Being Modern: Search engines

Hotbot, AltaVista, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, Lycos… all are (or were) perfectly capable of finding stuff on the internet for us. But fate had other plans and these days we do not Yahoo something, and we don't plain old look it up either. Nope. If we want to know something now, we Google it – that noun-to-verb transition the final signifier of the dominance of the search engine celebrating its 14th birthday this week.

But though Google has assets of around $73bn and was founded by two young men while they were still at college, no one has yet seen fit to make a film called The Search Engine, and therefore little is known about the inner workings of this global giant.

Some might have heard its original mission statement: "To organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Others may know that its unofficial company slogan is "Don't be evil." But none of this is crucial to the company's current 86 per cent global market share.

So what is the secret of Google's success? Sure, it looks nice. Of course, it's fast. And certainly, it does nice little interactive graphics on its home page from time to time. But these are probably not why most of us choose Google over, say, its Microsoft-owned competitor Bing (4 per cent global market share).

Could it be that even in the shiny digital age we are all creatures of habit and once we get used to something, we tend to stick with it? Seems so. Though as some wags pointed out following the Kate topless news story recently, the world's most popular search engine should think about changing its name to Go Ogle.

And now that we have this tool of infinite power, this all-knowing oracle, at our fingertips what do we use it for? Let's turn to Google itself to find out. Type "Who", "What", "Why" and "Where" into that little search bar and let's see what the predictive text below tells us about the world we live in.

The answers? "Who unfollowed me [on Twitter]?" , "What's on TV?", "Why is the sky blue?" and, bizarrely, "Where is Chuck Norris". So now we know. And for that, thank Google.

Comments