The power duo

The power duo

TEN YEARS after it was founded in a Californian garage by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google has become the dominant player in the global online advertising market and one of the biggest multinational companies in the world.

Brin and Page return to the MediaGuardian 100 this year, having made way in last year's list for their company's chief executive, Eric Schmidt.

But if our 2007 panel thought the web giant's founders had taken a less prominent role in the day-to-day running of the company, then this year's judges said they were right back at the forefront of Google's global activities. And elsewhere, Page even made it into the gossip columns with his wedding on Richard Branson's Necker Island last year.

More significantly, the UK prime minister, Gordon Brown was among the guests praising the Silicon Valley giant at its UK conference in May.

Brin and Page's creation dominates the UK online search market, with eight out of 10 searches through Google. The UK is its second most valuable territory behind the US, and with ad revenue of $2.6 billion in 2007, it is on the verge of overtaking the UK TV station, ITV.

Google has extended its brand and moved beyond its search engine roots with the likes of Google Earth, Google Maps and Google Docs, offering spreadsheets and word processor tools that Microsoft customers have to pay for.

It owns the online video phenomenon YouTube, to which 10 hours of video are uploaded every minute, and bought the online advertising company DoubleClick last year for $3.1 billion despite concerns that it would give the search firm unfair dominance.

Google has also moved into mobile Internet with its mobile phone operating system Android, and has advanced into offline advertising in the US in TV, print and radio. But Brin and Page - who run the company with Schmidt as a triumvirate - have not had it all their own way.

Google has been accused of over-stretching itself, it has lost a string of senior staff - including its engineering vice-president, Doug Merrill - to Guy Hands' EMI, and newspaper and television companies have complained that its activities are not regulated in the same way that they are.

Despite its unofficial slogan, 'Don't be evil,' Google is increasingly seen as part of the establishment and faced accusations that it is becoming the web's Big Brother by storing details of people's personal searches. 'If we are not trusted, we have no business,' countered Page. 'We have such a lot to lose, we are forced to act in everyone's interest.' But memories of its willingness to do deals with the Chinese government, censoring its search engine in the region, are likely to linger for some time to come.

Shares in the company took a tumble following fears of a slowdown at the turn of the year, but it reported better than expected profits for the first three months of this year, up 30 per cent to $1.31 billion. Google, it seems, is back on track. Its market capitalisation is valued higher than Time Warner, Disney and News Corp combined.

It is a sign of Google's success that search engine optimisation has become such a critical tool for anyone who publishes on the web. If you want to be seen, then you have to be seen on Google. While the search engine infuriates the media by sucking up online advertising, it does a crucial job for web publishers by referring people to their site.

Google faced the prospect of its biggest challenge for years with Microsoft's $47.5 billion takeover bid for Yahoo. However, when the tie-up failed to come off, Google ended up doing a 10-year search advertising deal with Yahoo instead.

It is also putting $175 million into five philanthropic projects over the next three years, including plans to produce lower-cost renewable energy and non-petrol-powered cars.

Like Apple's boss, Steve Jobs, Brin and Page cut their salary to $1 a year. But with personal fortunes estimated at just shy of $19bn each, they can afford to.

A close-up

Sergey Brin/Larry Page, co-founders, Google; president of technology/president of products

Ages: 34/35

Industry: Digital media

Turnover: $16.59b

Staff: 19,100

Salary: $1

Worth: approx $18.5b each

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