of data.

Google Maps for the Sky
Google Maps for the Sky

Google certainly has an expertise in mapping, and that skill set even extends to the sky. You might be surprised to learn that Google actually has a Google Maps version for the sky. The site allows users to view constellations, planets and anything else a burgeoning or hobbyist astronomer might want to explore.

Google numbers search
Google will tell you how to say incredibly large numbers

If you type in any number into Google and add an “=english” string to the back of it, Google will tell you how you can pronounce a number like 2142000000000 with ease. In this case, that number comes out to two trillion, one hundred forty-two billion.

Google suicide prevention
Google does what it can to prevent suicide

If you type in “I want to commit suicide” into Google’s search bar, the top result will be for the National Suicide Prevention lifeline with an accompanying phone number and a link to chat with a trained professional.

google maps transit data
Google Maps has transit data and schedules for more than 1 million transit stops

What has long made Google Maps so useful is its impressive database of transit schedules for individuals who get around via subway, train, etc. Google Maps’ database has up-to-date scheduling information for more than 1 million transit stops all across the globe.

google added to dictionary
The word “Google” was added to the Merriam-Webster and Oxford English Dictionaries in 2006

Speaking to the influence Google has had on society, the word “Google” was added to the dictionary in 2006 as a verb. It is officially listed as a transitive verb: “to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web.”

google advertising
Google makes most of its money from search-based advertising

For as much as Google is a technological innovator, you might be surprised to learn that the vast majority of Google’s revenue (about 90 percent) all comes from advertising. In 2015, Google generated $74.5 billion in revenue, with more than $65 billion of that coming from advertising. Indeed, this is why some people will often refer to Google as an advertising company.

Google servers
Credit: Google
Google indexes more than 30 trillion individual websites

Given that Google’s underlying goal is to make all of the world’s information readily accessible to the public, the company makes sure to index every possible website that it can. Last we heard from Google, the company indexes more than 30 trillion individual websites. And the cumulative size of that index data reportedly weighs in at 100GB.

Gmail launched on April Fools’ Day in 2004 and was invite only

For as popular as Gmail is today, the service was almost seen as a prank or a joke when it first launched. Of course, it didn’t help that Google launched Gmail on April Fool’s Day back in 2004. At the time, access to Gmail was only possible via special invites.

Originally launched as a beta, it wasn’t until 2007 that the email client left its beta designation behind. While Gmail introduced a number of useful and novel email features, perhaps its crowning achievement was, and is, that it handles email spam better than anything else out there. Interestingly, the developer of Gmail—Paul Bucket—also helped develop Google AdSense and is credited as the source of Google’s famous and unofficial slogan, “Don’t be evil.”

google homepage timer
You can use Google’s homepage as a timer

Cooking something? Or perhaps you need to set a timer, and time is of the essence? Well, if you simply enter in a duration of time followed by the word “timer,” a timer will appear magically within your browser window. For instance, typing in “3-minute timer” will immediately begin a timer counting down from 3. When it gets to zero, you’ll be alerted via loud alert.

Google data centers
Credit: Google
Google keeps its code safe by keeping it in 10 separate data centers

Remember how Google’s code repository is 86 terabytes big and consists of 2 billion lines of code? Well, to keep things running smoothly and to ensure it doesn’t get corrupted or damaged, Google makes a point to store and maintain its giant code base at 10 data centers (some of which are secretly located) across the world.

google barrel roll easter egg
Google has a “Barrel Roll” Easter egg on its homepage

If you type in “Do a barrel roll” into the Google search bar, the entire screen will flip over, à la a fighter jet doing a barrel roll. While not necessarily useful, it’s nonetheless a fun and quirky little Easter egg.