Google’s Famous PageRank Algorithm Was Discovered By Accident

Google’s Famous PageRank Algorithm Was Discovered On Accident

“Most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas – they discover them.” – Peter Sims

Sergey Brin volunteered as a guide for potential first-year students at Stanford.

Larry Page was considering Stanford for Grad school, and Brin was assigned to show him around.

They famously clashed heads about nearly everything during their first encounter.

But this wouldn’t stop them from making a revolutionary discovery.

The Stanford Digital Library Project: The Catalyst For PageRank

When Page officially arrived at Stanford, he chose computer scientist Terry Winograd as his adviser.

Sergey Brin was being advised by another computer scientist — Hector Garcia-Molina.

As fate would have it, their advisers — both Winograd and Molina — were running the Stanford Digital Library Project.

The goal of this project was to prioritize library searches online.

Brin and Page would collaborate on this project together.

As they searched for solutions, they realized that the best way to prioritize library searches online was to measure how many other citations referred to a source.

They found that you could analyze the number of incoming links to a page in the online library when you issued the correct query.

And they’d spend tons of time searching for the number of incoming links for different pages.

Why was this important?

The World Of Academia: Incoming Links Are Just Citations

This insight — measuring page quality by the number of incoming links — comes from the world of academia.

When publishing an academic paper, getting cited is one of the most important things that can happen.

Besides the original idea itself… the quality of published papers is primarily determined by the number of papers it cites, the number of papers that cite back to them, and each citation’s perceived value.

The “citation count” of a document would indicate the quality of the academic paper.

The significant insight that Page and Brin had was that incoming links were just a form of citation count.

This idea was the genesis of measuring page quality by the number of links it had.

These links served as votes. And the more popular each page, the higher the rank.

So Larry created a prototype web crawler to experiment with ranking pages, focusing on the number of links. Initially, he did this on the Stanford Site.

This is how the PageRank algorithm was born. And the rest is history.

Experiment With Your Ideas Before Committing To The Long-Term

In the beginning, Page and Brin weren’t trying to create a behemoth of a company.

And they didn’t start with a massive mission like “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

It became their mission as the company grew.

Their story shows you don’t need to have the perfect idea when starting out.

If you’re passionate about an idea, start experimenting with it and see what happens.

From there, you can decide if it’s worth pursuing in the long-term.

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