Of the many jokes my dad told his classes when he taught physics to Caltech freshmen, one in particular has always stayed with me. It was about credit for scientific discoveries and how the law of conservation of energy was discovered eight or nine times before James Prescott Joule discovered it so well that nobody ever had to discover it again. This article reminds me of that joke. When people assign credit for the discovery of paid search advertising, they usually name Google – even though it was actually GoTo.com that invented and built that market. But all successful companies have strong foundation myths, especially those that go on to become whole markets. At the end of the day, stories aside, the only thing that really matters is that one company invented it so well that nobody else had to do it again.
But history is more complicated…it could be argued, for instance, that while two Stanford boys invented a great search engine, it was two Caltech boys who discovered — while they were in LA, 500 miles south of Silicon Valley — how it could make money. Gil Elbaz and Bill Gross built Applied Semantics (or Oingo, for those with longer memories) and GoTo.com, respectively. These two companies, the former bought by Google and the latter simply out-competed, are responsible for all the money Google makes, plus or minus some pocket change.
All that said, this article gets it right.