Live Blogging: Sergey Brin & Eric Schmidt Talking Google With The Press

Google cofounder Sergey Brin and Google CEO Eric Schmidt spoke today to a small gathering of reporters at Google’s New York office. Below, a live blog of the briefing. Note that I’ve tidied this up a bit since the briefing happened at 11am Eastern time. You’ll still find plenty of typos. I may try to […]

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Google cofounder Sergey Brin and Google CEO Eric Schmidt spoke today to a small gathering of reporters at Google’s New York office. Below, a live blog of the briefing.

Note that I’ve tidied this up a bit since the briefing happened at 11am Eastern time. You’ll still find plenty of typos. I may try to pull out selected portions later when I have more time. I’m juggling being at our SMX East search marketing conference this week, the impromptu briefing plus having to fly of New York and back to California today.

Expect More Android Devices

Sergey enters the room and sits down. He starts talking, saying he’s not sure where to start. He mentions the Verizon-Google news on Android. “There are a number of devices. They’re coming out as a trickle, but we expect more.” Please note that when I use quotation marks, I think I’ve captured the exact quote or very close to it.

Brin Proud Of Google Book Search

Says he wanted to mention Google Books. Knows there’s a hearing today. Very proud of it, making information accessible. Has an op-ed piece coming out. Feels it helps fulfill Google’s mission. (Postscript: Op-Ed in New York Times now here and also on the Official Google Blog here).

Schmidt Says “Worst Behind Us” Of Global Economic Downturn

Eric just came in, and now we’re doing some formal introductions. Wants to focus on search in talks today. Both are here because of Google’s global sales meetings happening today. Says mood is very positive. “We told them that the worse is behind us and we’re clearly seeing aspects of recovery…. I had been in error thinking there would be a lag, Europe first, US second.” Google never stopped hiring. Increasing the investment rate in way all would be welcome.

Brin’s Working On Search

Erick Schonfeld from TechCrunch asks what Sergey’s been spending time on. Sergey says search. You can get more commercial results now, he notes (see my Up Close With Google Search Options article).

Today you can restrict things by date, but based on date in the text (not quite, see that article above), but you can’t tell when it was actually authored. You’ll be able to choose that authored date. It’s in prototype. It’s amazing how powerful features like that can be, he says.

Sure, Competiton Helps

Steven Levy from Wired asks: More activity from competitor in Redmond [you know, Microsoft]. Will that ramp up competition?

Sergey: I think it’s healthy to have a variety of competitors and a diversity of competitors (mentions Cuil and Powerset). Certainly Microsoft has made its contributions. Many of the things deployed in Bing we’d seen earlier in Live or whatever it was called. Generally all those competitors helps the health of the industry.

Eric agrees.

Steven asks is Bing new to them or seen as a rebranding. Eric says better they focus on themselves. Says Google criticized for having a self-referential view of things, but they think it helps.

Smart Phones & Office Applications

Ed Baig from USA Today. Where are smart phones going.

Sergey: We started to focus on Android because there were problems. They lacked powerful browsers, the ability to easily install and run different applications without having to do things for every carrier and combination. I think Android has addressed that very well. Look at iPhone does that well. … pretty excited for the future.

Sergey, born of an early need to have these apps themselves. At time we started and launched in 04, email was kind of a toy. Not much storage. So we focusd on something that would work in an enterprise. And I think that pushed the marketer forward, Yahoo and Microsoft are more capable than wer. We feel we’re father ahead. That’s obviously for you to judge. Going forward, more of Google apps will be available both ways.

Question on help for smaller businesses.

Sergey: Added functionality being added to help larger enterprises. Acquisition of Postini for email archiving, they have been providing for their customers. Obviously more complex administration. There have been a number, surprisingly a number of the apps larger enterprises have are shared with smaller businesses. You’d be really surprised to hear. There’s not as much difference.

Gmail: Aiming for 99.99% Stability

Question on Gmail outtages. Sergey, certainly we’re not happy with any outtage. they’re still at three 9s level (99.9%), not where they want to be, but targeting the 4 9s (99.99% available). therew are several things that contribute to reliability. one issues is the time to recovery. with one outtage, could have been solved in 5 to 10 minutes but errors extended that over an hour. Don’t forget, if you look at typical enterprise today …. those outtages tend to add up to more than those highlighted in Q3. Nubmer of people affected by outtage by grouping of people in pods.

