by Bill Snyder

Happy Birthday Google! Thank You for Changing the World

Sep 28, 20124 mins

It’s easy to get mad at Google for stepping on user privacy or acting like a bully. But the company turns 14 this week, and now is a good time to look at how Google changed the world for the better, according to blogger Bill Snyder.

Dear Google,

Happy fourteenth Birthday! You changed the world, and now many of us couldn’t do without you.

Sure, you make me mad sometimes. I hated it when you stuck your virtual nose into everybody’s business by scooping up unsecured Wi-Fi signals with your Street View cars and made an end run around Apple’s privacy settings to snag user data. That one cost you $22.5 million, which is couch-cushion money to you, but I hope it made a point.

It really bugged me when I learned that small business owners were losing customers because rivals used Google’s listings to make it look like small guys were out of business–and no one at Google could even be reached at the time.  I also wasn’t kidding when I said that putting driverless cars on the freeways is the dumbest idea I’ve heard in years.

Maybe you’re just clumsy. Lots of kids your age are. Eventually they grow out of it and learn to clean up their rooms and to not put their feet on the furniture.

But when I pick up my iPhone and get accurate directions to places I’ve never been (sorry, Apple) or sync my contacts and calendars in a flash, I remember just how much simpler you make my life. In the old days (as in a few years ago) I was a slave to Outlook, Microsoft’s lumbering klutz of a program that never seemed to sync well with other devices. Today, when I need to collaborate with a small team of colleagues, we can use Google Docs instead of following endless, confusing email threads.

That’s all good stuff, but search is really why I’m willing to forgive your adolescent mistakes. I’m old enough to remember the days when you couldn’t search the Internet from your desk. In fact, I started working as a journalist long before the Internet existed. I remember heading down to the old main library in San Francisco’s Civic Center and spending hours going from floor to floor trying to track down a bit of elusive information. Now I can generally find what I want in a matter of seconds with a quick Google search. When I was on deadline at a daily paper and needed to get background information on someone I was writing about, I’d have to waste precious time digging through clips in the newspaper’s library. Now, I get the information in minutes, thanks to Google.

When I first started using the Web back in the 1990s, searching was very difficult. After you entered a search term the engine returned a zillion hits, nearly all of which were utterly irrelevant. The Web seemed like a gigantic library with books stacked to the ceiling in no particular order. Google changed that.

I can’t count the number of times I look up something on Google each week; sometimes for work, often just out of curiosity. I finally tackled Tolstoy’s War and Peace a few years ago, and as I sipped coffee at an outdoor cafe I started reading a section on the Battle of Austerlitz. Wanting to know more, I took out my iPhone (thanks, Apple) and did a quick Google search and found some background information that made the chapter even more enjoyable. What a combination: twenty-first-century technology and great nineteenth-century literature.

I’m going to Maine, next month. Using Google, I already planned most of my trip, starting with a good fare that I found with Google Flights. I used Google maps to determine how long it will take me to get to Accadia National Park and where to see the most dramatic fall foliage. Sure, I could have done all of that without Google. But it would have taken a lot of time and included trips to a travel bookstore and a travel agent.

Have you checked out the Google Art Project? If not, you should. It lets you walk through some of the world’s great museums and get a close look at thousands of paintings you’ll probably never see in person. Need an ultra-quick definition: Go to, enter “define” plus your word, and there it is. Voila.

If you’re 20 years old or younger, all of this must seem utterly commonplace. You probably think about Google search the way you think about water or electricity; it’s always there–but it hasn’t always been there. So I say thanks, Google, for changing our world for the better. Happy birthday to you!