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Over the past two decades, Google Image Search has become such an important tool in our online lives that it can be hard to remember what it was like to use the search engine before this feature existed.
You may have heard the story that the creation of Google Images was inspired by Internet users trying to find photos of Jennifer Lopez wearing a green leaf-print Versace dress with a plunging neckline at the Grammy Awards in February 2000. Long before Kim Kardashian allegedly “broke the internet” in 2014, J.Lo arguably did the opposite by accelerating Google’s efforts to create an image search tool. And unlike many pop culture tales that turn out to be urban legends, this one is pretty much all true.
Before the creation of Google Image Search, there was no way to search for a specific image. Instead, the search engine retrieved pages of text and links that users would have to click on in the hopes of finding the relevant image.
The idea of creating an image search tool was already percolating when Lopez wore the iconic gown, but the number of people suddenly searching for a particular image sped up the process. The fledgling tech company, which had only been in existence for around two years, assigned engineer Huican Zhu and project manager Susan Wojcicki (who later served as YouTube CEO from 2014 to 2023) to develop Google Image Search, which launched in July 2001.
The dress that started it all:
- When Google Image Search, now known simply as Google Images, launched in 2001, users could access 250 million images. There are now over 136 billion images on the image search tool. A “Search by Image” feature was added in 2011 to facilitate reverse image searches. This has since been integrated into the Google Lens tool.
- Google executive Eric Schmidt confirmed the green dress story in 2015, saying that J.Lo at the 2000 Grammys was “the most popular search query we had ever seen.”
- In a September 2019 show to debut Versace’s Spring 2020 collection, the designer paid homage to the intersection between fashion, celebrity, and tech. A large screen displayed a Google Image search bar with the query “Okay Google, show me the Versace jungle dress,” before Jennifer Lopez herself appeared wearing a barely-there green dress inspired by her 2000 look.