It gets more visitors than any art gallery and more clicks than any other single site on the Internet. Imagine getting your own drawing on Google's homepage.
Google is giving aspiring student artists and inventors a rare chance to get their original artwork on the heavily trafficked Google.com. The company is kicking off a Doodle 4 Google contest, and any student in the United States, grades kindergarten through 12, can submit their own doodle between now and March 20.
The theme of this year's contest is "If I Could Invent One Thing to Make the World a Better Place ..." If your idea is especially brilliant, you might want to patent it before showing it off to the entire world or having it turned into a top-secret Google[x] project.
In addition to a $30,000 scholarship and a tech grant to their school, the winner will make a trip to Google headquarters and work with its Doodle team to turn their drawing into an animation. The winning entry will appear on Google.com on June 9.
Even as ads and other detritus have filled search results, Google's search-engine homepage has stayed clean, sparse and almost always free of ads. (Google has made exceptions to push its Nexus 7, Nexus One and Motorola Droid devices.)
The classic multicolored Google logo sits on top of the search bar in the middle of the white page. But over the years, the logo itself has been altered for fun and some smart brand marketing. These artistic "doodles" direct visitors to information on topics they might normally have overlooked, from filmmaker Ingmar Bergman to writer Zora Neale Hurston.
"It's kind of like the mission behind having a search engine that can bring you all the information in the world," Google Doodler Sophie Diao said. (Her business card actually lists "Doodler" as her job title.) "We can help users find something or learn about things that they otherwise might not."
The first Google Doodle was posted in 1998, when the company founders took off for Burning Man and decided to drop a stick figure into the regular logo as a sort of "Gone Fishing" sign. Over time, the company started marking the occasional holidays with decked-out logos, and the doodle took off.
Now they mark important historical occasions and bring attention to people and topics that might otherwise be overlooked, such as Simone de Beauvoir's 106th birthday, the 66th anniversary of the Roswell Incident and the 100th Tour de France.
The doodles are usually created by a team of 20 Google employees, including 10 artists and three engineers, at the company's Mountain View, California, headquarters. They make about a doodle a day, though many are only for specific regions of the world, so not everyone will see them on their Google.com homepage.
You can see every doodle from around the world at Google.com/doodles.
The altered logos take different forms. Most are static illustrations, but there are also animations and games. Some of the biggest hits are elaborate interactive doodles, like the winter-themed Zamboni game, which can take months to create. Clicking on a doodle brings up search results for that topic.
In addition to hosting the winner for a day, the Doodle team will help an official group of judges sort through entries and pick the best drawings. The public will be able to chime in and vote on their favorites.
"We're looking for doodles that kind of feel at once very personal and relatable and are also a showcase of the student's creativity," Diao said.
Last year's Doodle 4 Google contest winner was 18-year-old Sabrina Brady, who created an image of a returning U.S. soldier hugging his young daughter. She has gone on to use her scholarship money to enter art school.