Are Google Results Getting Inconsistent? Experimenting Is Good

I asked him about how the new search options produce a different experience from the existing navigational options (the aforementioned article goes into depth about this), plus how listings themselves now have so many enhancements that it’s hard to know what to expect. Is inconsistency an issue? Is this different teams not coordinating?

Would like to see it more consistent, Sergey said. Agrees they’ve pushed ahead with search options and don’t ahve all the things refelcted. You might see the format of the results themsleves, that tthey experiment and try to improve. Somewhat glad seeing different things.

Book Search Thoughts

Theoretical question on Book Search. Eric says doesn’t want to answer theoretical questions, tries to reframe. We were doing things we thought were legal, got sued, came up with a settlement and this is a normal process. They’re very happy with the settlement they had found and don’t want to change it much if htey don’t have to. The hearing is going on right now.

I think the quesitons you’re really asking is does putting the books in the hands like Google that has so many other resources, is that a strategic problem. It’s absolutely impossible for another company to do the things that are like what we wer doing. … the scenarios in front of us … is probably the best outcome for people who are looking for information in a library.

Question: what are plans for Google. Eric interrupts saying orphan books are huge. Millions of books that no one has read. Back to question, long term, what are you thinking of Google books beyond this.

Sergey: we want to make more and more books searchable and available online … clearly to ahve as many works available.

Eric: Settlment doesn’t coer all books in the world. There’s a set of wedges of books that get bigger and bigger all the time that we need to serve. the mission of hte company doesn’t say us only europe only. it says all information. for next couple years as register comes up.

Google & Economic Predictions

Question on economic indications. Eric: want to put in disclaimer that Google isn’t able to see everthing, can’t perfectly predict. Saw the slowdown earlier last year in clickrate. From our perspective, the low point was in the spring, which is why I said the worst is behind us, may June, we began to notice it maybe junish. The conventional wisdoms of recessions, if you date it properly, you get a recovery about now. They see it according to their metrics. The other peice of convesntioanl wisdom is that Europe would lag 6 months. Europe is not one country … and it varies a great deal depending on the country you’re in. It’s the obvious stuff, countries without a big fall don’t have a big bump.

Question: Is google a leading or lagging indicator? Eric, within advertising space, I thinkwe’re a leading indicator.

Sergey: also affected by consumer queries. Says you can try it out youserfl using Google Trends.

Chrome’s Doing Better Than People Realize; Schmidt Doesn’t Respond to Ballmer Questions :)

Question: Seems like Google’s far behind on things like Chrome, getting developers behind.

Eric: Says they’re going to get the message out that Chrome has had better adoption … the adoption rate of Chrome looks very very good. They’re going to get this message out.

Eric: I don’t respond to Steve Ballmer questions [perhaps because Ballmer’s known for never saying Google in public if he can help it?], in response to Erick saying that Steve said Chrome is a rounding error.

Mac & Add-On Support Needed For Chrome

Eric says hopes many use Chrome. I see a lot of Macs [like me] in the room. We need to have a good offereing on that. The fundamental thing about Chrome is speed. People who move to Chrome have had problems moving back. Other problem with Chrome, extension architecture (no add ons).

About a month ago, announced Chrome OS and Chromium project. The OS project. Everything is linked together, Chrome is a platform, cloud computing.

Sergey: Chrome was only one to escape unscathed in a security competition

Eric: Historically hard to work in own address spaces, so could get hacked more.

Chrome Vs. Android: Devices Need Their Own OS

Question on Android vs. Chrome OS. Eric says Android more mobile oriented, while Chrome OS designed around the 10″ form factor. True both will use many same things. But designs are different. There are some overlalp but will deal wth. What about subsized netbooks, question? Eric: that’s where we;ll see how things play out.

Google Plays Better With Others

Question: Is google beign too nice now? Eric, tone difference, people (players stakeholders) are getting to know each other better. We’ve always wanted to have these partnershps. we’re learning how to do it where they win too.

Sergey: Talks how there’s confusion between Google and Internet. So now there’s more distinctions

Eric: A simple mantra is Google’s an innovator, and you get collision. Innovation and [missed it] creates opportunity. Fact that Verizon has embraced most of the openness that Google pushed for five years ago, it’s pretty amazing. This is verizon. Not some itty bitty start up. And by the way, it didn’t work in one meeting. We had a couple of deals.

Google May Pay To Carry Premium Content, But Owners May Overvalue Their Work

Question on content, newspapers, deals. Eric responds that you have analogy of free TV and cable TV. When we argue this question of subscriptions, we’re not arguing the prinicples, we’re arguing over the size of the market. We’re working on payment system

Follow up on search results: You know anything with a dollar sign will never get surfaced as won’t get traffc in search results.

