Thursday, March 11, 2010

The sliced raw fish shoes it wishes.

Most of the people that I know are regular users of both Google and Facebook. Because they are very familiar parts of American and world culture, it’s easy to forget that both of them are recent additions to our lives.

Google started as a college project called BackRub at Standford in 1996.

Two years later, the company was founded, and six years later (in August of 2004) it was listed on the NASDAQ. The initial public offering generated $1.67 billion, and gave Google a market capitalization of more than $23 billion. The vast majority of Google's 271 million shares remained under Google's control, and many of Google's employees became instant paper millionaires. Its current market capitalization is $149 billion.

Facebook also started as a college project.

Mark Zuckerberg created Facemash when he was a sophomore at Harvard in the fall of 2003. A few months later, he changed the name to Thefacebook. The company known as Facebook was founded in September of 2006. Less than two years later, it was worth close to $5 billion, and Mark Zuckerberg was a billionaire before he turned 25

In a meeting at Google in 2004, the discussion turned to an e-mail message that the company had received from a fan in South Korea. Sergey Brin, a Google founder, ran the message through an automatic translation service that the company had licensed. The message said Google was a favorite search engine, but the result read: “The sliced raw fish shoes it wishes. Google green onion thing!”

Mr. Brin said Google ought to be able to do better.

Six years later, its free Google Translate service handles 52 languages, more than any similar system, and people use it hundreds of millions of times a week to translate Web pages and other text. Unless you’re a fan of sushi, the phrase “sliced raw fish” really doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the creation of Google Translate has opened up a world (literally) of opportunity for all of us.

(the picture of sashimi shown above popped up when I typed “sliced raw fish” into Bing, which is Microsoft’s competitor to Google)

My favorite 2010 Super Bowl ad was the one Google did about searching for things in Paris, which brings up an interesting possibility.

One of the 25 goals that I wrote down about 5 years ago was to someday stand on the observation deck at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris with my favorite daughter. If I won Saturday’s $200,000,000 Powerball drawing, I absolutely guarantee you that the Parisian dream would become a reality. It’s also a dead certainty that some of the pictures from the trip would wind up on my Facebook profile page.

Although there are LOTS of interesting things to do in Paris, one of the “must stops” on our journey would be Le Grand Vefour, the very first grand restaurant in Paris. It was opened in the arcades of the Palais-Royal in 1784 by Antoine Aubertot, as the Café de Chartres.

Using my new I-phone, I could download their menu , paste all the French names into Google Translate, and read them in English. I could then point to the item on the menu, and say to my server, “Je voudrais, afin que, s'il vous plait” (I’d like to order that, please)

Although it would be prudent to do a little practice with French pronunciation before making the journey, having Google Translate as a backup would make Paris more enjoyable.

Since I started this story with a fish, it’s appropriate that it should also end with a phish, as well as a question:

How would YOU spend $200,000,000 ?

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