Google Co-Founder Surprises Web 2.0 Summit

Sergey Brin

Sergey Brin

Photo: David Needle

SAN FRANCISCO — Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder and president of technology, was a late RSVP to the Web 2.0 Summit here, but show organizers scrambled to get him on stage, bumping AOL CEO Tim Armstrong back a time slot in the process.

Ironically, when it was Armstrong’s turn, he said he had encouraged Brin to attend the show earlier in the day when the two met for breakfast. Armstrong is a former Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) sales executive.

In his intro, Program Chair John Battelle said Brin had declined an offer to speak at the conference; Brin said he was merely late responding. “Yeah like ten minutes ago,” quipped Battelle who also joked that Brin’s last minute arrival deprived him of the opportunity to research tough questions.

Ready or not, the interview covered a number of topical issues, starting with Twitter.

“Did you try to buy Twitter?” asked Battelle.

“Personally? I did not try to buy Twitter,” said Brin. “When companies approach us we consider the offers.”

Asked about Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Bing search engine, Brin said he’s used it, but added he uses all the search engines. “It’s a very competitive market. There are many interesting companies, Bing, Cuil … probably a few dozen startups doing interesting things. Even prior to Bing I though MSN had a lot of interesting features they carried over to Bing.”

Brin also expressed disappointment that Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) had “abdicated” its search plans with its deal with Microsoft. “Yahoo had some interesting innovations and I would have hoped they continued to innovate in search.”

For the record, as Battelle pointed out, Yahoo has said it continues to work on the front-end user experience of how search results are delivered; the deal with Microsoft moves the capital expensive back-end operations of the search infrastructure over to Microsoft.

Controversial book deal and Internet advertising

On Google’s controversial book scanning deal, Brin said he was surprised at the level of criticism it’s received.

“We get criticized for everything, but I’ve been surprised at the level of controversy,” said Brin. “There is no one else attempting, at our scale, to digitize all these books. We had to overcome technical challenges and legal issues and the settlement with authors and publishers we agreed to, but it still remains somewhat controversial.

“These books have great content, even the ones 50 years old. Ultimately we’re optimistic that we’re going to be successful and provide people with access to tens of millions of books that would otherwise be lost.”

One area Google is playing catch-up to Yahoo is online display advertising. Brin said he couldn’t forecast how successful Google’s renewed push to capture more of the display ad market would be.

“At a high level, I believe the Internet as an advertising platform is very efficient, disproportionately efficient compared to traditional media,” he said.

“I believe the Internet ad rates are going to go up, but I can’t predict which will be higher (display or keywords), but it is a rising tide,” he said.

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