Google’s tale is a familiar one: Two Stanford doctoral students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, developed a set of algorithms that in 1998 sparked a holy-shit leap in Web-search performance. Basically, they turned search into a popularity contest. In addition to gauging a phrase’s appearance on a Web page, as other engines did, it assessed relevance by counting the number and importance of other pages that linked to that page.

Here’s a great Fast Company article about what makes Google tick.