Sergey: Says not true, Google Scholar does this [but if you’re at a university, you know you get to click through for free].

Eric: I want to distinguish betwen what you think your content is worht and what it’s worth (laughs around). We’re not going to use the price you think as a signal in the reesults. But williingness to pay as reflected in clicks might be looked at.

Follow up: Is that something yo’re thinking of?

Likelihood To Purchase A Ranking Factor

Eric: Not being precise becasue we don’t reveal precisely how Google ranks pages. But the liklihood to purchase or buy something in among them [first time I’ve heard Google confirm they can measure this for search results and use this as a ranking mechanism].

The more we have access to marketplace [to see data out there], the more Google can improve.

Question from AP on AP president wanting to play off search engines off each other for money [Bing might pay to get news 30 mins early, for example].

Eric: Doesn’t want to address a business issue but says “we have to very careful not to favor one publication over another in terms of speed or latency.”

Googlers Learning To Adjust To Fewer Perks

Question on New Yorker article (excerpted from Ken Auletta’s upcoming book on Google, see here and here for more) about Googlers having sense of entitlement, and Sergey glad they’ve lost some of that.

Sergey: think there was time when the culture was misinterpreted. when working in garage, larry would rollerblade in with sandwiches, so sense that there should be all the gourmet food all the time. culture has to be reset from time to time …. we significantly cut down all the snacks.

Long discussion then followed that seemed to be about how Googlers won’t get rich on stock now.

Eric: We don’t want them to work at google for those reasons (to make money), we want them to change the world.

Last year has been very good in solving that entitlement problem. Patrick [Pichette, Google’s still relatively new CFO] changed attitude. It’s been a maturing process in a generally good way.

Would Like To Buy 5-10 People Companies

Question on acquisitions. Eric, most focus on small companies problem like 5 to 10 people. Lots of goodness at Google came from these in the past. Android purchase, he didn’t even notice Larry and Sergey bought it. Sergey was surfing and found Keyhole that became Google earth. Came to eric and said “I bought them.” But for what price Sergey?, Eric said

Erick from TechCrunch asks if Google you buy another YouTube? Have to get value back, Eric says DoubleClick making. YouTube getting there.

Eric also asked what was an example of another YouTube. I said Twitter, but there was another response, so I’m not sure if he heard me or not. But he also said they’d have to assess the real value of a company, which made me think that Twitter’s current estimated what is it $1 billion value might not be how Google sees things.

By the way, after the event, I asked Eric if he was on Twitter. He said he’d avoid it so far. It wasn’t a tone of avoiding something bad but rather how you might avoid a dessert you want to eat but shouldn’t. At least that’s the sense I got.

Hopes FTC Pushes Through Broadband Plan

Hopes for FTC? Eric just met with chairman and the staff. The broadband plan is really really important. President announced he wanted a plan .. we are incredibly sensitive to the rollout of broadband globally. We’re critically depended. Follow-up what did you tell them. Eric: more broadband (laughs all around).

It’s more important to make sure the aggregate agenda of the FTC is correct, says previouss republican chair also had the right agenda.

How About News Corp Deals? Friends & Competitors

Peter from AllThings: News on the MySpace/News Corp deals coming up for renewal.

Eric, Rather not comment on them. I would not prejudge some of thse deals will go. Some of our best friends are in those companies. But our competitors will be all over them.

Google Not Growing Too Fast; Conversely, Doesn’t Handle Growth Well – But You Grow Or Die

question: do you worry google grows to fast?

eric: no

follow-up: how do you handle it?

Eric: as you can see, we dont handle it well.

Sergey long term lots of growth but on a percentage basis recently much less. opportunity is to adapt.

Eric: In technology market you grow or dies… you lose that space.

New Devices Will Come & Bring Changes

Question on devices. Eric, Ithink there will be many things like kindles and will make material change in how people will consume information. Iphone has proven you can sell a phone with a subscriptions. contract cost is greater than the cost of the phone. do you subsidized software, the phone.

Does Google Have An Anti-Competitive Closed Loop?

I asked if Google has too much of a closed loop, access to data from its free analytics and other tools that competitors can’t hope to match, which is used to improve search results (see my Google: Master Of Closing The Loop? article). And might this be anti-competitive?

