What Did Google Used To Look Like? A Visual History Of Everyone's Favorite Search Engine

Anyone who's been online for a substantial amount of time knows how quickly things on the Internet can change — but sometimes, it's still a shock when you look back at old websites and see how far they've come. So if you've ever wondered what Google used to look like way back in the day? Well, I have good news: You can easily access such coveted information via the wonder that is The Wayback Machine. I also have better news: I took the liberty of hunting through the nearly 20-year history of Google's physical appearance chronicled on The Wayback Machine and assembled it all in one handy-dandy location. Who's ready to get nostalgic?

The Wayback Machine, by the way, is one of my favorite things ever. With a name drawn from the old "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" segments of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and run by the Internet Archive, it allows us to go back and look at captured images from about 432 billion websites — kind of like a time capsule or Internet museum. Not all websites work on it; for example, Twitter and Amazon use robots.txt, which means they can't be crawled or displayed. But as we saw last week in my exploration of early 2000s websites you forgot about, there's still loads to choose from.

Including, of course, Google. So come — let us take a walk down the digital memory lane that is Google's visual history, all the while examining a little of Google's company history while we're at it. What a long, strange trip it's been, no?

1996 to 1998:

The behemoth that eventually became Google Inc. began as a research project by Stanford Ph.D. students Larry Page and Segey Brin in 1996 called BackRub. Although the Google domain name was registered in 1997, originally Google Search ran on the Stanford University website; on Nov. 11, 1998, going to google.com brought you to this page:

With the prototype link going to this page at google.stanford.edu:

And the “might work some of the time” link going to this page at alpha.google.com:

Google also filed for incorporation on Sept. 4, 1998, so do with that what you will.

1999:

1999 was a big year for Google; they moved offices twice, one of which was their first location in Mountain View, and their very first press release announced that they'd secured a $25 million round of funding from Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins.

At the beginning of 1999, google.com itself looked like the “might work some of the time” beta page; by April of that year, though, it had morphed into this (for the curious, the snapshot is from April 22, 1999):

And on Oct. 12, 1999, it looked like this:

2000 to 2010:

And after that? Well, it's mostly just variations on a theme. By Oct. 18, 2000 — just about a year later — the logo had been centered, rather than remaining parked slightly off the side, but the functionality remained the same:

And about two years later, on Oct. 8, 2002, we had tabs:

The tabs were replaced by simple hyperlinks by Feb. 22, 2005, giving the page an overall cleaner look:

And then, on June 25, 2005, it looked like this:

This is about the time I started finding Google much more difficult to navigate. There didn't seem to be a way for me to select whether or not I wanted to search for an image, a web page, or a news article right from the get-go, which resulted in me frequently going to Google, typing in “image search,” and navigating from there. It seemed like an unnecessary extra step, and I didn't like it.

However, there were also a load of notable firsts during these years for the company. During this 10-year period, the first Google Doodles debuted; AdWords, Google Images, Google News, Google Analytics, Google Maps, and Gmail all launched; they acquired platforms like Blogger, Picasa, and YouTube; Android is launched; and so on and so forth. Tons of growth happened.

2011 to 2015:

Unfortunately I had to get used to the pared-down landing page, as this is still pretty much what Google looks like today. The logo has changed a few times; it had lost some of its depth by April 11, 2011:

And it flattened out entirely by the end of 2013 (this version of the site was crawled on Oct. 26, 2013):

And here's where we're at now:

I grabbed this screenshot myself directly from Google on Aug. 18, and as you can see, it's gotten a lot more minimalistic — which is really saying something, given that Google's aesthetic has always been all about the minimalism. When you compare it to those very early screenshots, though? Hoo boy. What a change, is it not? At this point, Google has an almost 20-year history behind it, and in Internet time, that's basically eternity.

I'd be willing to be that it's got what's basically eternity ahead of it, too. Who knows what Google will look like in another 20 years?

Images: The Wayback Machine (12)