The Backrub System

Before the giant search engine Google came to existence, there was a system called Backrub, a precursor developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, that essentially set the foundation for what Google would later become. This in-depth article aims to delve into the details of the Backrub system and its significance in the history of the world’s most-used search engine.

The Founding Duo: Larry Page and Sergey Brin

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Ph.D. students at Stanford University, set out to change the digital landscape with a simple idea. They wanted to build a new type of search algorithm that could create a better, more relevant ranking of webpages compared to the existing methods at the time. This idea laid the groundwork for the Backrub system.

The Birth of Backrub

Backrub was conceived in 1996 as an innovative project that sought to analyze the internet’s vast information landscape more efficiently. Unlike existing search engines that primarily ranked pages based on the number of times a search term appeared on the webpage, Backrub was designed to analyze the relationships between websites.

The Backrub algorithm determined a website’s relevance by considering the number of pages and the importance of those pages that linked back to the original site. In simple terms, a link from a highly significant page was considered a better endorsement than a link from a less significant one. This fundamental premise later evolved into Google’s renowned PageRank system.

The Functioning of Backrub

Backrub functioned based on a unique approach to web search and indexing. Here are some key aspects:

  1. Crawling the Web: The Backrub system functioned by crawling, or navigating through, the web. It used a bot called Backrub’s crawler, which visited websites and, just like a human user, followed links from one page to another, thereby creating a vast network of interconnected webpages.
  2. Building the Backlink Database: Backrub was built to analyze the ‘backlinks’ of a website – the links that pointed back to a specific website from other webpages. The system built a comprehensive backlink database, thereby creating a map of the web.
  3. PageRanking: Backrub assigned a “Backrub PageRank” to each webpage. This rank was calculated based on the number and quality of other pages that linked back to them. A webpage with a high number of backlinks from high-ranking pages received a high Backrub PageRank.
  4. Result Ranking: When a user performed a search, Backrub considered the Backrub PageRanks of relevant pages to decide the order in which to display search results.

From Backrub to Google

The development of the Backrub system was a critical milestone in the history of internet search. It fundamentally changed the approach to ranking webpages by recognizing the inherent value of organic links and their role in determining a page’s relevance.

However, the system wasn’t without its challenges. One of the main hurdles was the sheer amount of data that the Backrub system needed to handle. The Backrub search engine operated on Stanford’s servers for over a year but eventually outgrew the university’s infrastructure.

Recognizing the potential in their project, Page and Brin began to refine Backrub, which led to the birth of Google. The term ‘Google’ is derived from ‘googol,’ a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. The name reflected their mission to organize the immense amount of information on the web.

In 1998, they formally incorporated Google, marking the end of Backrub and the beginning of an era that would change the world of internet search.


In essence, the Backrub system developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin was revolutionary for its time. Its unique focus on backlinks and their quality laid the groundwork for the PageRank system, a critical component of Google’s search technology. While Backrub may no longer exist in its original form, its legacy lives on, embedded within the DNA of Google’s search engine.


  1. Stanford University’s official website
  2. Google’s corporate history
  3. Larry Page’s and Sergey Brin’s academic papers at Stanford