Eric: doesn’t agree anti-competitive. there are alternatives to google products. none of them are closed loop. you’re not tied into it. microsoft had a closed loop where you could not get out of it. Google has a Data Liberation Front group that really really does make it possible for you to get out of their systems.

I responded that sure, but Google puts the tools out there for free, some of which had a charge before, effectively subsidizing them. Eric said their not subsidized. I said well, they’re free, and Google gets 95% of its income from ads that aren’t on them (he corrected me to 97%), so they seem subsidized.

Sergey: in analytics example. we just noticde when advertising partners  when they use analytics they use more advertising on the site. all these stats become appararent to them. the consequence is that if i spend a thousand more more per month on google, I [the advertiser still] make more profit. that’s why it became an idea that we need to make analytis more available. others followed that lead to offer tools. rising tide to lift all boat.

eric: hard to take argument that taking a product that was a cost and making it avialable for free is a bad

Altering The Book Search Settlement

book search question: is there a way to resolve ophans without excluding them.

eric: i don’t know.

rachel who heads communication says let’s do somehting we can do today that will make a material differnce and ethen hopefully we can resolve the ophran works legislation. but if we hang about…

eric: some of criticisms he reads are legit and can be addressed by cahnges in settlment or by legistlation. others seem to be from those who don’t want change. says same with health care, lots of arugments are from incuments with investment in change or satus quo.

sergey: the companies making objections about orphan books have done nothing. microsoft made a token investment and scanned i think  15 books (yes, he said 15 as a joke).

Eric: my challnge to the ciritics is make an alrternative proposal that’s an alternative then let’s have that debate (see Google’s Schmidt To Book Settlement Critics: What’s Your Solution?).

Sergey: settlment isnt’e either or. If anything will make legistlation more liekly that will allow for a broader range of access (hey sorry by the way for the typos typing fast).

Ken Auletta: What are the reasonable objections to book search?

Eric: I’d rather not characterize them right now. I look at the arugments some make sense. maybe we could add this group or address this conern. The settlemtn was not a perfect solution, it was 20 peole on the other side with thier interstes. but that’s how the legal system works.

Sergey: Great to something like settlement that would allow for books like this to be out aorund the world.

Also see: Department Of Justice Files Objections To Google Book Search Settlement

Google, Microsoft & What If There Were An Evil Room

Question on closed loop worries, how not seen like Microsoft.

Eric: there are many reasons we’re not going to be like microsoft. .. user is one click away .. it’s very difficult to move out of windows. but it’s quite easy to move out of these online servies. the third, we’ve taken such a strong position of a company, and if we went into a room that had evil light that made us come out with evil staretgies, consumers would destroy us. 4th is none of us would ever like to go through the legal procedings … and teh evil room was found on the campus, he jokes.

Eric: today we have zero marketshare in chrome OS, because it’s not shipping. Windows has like 80%. Imagine we do get to 80%. Now we go into the evil room and decide to start charging, locking in and go back to the old habits. In that scenario, since all that technology was already licensed to anyone .. they could follow the old [Google] business model and open source is thus the ultimate protection.

So Radio & Newspaper Ads Didn’t Work So Well …. But TV Might

What about other ad platforms?

Sergey still hopeful on tv, even though radio and TV didn’t pan out as they’d hoped. A lot of the news publications interested in working online that print side. We were kind of at the dock but the ship had alread left on those two. but TV has similarlity to advertisign they do already, how many seen a program. We’re optimistic.

Yes, Google Needs More Than PageRank

Question from Erick at TechCrunch: Is PageRank long in the tooth? Are links the most trusted metrics still, as we’re on a web that’s not just data, how does that get into the results.

Sergey: No they’re not (links aren’t enough), and we decided that in 1999. We use various link algorithms, but they’re 1%. There are 100 signals that we use now. We have to continue to develop. Part is that there’s spam. The web also evolves. We’re able to do a much better job than we did a year ago. If we rested on our laurels and stuck with the paper we published in 1998, we’d be pretty stuck right now.

And that’s the conference! Please also see:

Postscript: After the conference, I talked further with Sergey on search quality. See Reviewing Some Bad Google Search Results With Sergey Brin for more on that.

Erich Schonfeld from TechCrunch and I also talked to him about real time search. In particular I wondered if Google would ever cut a deal to get data from Facebook and Twitter. He responded that good players tend to want their data to be open, and he seemed positive that some deal would be reached eventually, though he gave no time frame. See also What Is Real Time Search? Definitions & Players for more about the data issue.

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About the author

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and MarTech, and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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