The World According To Google
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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - Google didn't become a multi-billion company by following others; to borrow the old Apple slogan, it tends to "think different." That was evident Wednesday at Google's financial analysts meeting here at company headquarters.
The event featured panels by Google execs, product demos and a Q&A session with CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founder Sergey Brin. Outgoing financial analyst George Reyes spoke briefly, introducing various speakers but stuck with the company's practice of not offering financial guidance.
"Remind me again what numbers I learned," joked one financial analyst to a reporter at the end of the event.
Another difference, twenty-something, jeans-clad product managers addressed the more formally attired crowd. Google senior vice president of project management, Jonathan Rosenberg, explained that Google likes to put new employees in charge of projects because they often have fresher insights and ideas.
"They have no laurels to rest on and they try things others think can't be done," he said. "If you want to understand social networking, it's good to have people on it who are dating."
The Google home page was far more static in appearance when Ewing was put in charge of it the first day on the job, but has evolved with the introduction two years ago of the personalized iGoogle version. The latest change, launched Wednesday, is tabs that let you easily choose different areas of content to be fed to your iGoogle home page. The content is based on what other iGoogle users have searched for and tagged.
"It's not enough to have 200,000 feeds and 20,000 gadgets unless they're the right ones at the right time," said Ewing. "Whether users know it or not, they're making iGoogle better by tagging content."
In a later Q&A session with reporters, CEO Schmidt was asked about the company's pending acquisition of ad networking company DoubleClick. He said Google doesn't control the regulatory approval process but the company is "optimistic" the deal will close.
"We're not surprised by the hubbub," he said, noting antitrust questions that have been raised. "It looks like it's come mainly from one competitor," he added, not mentioning Microsoft, the most vocal critic of the deal, by name.
On the government's auction of the 700 Mhz spectrum, Schmidt said Google will "probably" bid as part of the company's strategy to create more choices for users. Google notified the government of four conditions related to open access for the spectrum that would influence its decision to make the minimum asking bid of $4.65 billion.
Brin said if Google wins the bid it will offer developers and users a network that will be "very open." He said the government has already adopted two of the four openness pre-conditions Google asked for. In the current system, wireless developers have to get a carrier's permission to let their applications run.
Schmidt said it was also quite possible Google would enter the bid with another company or even multiple partners. "The auction is a tactic to get the outcome of end-user choice," he said. Since it first made its interesting bidding known, Schmidt said a large number of companies have contacting Google expressing support for a more open network. "We haven't seen this in our other endeavors; it's given us wealth of options and partners."
What is the Gphone?
Neither exec would confirm the existence of the "Gphone," which has been alternately rumored to be an actual wireless phone Google would make (a la Apple's iPhone) or a collection of software based on Linux with a design that would let outside vendors manufacture in cooperation with Google.
Brin mentioned his admiration for the iPhone, which Google supports with apps such as Google Maps. "I love the iPhone, I use it all the time," he said. (Schmidt is on Apple's board of director). But Brin also noted that Steve Jobs had to overcome incredible obstacles to work out a deal with AT&T and get the iPhone to market.
"Wouldn't the world be better if you didn't have to spend all this time and effort on negotiations with carriers?" said Brin, adding Jobs overcame obstacles that "shouldn't be there." If the industry opens up with the 700 Mhz spectrum and other deregulation, Brin said there will be a lot more innovative mobile devices from Apple and others.
Asked about competition from other search companies touting more natural language search, Brin said Google already gives good results for queries in a simple sentence structure. He said Google doesn't market its service as natural language for fear it will set expectations too high.
"We don't want people to ask how to build the best space launch vehicle" and expect accurate results, he joked, adding that Google stays on top of the latest research in the natural language area.