2020, finally over: Stories from Google this year
The year 2020 felt particularly sluggish—and simultaneously much, much too fast. With so many things happening in the world (and far fewer things happening in my day-to-day quarantine life), it’d be easy to forget what exactly occurred and when.
So humor us while we—gasp!—revisit the past year a bit, and take a look at some of what we worked on here at Google. Because as slow as the year may have felt at times, what didn’t happen in 2020?
1. As COVID-19 began to spread, we made sure that Google products were supporting people during the pandemic—and especially what Search and News could do to surface relevant, accurate information. More than once, we turned to Dr. Karen DeSalvo, our Chief Health Officer, for her insights on the pandemic, including information about the coming vaccines. In April, we partnered with Apple to use Bluetooth technology to create Exposure Notifications System, which is now being used by public health authorities in more than 50 countries, states and regions around the world to anonymously inform people if they’ve come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
2. Part of fighting COVID-19 means supporting businesses and communities. Our $800 million commitment to small and medium-sized businesses was one of these initial efforts. We made it easier for businesses to update their profiles using Search and Maps, and gave them new ways to communicate with customers. For people who needed to find work or forge new careers, we launched a new suite of Google Career Certificate programs. We also found ways to support Black-owned businesses, with new funding for Black founders and the launch of the Black-owned business attribute for Business Profiles.
3. Finding jobs and helping businesses succeed was only one part of the transition: How people worked hugely changed. As more people worldwide began working from home, we shared resources to make the transition easier. Our experts offered tips on how to make your home work environment more efficient, and about their methods for fighting screen fatigue. We also investigated the “why?” behind some of the WFH feelings people everywhere were having—like why remote meetings just aren’t the same as the real thing.
4. Remote teaching isn’t the same, either. My sister, who lives with me, teaches third-grade online, and I’m completely in awe of how hard she works. This year, we offered resources on how to keep learning even without internet access. The Anywhere School introduced more than 50 new features, like a Tech ToolKit for families who need help troubleshooting, and ways for instructors to introduce polls into Meet. And we launched new tools for parents who became teachers. We also heard personal distance learning stories, and did our best to tell educators how thankful we are for their work. (Thanks, Vicki!)
5. The passage of time can be marked by eras of emoji. World Emoji Day coincided with the introduction of critters like 🦬 and 🐻❄️. And it really just wouldn’t be 2020 if new emoji mashups didn’t include the 😷 emoji and a few new ways to get in our feelings. Oh, my top emoji of 2020? Thanks for asking! Obviously, they were 😬, 🥴, 🙃, 💞 and 🍕.
7. We said goodbye to earworms with the launch of Hum to Search, a new feature where anyone can hum or sing a tune and find out what song is stuck in their head. The tool was introduced during Google’s live (streamed) Search event and talked about advancements in AI that are making Search more accessible and useful. And this year, Search became more visually friendly, allowing us to do things like use Google Lens to shop or turn to AR for help with homework.
8. Search isn’t the only Google tool that’s improved leaps and bounds since its inception: Google Maps turned 15! To mark this milestone, we rolled out a fresh look and helpful new features and also looked back on the journey. The work hardly ended there: Maps and Search also debuted real-time wildfire maps and information. And as the spread of COVID-19 affected how people moved around this year, Maps released multiple new features focused on helping people stay informed and safe and make decisions around travel, and My Maps was an incredibly important resource for communities everywhere, helping people find food banks and testing sites, among so many other things.
9. “The world must act now if we’re going to avert the worst consequences of climate change,” CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in September, announcing our latest efforts at achieving a carbon-free future, and eliminating our carbon legacy entirely. More good news: data centers are more energy efficient than ever. But small changes can make a difference, too: We shared tips on how everyone could become more sustainable at home. Other projects included hitting our hardware sustainability goals—and creating news ones—and making sure our own construction principles go above and beyond.
10. One thing we all relied on in 2020 was video calling. In May, we made Google Meet free for all—and through March 2021 all free Meet users can enjoy unlimited meetings without having to worry about the 60-minute time limit. Plus, a handful of new features specifically geared to help teachers with video schooling were added, and we shared tips on how to make sure video conferences are accessible to everyone. And I set my grandma up with a Nest Hub Max so we can video chat, and Google partnered with senior care centers so their residents could do the same with their families.
11. The world has been intensely focused on health during the pandemic—including mental health. We took an in-depth look at Blue Dot, an employee resource group at Google that works to normalize conversations about mental health. The Digital Wellbeing team worked on giving you more control and transparency over selfies, and Search launched an anxiety self-assessment tool. On a more personal level, Googler Carly Schwartz shared her journey to sobriety, and how Google tools can help others who are looking for help.
12. Despite the challenges of 2020, Googlers continued doing amazing things. We met Fabiana Fregonesi, a scuba diver who photographs and advocates for sharks, and Sarah Torney, who used old family photos to take us to turn-of-the-century San Francisco. And of course, in true 2020 fashion, more than a few Googlers came up with creative new hobbies for their time spent at home. Speaking of fashion: AI Engineer Dale Markowitz showed us how to use machine learning to create your own stylist.
All this just skims the surface: We also talked about what it’s like to work at home with our dogs and offered mobile photography tips—and yes, while time became more and more of a construct, it really was just this year that we introduced new Pixel phones and Nest devices.
But with all that said, I think it’s time to say goodbye to this year. Farewell, 2020, and thanks for giving us plenty to write about. Here’s to ending the year on a grateful note, and looking forward to the next one with hope.