Today, it’s a flag with a yellow ribbon and the words, “In honor of the soldiers who have given their lives for our country.” Ten days ago, it was the Pac-Man video game. Two weeks earlier, it was a ballet commemoration of Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. All of them were featured on Google’s homepage. All of them – at least for a day, anyway – reached tens of millions of people, who were reminded about Memorial Day, Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary, and Tchaikovsky’s legacy. These “doodles,” as they’re known in Google-speak, have become a prized feature of the Internet’s most popular search engine. To have your drawing or suggestion make it as a Google Doodle is a big achievement. How big? Probably bigger than winning the New Yorker’s cartoon-caption contest. Probably bigger than getting a letter in the New York Times. Probably even bigger than asking a presidential candidate a question over YouTube. OK. These comparisons can be debated, but what’s not in doubt is that, every day, scores of people contact Google with ideas, hoping their doodle is chosen.
Google spokeswoman Anne Espiritu told me (via email) that “a group of Googlers . . . select the doodles that appear on Google.” Espiritu didn’t reveal the names of the jury – just that they consult each other as well as the ideas they get from users, who can email the Internet giant at email@example.com.
The Google panel uses select criteria to choose its doodles. Generally, Espiritu says, Google “aims to celebrate interesting events and anniversaries around the world that reflect Google’s personality and love of innovation. Although we are aware that our list of doodles is not exhaustive, we try to select doodles that show creativity and innovation in a fun, quirky way. Generally, we choose doodles from a variety of categories, such as those that celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of artists and inventors.”
In other words, if you’re trying to get Google to recognize the problem of Global Warming, well, that probably won’t work. (What would the doodle be? A picture of a sun melting the polar ice cap, with a bear clinging perilously to one side? Probably too intense for Google.) What might work, instead, is a suggestion to honor Jonathon DeLonge, who supposedly invented the beach ball. Better yet, suggest that Google commemorate Walter Frederick Morrison, the inventor of the Frisbee, who died in February.
Among those celebrated by Google’s homepage this year: Czech actor Vlasta Burian (whose visage appeared on Google’s homepage in the Czech Republic); Danish writer Karen Blixen (the “Out of Africa” author whose likeness was shown on Google’s homepage in Denmark); German inventor Karl Drais (depicted on Google’s homepage in Germany); Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum (whose image appeared on Google homepages throughout the Arab world); and Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen (whose likeness was celebrated on Google homepages around the world).
Since 1999, when the first stylized Google doodle appeared (it was an homage to Nevada’s Burning Man event), more than 700 doodles have appeared on Google homepages worldwide. In the United States, more than 300 doodles have appeared – everything from Popeye to Sesame Street. Events such as the Olympics can be commemorated for days in a row, across Google homepages everywhere. More than 200 million people use the search engine every day. That’s a lot of eyeballs for anyone’s artwork. The one-day Pac-Man page (complete with video game) was played so incessantly, it squandered $120 million in lost work-time. Google has impact. See for yourself right here: http://www.google.com/logos/.