15 years ago, the co-founder of Google had a wacky idea that forever changed our outlook on the world

Most things Google does are easy to take for granted. In hindsight, however, many of them seem a bit ridiculous when you start to think about them.

Google search is probably the best example. What if there was a website where you could type in a question that would search the entire internet and give you the answer? We do it a few billion times every day without thinking about it, but if you think about it, it’s kind of mind-boggling that Google isn’t kidding when it says its mission is to organize all the information in the world and make it useful .

But, what if instead of just organizing all the information in the world so people could type in a place or question a place and get a result, you did something that made them feel like they were walking in the street ? What if instead of looking at a map of a country, city or neighborhood, people could stand on the sidewalk and look around?

This idea seems far-fetched, but that’s what Google did 15 years ago when launching Street View. It’s no exaggeration to say that Street View has completely changed the way we see the world, literally in some cases. Wacky ideas have a way of doing it.

When Google launched its search engine in 1997, the two key technologies needed to organize all this information were pretty simple. You needed a “robot” to crawl and index all the websites on the Internet, and a way to decide which of those websites are relevant for a given search query.

At the time, there were just over a million websites. That sounds like a lot, but it really wasn’t. Today, there are just under 2 billion websites. Once you figure out how to organize everything, it’s just a matter of adding more robots and more servers to store and process all that information. This is, of course, a massive simplification, but it works for our purposes.

Mapping the whole world, on the other hand, seems like a pretty difficult thing to do. It takes a lot of effort and time. Photographing all its cities and interesting places in 3D is even more complicated.

Yet that’s exactly what Google co-founder Larry Page envisioned when he attached a camera to his car and drives through the streets of San Francisco. Early results weren’t great, mostly because the company was basically making it up as it went along. The fact that it worked was particularly impressive considering that when the team started the project that would become Street View, there was no Google Maps.

Today, Google Maps is the default way for most people to navigate the world. Yes, there are other map applications, but the Google version is still the most used. It’s how people get directions, find restaurants, and get local recommendations when we go on vacation.

It’s also how we explore places even when we can’t physically visit them. This is perhaps the smartest thing about Street View – it’s a nifty feature that makes an app you use all the time even better.

Just place the little orange person on a road with a blue line and you’re instantly teleported to that location. You can walk around and look around and see what you would see if you were actually there. It’s ridiculous, but in a good way, of course.

I’m sharing the story because chances are you’ve got some wacky ideas yourself – which is why you became an entrepreneur in the first place. You have an idea that sounds ridiculous, but instead of asking “why would anyone do that?” you are convinced it could change the world.

At first, it probably won’t. Some people will think that’s pretty silly, but honestly, it’s okay. It wasn’t, someone would have already tried. At a minimum, you could just make the world a more interesting place to live.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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