Just a little reminder before I begin, GAFA is the acronym of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and was coined by the French press.
Recently, Google (the company, not the search engine) changed its name to Alphabet. Why ? To give its different projects – Calico, Life Sciences, Nest, Self-driving Car, and others – more independence, according to CEO Larry Page.
What you might not know, is that it isn’t the first time Google has been renamed. It started its life out in 1996 as BackRub, referring to its analysis of the web’s backlinks (the incoming links to a website or page). A year earlier, Larry Page, 22, and Sergey Brin, 21, had met at Stanford and decided to create a search engine. But as the tool’s function began to evolve, so had the name.
So on September 15th 1997, Larry and Sean Anderson, another graduate that shared the same office as him, got about brainstorming. And this is how it happened, according to David Koller of the Stanford Computer Science Department: “Sean and Larry were in their office, using the whiteboard, trying to think up a good name – something that related to the indexing of an immense amount of data. Sean verbally suggested the word “googolplex,” and Larry responded verbally with the shortened form, “googol” (a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros). Sean was seated at his computer terminal, so he executed a search of the Internet domain name registry database to see if the newly suggested name was still available for registration and use. Sean is not an infallible speller, and he made the mistake of searching for the name spelled as “google.com,” which he found to be available. Larry liked the name, and within hours he took the step of registering the name google.com for himself and Sergey.” And thus a giant was born.
The famous fruit-named company was established in 1976, by Steve Jobs, 21, Steve Wozniak, 25, and Ronald Wayne, 42, to develop and sell personal computers. It was incorporated as Apple Computer in 1977, and was renamed Apple in 2007 to reflect its shifted focus towards consumer electronics.
In a 1980 presentation of the company, a young, enthusiastic Steve Jobs, with a full head of hair, explains: “We decided to call it Apple Computer partially because I like apples a lot, and partially because Apple is ahead of Atari (a pioneer in home computers) in the phone book and I used to work at Atari (everyone laughs). But we re-examined it on a regular basis and we found that the apple seemed to epitomize what we were going after which was simplicity and yet very refined sophistication. So I think we’re going to stick with it.” And they did.
Mark Zuckerberg was only a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard when he launched Thefacebook in 2004. “Harvard didn’t have a facebook so that’s the gap we were trying to fill. It’s an online directory that connects people through universities and colleges through their social networks there”, clarifies Zuckerberg in a 2004 interview. He probably got the name from his years at Exeter high school. Each year pupils would receive a copy of the student directory: “The Photo Address Book”, which everyone called “The Facebook” because the original name was such a mouthful.
But the young genius already had a reputation on campus before Thefacebook. In 2003 he had indeed created Facemash. This website would present the user with two randomly selected pictures of Harvard students and then let the user vote on which one was hotter. Using all the votes, it would then generate a constantly updated ranking according to attractiveness. Obviously many people felt it was insulting, and the site only lasted a few weeks. Not to mention that he had gotten the photos by hacking into the websites of nine houses. A glimpse of the privacy and copyright issues he would later have to deal with for Facebook.
Like many a great company, legend has it that Amazon started out in a garage. It was 1994 and Jeff Bezos, 31 at the time, had dubbed the business Cadabra (short for Abracadabra). “One of the problems with the name is that people would hear it as “cadaver” on the phone which is itself kind of bad”, recalls Shel Kaphan, the firm’s first employee, in an interview by GeekWire.
It had to go, so Jeff Bezos started looking for something beginning with an A. Indeed, pages on Netscape – the dominant web browser at the time – were alphabetized, and being in the As would therefore ensure more traffic on the website. His aim being to create the world’s biggest bookstore, he decided to go with the world’s greatest river: the Amazon. “This is not only the largest river in the world, it’s many times larger than the next biggest river. It blows all other rivers away”, he declared. Last year, Amazon controlled a 67% share of the e-book market and a 64% share of printed books sold online. For better or for worse, the name fits like a glove.