Yep, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin begun work on their search engine, it wasn’t originally called Google. They went with the rather obscure Backrub, only changing it a year into development and yes, the hand in the logo was Larry Page’s, scanned.
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BackRub supposedly was a reference to the underlying algorithm which counts backlinks as affirmative votes, the same approach that was then turned into (Larry) PageRank.
“Page and Brin noticed that BackRub’s results were superior to those from existing search engines like AltaVista and Excite, which often returned irrelevant listings. “They were looking only at text and not considering this other signal,” Page recalls. That signal is now better known as PageRank. To test whether it worked well in a search application, Brin and Page hacked together a BackRub search tool. It searched only the words in page titles and applied PageRank to sort the results by relevance, but its results were so far superior to the usual search engines – which ranked mostly on keywords – that Page and Brin knew they were onto something big.” From Wired.
A year into development, BackRub turned into “the Google Search Engine,” which supposedly looked like the following in 1997:
After two more years of work,
..the two began calling on potential partners who might want to license a search technology better than any then available. Despite the dotcom fever of the day, they had little interest in building a company of their own around the technology they had developed.
Among those they called on was friend and Yahoo! founder David Filo. Filo agreed that their technology was solid, but encouraged Larry and Sergey to grow the service themselves by starting a search engine company. “When it’s fully developed and scalable,” he told them, “let’s talk again.” Others were less interested in Google, as it was now known. One portal CEO told them, “As long as we’re 80 percent as good as our competitors, that’s good enough. Our users don’t really care about search.”
From Google Corporate History:
These is a shot Google’s original servers, more here.
On September 7, 1998 Google Inc. became a reality and opened its door in Menlo Park, California. Already, Google.com was answering 10,000 search queries every day, despite still being in beta. The press began to take notice of the upstart website with the relevant search results and articles extolling Google appeared in USA Today and Le Monde. In December, PC Magazine named Google to its list of the Top 100 Web Sites and Search Engines for 1998. Google was moving up in the world…and fast.