I stepped out of my car in the parking lot of Google’s Mountain View headquarters and, not having a clue which way to go, started following the man ambling down the sidewalk wearing a very odd backpack. A giant spherical camera stuck up behind his shoulders, bouncing above his head like a floating eyeball, capturing everything around us, slurping up oceans of data. We turned the corner and I did a double take as a driverless car slowly cruised by. It was a pair of first impressions that reminded me just how wide ranging and intellectually ambitious Google has become.

Since its early days, Google has looked outside itself for inspiration on new directions its business could take. The search giant’s mergers and acquisitions team set new records in 2010 and 2011 for the sheer number of companies it acquired. Last year alone it bought up 25 companies, one every two weeks. If you count the firms acquired for patents and intellectual property, the total number is a whopping 79. Taking a look at Google’s peers, it becomes clear just how astonishing these numbers are. Facebook bought just ten companies in 2011; Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft only three apiece.