Google Mirror: Just A Trompe L’oeil?
Google Mirror is one of those lovely and uber-popular Google Easter eggs you’ve likely heard so much about.
Although technically this isn’t an Easter egg, as it is not officially maintained or served by the Big G (Google Easter Eggs refers strictly to those “hidden messages or features” produced by Google and embedded in its products), we never were very strict, or technical for that matter.
Basically, when you use Google Mirror, what you see is exactly the “reverse mirror image.” Even the words you type in the search bar appear in reverse even as you input them.
If you have a hard time reading the text on the page, try using an actual mirror. Hold it at an angle where you’re able to see what’s on the computer screen. Did you have a little Eureka! moment once you were able to read the page in reverse?
But aside from the usual, rather “fun-centric” rationale behind most of the attempts by Google outsiders to create an extra dimension of “internet search excitement,” there are also “real” purposes. Google Mirror, specifically, was actually first used to circumvent a country’s government to block out the search engine.
In the early 2000s, even before the big life-changing initial public offering and the emergence of Google’s Adsense (and a host of other hugely profitable services), the search engine was already making waves in the international community. Certain conservative national governments, who at first refused to acknowledge that there existed an interconnected network of computers called the World Wide Web that actually spanned the entire planet, would go Medieval on their own citizens by depriving them of certain “basic rights,” such as the “right to search for information online” (I do think that’s an actual right).
Perhaps among the biggest and most publicized case of this was China in those early years (the country is still more or less anal about the search engine and its other products, but a few “improvements” have been achieved so far), specifically targeting Google due to its innovative and highly efficient means of online search.
Before the first few improvised servers were set up in one of Google founders Sergei Brin’s friends’ garage sometime in 1998, people’s options with online search were sort of limited. There was Yahoo, but then again Yahoo was essentially a huge directory—you had to “register” your site on it and make sure you choose an appropriate category.
There were also Ask Jeeves and Alta Vista and other sites and services similar to those of Yahoo’s, but I don’t remember them now—they have been buried in the deluge of subsequent internet-related success stories and tragic shutdowns. However, I do remember that all of them had no web crawlers, spiders, or robots that would work as efficiently as those of Google’s.
But then Google came into the picture, and in a matter of a few years, it became the world’s most popular search engine. I remember that one day in 1999 when a colleague told me about a “lightweight search engine that was so breezy to use.” The word “Google” was odd, but it was so easy to remember. When I first tried using it to search for some information—if I’m not mistaken, I was looking for information regarding this alternative Asian treatment called acupuncture—the experience was distinctive because it was so “easy”: the Google homepage loaded so quickly, the whole thing was straight-up search, there were no distracting frills, you went in, searched for your information, then got out.
So maybe the first, most important achievement of Google, even right from the start, was how it has always maintained the purity of its search engine service—it did not grow into some bloated behemoth saddled with hundreds of links on the homepage. Google’s simplicity starkly contrasted that of Yahoo even in those days, what with Yahoo’s directory links, affiliate websites, flashing banners, and not-lightning-fast page load time—the ease and quickness of its page loads consisted Google’s major and critical success factors in an era where people still accessed the World Wide Web through 33.6 Kbps dial-up modems.
So in the early 2000s, China’s government suddenly decided to block its constituents’ access to Google. If you were living in China, this simply meant you could not use the search engine. The “firewall” was national in scope, so you had nothing else to do but use websites that had not been blocked out by the government. It was during this period when the first Google Mirror site appeared from out of nowhere. Called Elgoog ( HYPERLINK “http://www.elgoog.im” www.elgoog.im), a parody or simply the reverse of “Google”, the so-called Google mirror version sort of worked: people from within China could access the search engine by using Elgoog. Sure, it was a pain to read, but as I had previously instructed, you can easily use a mirror.
Many web developers have subsequently made their own version of Google Mirror (or simply, a version of Google where everything appears in reverse). A simple search would lead to tens of hundreds, perhaps thousands. These days, we most often use Google Mirror for purposes that rarely go beyond superficial fun. We try to impress our less internet-savvy friends with some Google-related tricks like, “Hey, look, the internet is all in reverse! Look at Google!”
In essence, Google itself (so say its staunchest defenders) is merely a “mirror of public opinion”—it does not create all these billions of websites, for crying out loud. People from all over the world create these websites and blogs and online services, and Google merely indexes and catalogs them—all for the sake of making terabytes of information easily accessible to anyone old enough to use a computer. Google Mirror, then, can be taken to have a deeper meaning than what its creator originally intended.