Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt just finished being interviewed at the D Conference by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, and there were a number of interesting revelations that came out. I thought a list of highlights was in order.
The highlights below are roughly listed in the order they came up during the interview, rather being in order of what I think are most important. Anything quoted is the quote as best I caught it. These all come from my full live blogging of the event. See also coverage from others on Techmeme.
Any typos, I’ll catch later. Right now, I need to seek out food.
1) The Gang Of Four & Platforms
Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook are what Schmidt considers the “Gang Of Four” major companies that have huge “platforms” and dominance in their spaces that is difficult for others to challenge.
Amazon rules in shopping; Apple for “beautiful products.” Google rules in information; Facebook in friends and identity.
Microsoft? Not on the list, as Schmidt doesn’t see it driving evolution of consumer products and services. He did later say it was very strong in the enterprise space, with products being a “flywheel that will power Microsoft for decades.”
Sounds familiar to me See our past post (complete with illustrations): Meet The New Borg: Google, Facebook & Apple.
2) Renewed Deal With Apple On Search & Maps
Google is the default search engine for Apple computers and iOS devices (iPhone and iPad). Google Maps also gets featured placement. That’s going to continue.
“We have a very,very good search partnership” and map relationship with Apple, Schmidt said, saying that deals on both have been renewed. No other details — but just getting a renewal confirmed is huge, since Google and Apple have typically not mentioned much about their deals at all.
Then again, Schmidt said last September that Google and Apple renewed their search deal. So is he talking about the same deal? Which is kind of older now?
3) Google Will Get Social Data In Alternative Ways
Schmidt said repeatedly that it would be “useful” to get social data from Facebook or elsewhere to improve its own products: “From Google’s perspective, it would be useful to have the information; it would make our products better.”
Later, when asked if Google might need to buy Twitter or some other company, he said:
“Our social strategy does not acquire the acquisition of any company, because we can get people to give us that information.”
4) Schmidt’s New Role Is Externally Focused
Schmidt said that he’s dealing with external issues almost exclusively now, while Larry Page — who took over at CEO in April — is focused on products. Sergey Brin is effectively in charge of security and skunkworks.
Isn’t dealing with external issues what Schmidt was already doing before, Swisher asked? “I did about half of that, and it was untenable”
In short, he’s got more time to do external stuff — and don’t expect Page to be on a stage or doing much of an external role any time soon, it seems.
5) Sorry, Steve Jobs, Android Isn’t A “Pocket Probe”
Apparently Apple’s Steve Jobs had been on at Swisher to do more writing about Google and privacy, saying that Android is a “probe in your picket.” That Apple could suck back into too, Jobs said, but it doesn’t have a search engine to process it.
“We don’t do that. We don’t suck the mobile information into search,” Schmidt said. Some anonymous information does go back, but it is “never used against search.”
That’s not true, however. Google will determine a phone’s location — if a user allows — and will use that to create search results that are more personalized. It will also detect that you’re using a mobile device and tailor results that way.
6) Schmidt Will Stay At Google Until He Dies … Or Longer
Schmidt refused to comment on whether he was in the running for or wanted the US Commerce Secretary position that was just filled. He said he was happy at Google, with no plans to leave.
Swisher joked, “Until you die,” prompting Schmidt to joke, “I’d say after death if they could put the coffin” and getting cut off by laughter and another comment before he could finish saying some place at Google.
In short, officially, Schmidt not going anywhere any time soon.
7) Facial Recognition Is The Only Product Google Has Withheld
Google has facial recognition technology, but it’s uncomfortable with how it might be used, so it has withheld it. That’s apparently pretty unique for Google.
“As far as I know, it’s the only technology that Google built and stopped,” Schmidt said.
8) Failing At Social Was Worst Thing He Did As CEO
“What do you wish you hadn’t done as CEO at Google,” Swisher asked — or something very close to it.
Earlier, Schmidt had suggested Facebook wasn’t a social success but an “identity” success — a way for “disambiguating identity” on the internet. And that he wished Google had done that.
“Four years ago, I wrote memos on identity and did nothing …. I clearly knew I had to do something, and I failed to do it,” Schmidt said.
When asked why, the answer wasn’t sugarcoated, but it was still alarming. He — and by extension no one at Google in leadership — made the time.
“I think I was busy,” Schmidt said. “CEOs should take responsibility. I screwed up.
9) Personalization Isn’t Ruining Search
Asked about whether personalization is causing a “Balkanized” world where everyone just sees what they want — a theme that’s been popularized recently by Eli Pariser’s book, The Filter Bubble, Schmidt pushed back.
“The differences are pretty small, he said, saying the personalization aspects are a small component of the rankings. “I think that’s a little bit of an overstatement to make a point,” he said.
I still need to get through Pariser’s book (hey, I’m quoted on the first page of it!), but that’s tended to be my view as well.
Personalization is a big deal, a big change, but we’re still not at the point where all your results are so massively personalized that a Republican sees a completely different world view of search results than a Democrat.
10) Bing Beats Google At Direct Answers
For me, the most amazing moment was probably watching the guru of all things tech, Walt Mossberg, beat up on Schmidt about Google’s search results.
Mossberg said he find his Google results “more and more polluted” despite the algorithm reset (the Panda update at the end of February).
Schmidt came back with how the update impacted 12% of search results (which doesn’t mean it improved that many results, but I’ve seen that stat be taken in that way). He said Google makes “hundreds” of improvements each quarter that aren’t seen. And that it is working more to come up with direct answers, rather than links to information.
“If we can come up with the right answers, we’ll just give it to you,” Schmidt said.
That can sound great on the consumer front, but since Google (not to mention Bing) extracts those “direct answers” sometimes from web sites, it opens another can of worms that it is potentially depriving sites of traffic. ‘
For Google, that will play out as further signs of evil in some hands. For Bing, no one will care to attack them on that front, as they’re still too small.
Continuing on, Mossberg said that Bing seems to have more direct answers in some cases.
“There’s that in some narrow cases,” Schmidt said.
There you go — one of the top three execs at Google admitting that Bing beats Google, even if it’s in a narrow case. I’m sure there have been some statements like that before, but they’re few and far between.
It also goes to the fact that many of Bing’s direct answers come from Bing having human intervention to create those answers, something Google has perversely prided itself in not doing. But it may be that to win the direct answer game, Google will have to let go of its “algorithms rule all” mindset.