2010 Founders’ Letter

From the December 31, 2010 Annual Report [PDF 0.54M]

My father did not have the freedom to pursue the career of his choice in the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, he produced copious research on dynamical systems, a branch of mathematics, in his spare time. When I was four years old, there was an international conference on the subject in Warsaw—a rare event in any scientific field behind the Iron Curtain. Even though he was not officially allowed to attend and it was challenging to get permission to travel, my father was able to make the trip with the help of supporters in Poland. What he learned there went well beyond mathematics, and dramatically changed the course of our lives.

Contrary to what my father had been taught, the mathematicians from the other side of the Iron Curtain were not monsters. They were fellow scientists who shared the same passions. The key difference was that they were free: free to pursue the career of their choice, free to voice their opinions, free to travel, and above all they were free from fear of their own government. That small but powerful piece of information drove my family to flee the Soviet Union two years later and start a new life in the United States.

Today the vast majority of the world’s population has access to mobile phones, and over two billion people are connected to the Internet. As a result, the trickle of information that made its way into closed societies such as the USSR when I was a child has now become a torrent—and millions of people living under totalitarian regimes are able to glimpse freedom every day of their lives, albeit virtually.

While the trends in technology and communication that made this all possible have been clear for decades, I believe we have now reached an important inflection point. As I write this letter, a wave of change is passing through the Middle East and North Africa. I cannot predict what countries it will touch, or what the state of the world will be by the time you read this in two months. But I can be certain of one thing: access to information will play a key role.

Access to Information

We founded Google to help connect people to the information they need— and we have been obsessively focused on that goal ever since. Today, hundreds of millions of people rely on Google to search through many petabytes of the world’s knowledge. We do it across nations, languages and cultures, for information that's both online and offline, on PCs and tablets, phones and televisions, with text and images and video and sound... whatever it takes. Over the past year, the whole web experience has become richer, thanks to faster processors and improved software in both client computers and data centers. For example, Google Instant (launched late last year) starts searching with every keystroke, thereby saving users time on every search. To date, Google Instant has now saved our users over 100 billion keystrokes and counting. Going forward, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the kind of interactivity one should expect to see in search.

Because we serve users in nearly every country and 146 languages, the best available information is not always in a language that they understand. To that end, our translation systems have been very important ever since we introduced them five years ago. Google Translate now works in 58 languages including Hindi, Persian and Swahili, and can offer translations between 3,306 language pairs. It’s still far from perfect, but we've come a long, long way, thanks to improved algorithms and scaled computing power. For geographic information, we literally cover the globe with imagery from satellites, airplanes, and cars, and we've made street maps available of nearly 100 countries.

Some of the best information in the world across many cultures was not born on the web, but resides in the world’s books. This is why we launched our books project in 2004 and we've now scanned (and enable searchers to discover) more than 15 million books, which we estimate to be more than 10 percent of all the books published since Gutenberg—and we're still going strong. These books span hundreds of languages and over three million are already available online as Google eBooks. In the past year, we expanded our scanning efforts to encompass other kinds of physical content, such as Yad Vashem’s Holocaust archives, Nelson Mandela’s personal documents, and minutely-detailed scans of some of the world’s greatest paintings as part of the Art Project.

A Video is Worth a Million Words

Sal Khan quit his job as a hedge fund manager to create an online academy on YouTube that tutors people in subjects from mathematics to chemistry. His 2,000 videos have been viewed 45 million times.

There is rarely a more compelling way to capture and convey something than by video, and thanks to advances in processors, networks and storage, video is quickly becoming as ubiquitous as text. YouTube, which is only six years old, now serves over two billion videos per day from a selection of over 500 million. While it may have been known for its “lolcats” videos several years ago, YouTube is now used for citizen engagement (such as interviews with President Obama), documenting human rights violations (such as in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya), full-length movies, education, and much more.

Although it seemed a dream a decade ago, today YouTube enables viewers to watch what they want, when they want, on the device of their choosing, and to post their own videos for the world to see. The ability to easily publish video has leveled the playing field between the select few and the rest of the world in terms of being able to communicate using this powerful medium.

Power in Every Pocket

Nearly 10 percent of YouTube playbacks now happen on mobile phones, which is remarkable given the technical hurdles that needed to be overcome in order to stream video to small, low-power wireless devices. Increasingly, technology is moving to the world’s five-billion- plus mobile phones, thereby democratizing information well beyond the PC. The more sophisticated functionality is typically available on the fast-growing smartphone segment, which shipped over 300 million devices last year alone. Android, our own mobile operating system for smartphones, first shipped only two years ago, and now it's the most used in the world with over 300,000 devices activated daily. New Internet-connected screens, such as tablets and televisions, also provide an ever-growing base to deploy these technologies.

