July 6, 2005

Google! — grants and open source

I spotted this post on Slashdot about some old Google pages that are available on WayBackMachine.com, which is an archive of Internet sites and web pages. One of the pages in the archive is the old About Google! page, and it highlights some very interesting facts.

Funding for the research that made Google possible was provided by NSF, NASA, and DARPA (through grants, I presume), and an outfit called Interval Research. So Federal grants helped create possibly the most widely‐used web application in the world and, in my mind, one of the cornerstones of the Internet’s usefulness. I don’t believe many people know this, and they should. Taxpayers should recognize that their investment in scientific research, via government grant‐making, creates massive returns for them and for the benefit of the world.

Secondly, the developers made significant use of open source technologies, including GNU, Linux, Python, and Gimp. They didn’t use fancy development tools, nor did they use a proprietary operating system. To revolutionize information indexing and searching, they employed stuff they could get and use at no cost. I’m sure this is less true nowadays at Google (although I’d be surprised if the majority of their development is done using anything other than fairly rudimentary tools) but the fact they started with tools available to anyone shows that open source is democratizing and a powerful enabler for innovators everywhere.