Chances are, you know the thrill of heading to Google to do a search and finding … a doodle. Doodles — periodic illustrated takeovers of the Google logo — have graced the company’s homepage since before the company was even incorporated.
“There are one or two geeks at Google that get excited about things like this,” says Google Doodle team leader Ryan Germick. “If you walked around a cafeteria at lunchtime you'd hear some pretty interesting things.”
Doodles have celebrated the likes of computing pioneer Claude Shannon, educated us about Wilbur Scoville’s chili pepper heat scale and commemorated New Horizons’ Pluto flyby.
“As a tech company, you know, one of the things that's sort of core to our interests is technological advances and things to celebrate that we have, as humankind, achieved,” Germick says.
Google doodles are not without controversy. Several years ago an advocacy group reported that between 2010 and 2013, 62 percent of people celebrated in doodles were white men.
“That was a great wake up call,” Germick says. “There was some really, you know, folks who care about doodles which was really wonderful and to get feedback that we weren't representing as well as we could our audience, which is really everybody.
"And so taking that feedback to heart, we just tried a little harder to stray away from the top hundred list or whatnot of any given type of accomplishment. And really [try to] sort of find incredible lives from all walks of life. With that in mind, we were really able to find some really really surprising really really special people that have been exciting to learn about and to to highlight on our home page.”
Every year Germick and his team go through a huge list of thousands of ideas and try to plan out the next 12 months of doodles. Some are animated, and many of them are for an international audience and do not even show up in the US.
“You just never know if you're gonna get to have that spontaneous surprise come to you when you wake up and try to log on to Google for the first time in the day,” Germick says. “We take great responsibility and pride in the opportunity to sort of put a spotlight on something.
"We actually often say we are more NPR than we are MTV in the sense that, you know, we really are trying to highlight things that we think will enrich people's lives and be something that would be wonderful to know about, to learn about.”
The first Google doodle ever created was made for the Burning Man festival in the summer of 1998, a few weeks before Google’s founders even finished the paperwork for incorporation. Now, after almost two decades, there are over 4,000 doodles in the Google archives.
Many of them can be viewed online at the full doodle archive.
Note: Google is an occasional underwriter of Science Friday.