And new mobile applications are springing up everywhere. Just a few years ago mapping and navigation were the domain of specialized devices. Today, more than 150 million people use Google Maps every month on their mobile phones, and nearly 10 million now use Google Latitude to connect with their friends and families on maps.

Moreover, via mobile phones, what were once considered the far- flung corners of artificial intelligence research have now reached the mainstream. For example, Google Goggles utilizes leading edge machine vision to identify and learn more about objects and places by sight. Our Voice Actions feature enables millions of people to use state of the art speech recognition to more easily interact with their phones to dictate emails or searches. With Google Translate on mobile phones, people can now—literally—speak in one language and have it repeated in another.

Making a Living Online

A panama hat maker in Bolivia is now selling in 84 markets and has grown to 50 employees across Latin America using AdWords.

The owner of a baby products store in Nigeria had such a response to her AdWords campaign that she literally ran out of stock.

A butcher in Warsaw using AdWords saw that at Easter, one of the busiest times of the year, the queue of people who came to pick up their online orders was longer than the queue of those shopping in the store.

Displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the founder of a fitness bootcamp was able to completely rebuild, and then grow, his customer base with AdWords when he returned to New Orleans and started over.

Using AdWords to find new customers in the wake of the recession, a son helped his father turn around his ailing home security business, now the largest in El Paso.

The first Thai AdWords customer, a third-generation tailor, has grown his business from 5,000 customers in 2002 to over 400,000 internationally today.

The technology revolution also has an economic impact: it is enabling more and more people globally to make a living for themselves entirely online. Worldwide, more than one million advertisers are now using AdWords—and it's transforming the fortunes of businesses at every scale. There are countless examples of entrepreneurs building and growing businesses with AdWords as their sole marketing vehicle, reaching new markets and finding new customers throughout the world with just a couple of clicks.

Ads also enable publishers of all types to fund content creation and make that content available for free. The AdSense program now generates revenue for over two million publishers worldwide. In 2010, we gave back over $6 billion to our AdSense partners, who range from well-known newspapers to bloggers and niche websites.

Communication for All

Technology has also democratized communication and creation of information. Capabilities that were once available only to the largest corporations are now available to businesses, political movements, governments, and individuals alike. There is no longer a need to manage servers, updates, and patches; instead, users simply refresh their browser. In addition to Gmail, our most-used communications app, our broader suite of apps is now used by over three million businesses and 10 million students.

Personal communications are increasingly complicated to manage, given the volume of email people receive. Launching Priority Inbox, which uses machine learning to rank and prioritize emails, we started to tackle this problem. We’re encouraged by indications that show its utility. Priority Inbox users spend 43 percent more time reading important mail compared to unimportant, and 15 percent less time reading email overall, compared to Gmail users who don’t use Priority Inbox.

After a server crash took down its website, a city in Florida moved their site to Google Apps, which has given them more time to focus on open government initiatives like live-streaming city council meetings on YouTube.

Insightly, a one-person software business in Perth, Australia, acquired more than 10,000 customers in its first seven months thanks to the Google Apps Marketplace.

What’s Next?

Larry and I have always shared a profound belief in the potential for technology to make the world a better place. It's why we've been prepared, from the get-go, to place big bets on new technologies—with the full knowledge that not all of these will always pay off. In the last year we have seen Google Wave fail, but our browser Chrome has succeeded beyond what we thought was possible. As always, we learn as much from our failures as our successes, and are constantly reminded that execution and delivery matter as much as great ideas.

Chrome (Google’s web browser) was released two and a half years ago. Today, at version 10 Chrome is over six times faster than it was then and over 120 million people now use it. What’s more, it’s helping push browser standards forward everywhere.

For the last decade, Eric has done an unbelievable job as CEO steering Google through rapid growth, while also managing two willful founders.

Clever, strategic, wise... it’s hard to think of anyone on the planet who could have done a better job than Eric has, and we would both like to thank him from the bottom of our hearts. The good news is that as Larry takes over as Chief Executive (again!), Eric is still very much involved as Executive Chairman, and all three of us are just as excited about the next 10 years as we were about the last decade.

The Internet, mobile phones, and other technologies are having profound effects on the spread of information and the lives of people worldwide. It’s a virtuous circle, with the information revolution directly accelerating the pace of technical development as inventors and entrepreneurs benefit from the increased demand for new products, the opening of new markets and dramatic gains in productivity. As a result, new technologies that emerge from research labs fall into the hands of users within a few years; new online offerings reach tens of millions of people in months; and startups spring up overnight.

Decades ago, my father had to make a journey to Poland for the information that would shape my family’s life. Today, billions of people can make that journey online every day—and the world will never look the same. In the coming years, technology will evolve even more rapidly, and what is still science fiction today will have worldwide impact almost overnight.

Sergey Brin

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