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Mr. Google Goes to Washington

A year ago, Sergey Brin made a visit to Washington. The co-founder of Google was greeted with snickers in many quarters of this town.

His attire -- jeans, a black T-shirt and silver mesh sneakers –- earned more comments than his opinions, which weren't really known since most lawmakers refused to meet with him.

This week, Google came swaggering back into town, all dressed up and ready to impress and influence, with a beefed-up policy and lobbying team and public policy blog in tow (beta, no doubt).

"We're seeking to do public policy advocacy in a Googley way," Andrew McLaughlin, Google's director of public policy and government affairs, explained in the first official post. "We want our users to be part of the effort, to know what we're saying and why, and to help us refine and improve our policy positions and advocacy strategies."

McLaughlin then stopped just short of a "do no evil" vision for the blog.

"We hope this blog will serve as a resource for policymakers around the world...who are trying to enact sound government policies to foster free expression, promote economic growth, expand access to information, enable innovation and protect consumers."

In the extremely small, limited world of corporate technology policy blogs, Google is a welcome presence and has joined Cisco and Verizon on the frontier. Both powerhouses welcomed Google with some unconventional advice.

Verizon's John Czwaracki warned the search engine giant it might want to re-think that "googley" thing, noting that in cricket a "googly" is a wicked, trick pitch. "So to prevent the tragically creative from accusing your Googley blog of also being 'googly,' I'd parse out that term carefully."

John Earnhardt, who launched Cisco's public policy blog two years, had this interesting twist: aim low.

That's good advice, unless you want to do things in a googley way: Google seems intent on shaking up how the Silicon Valley gets things done in Washington. It has doubled the number of its Washington staff to 12 and plans to move into new headquarters with a large meeting room to dispense its opinions on how things ought to be done.

Google is already using its public policy blog to show a wider diversity of opinion than its own corporate vision. It recently posted an hour-long video interview with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the newly-Independent, maybe presidential candidate.

The Bloomberg interview followed trips to the Googleplex in Mountain View by declared presidential hopefuls John Edwards, Bill Richardson, John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Google Webcasts the interviews, then posts them on Google-owned YouTube and now on its own policy blog.

In addition to the Bloomberg post, the new Google blog this week has already discoursed on network neutrality, Google Earth and homeland security. In the same week, Cisco welcomed Google in one post and wrote about European spectrum in another. Verizon posted a fiber-to-the-home note, a cheery missive on its one millionth FiOS customer and touted its network neutrality filing with the Federal Communications Commission.

Google's network neutrality post has already drawn 33 comments from readers. The Bloomberg interview has 11 feedbacks while the Google Earth post is still looking for its first comments. Cisco had no feedback on its posts and Verizon had all of two. That's the sort of traction that might make Google a different kind of Washington player.

Reader comments, of course, are not likely to much inform the Washington technology policy debate, but may well energize readers to call or write their lawmakers or – gasp -- even vote.

The hard work, though, is still done the old fashioned way in Washington: working the halls of Congress, pressing the flesh and throwing money around. Oh yeah, and twisting a few arms. Google has hired some of the best pros from Dover to cover most of those bases. In-house, Google has hired former Clinton administration advisor Robert Boorstin and Jamie Brown, who once lobbied for the Bush White House.

Outside heavyweights on the Google lobbying team include former Republican senators Dan Coats and Connie Mack and Anthony Podesta, a longtime Democratic operative. More support comes from some of the savviest PR folks in town.

Clearly, Google is ready to play but the open question is whether all that money, all those lobbyists and a googley spin will amount to influence or merely nice press notices. If nothing else, though, Google's new presence on Capitol Hill will probably get Sergey Brin more face time with lawmakers, no matter what he's wearing.