Google Hints at Future Products

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — At the Google Factory Tour, a press event held at the search leader’s main campus here, visitors got a high-level look at how the company plans to advance and intertwine its products.

Marissa Mayer, director of consumer Web products, demonstrated the Google Personalized Homepage, a customizable start page similar to My Yahoo and My MSN. The service went live within Google Labs late Thursday.

“Although we view our product offerings as very coherent, users wanted to be able to understand what functionality was available and access it from one centralized place,” Mayer said. The result was an initiative called “Fusion.”

Users can add one or more Google functions to the classic Google search page, including links to Gmail accounts, Google News, movies and weather by checking boxes in a features list. They can switch between the personalized page and the classic view via a link on the upper-right corner of the page.

“Unlike other offerings, it’s very clean and crisp and Googly,” Mayer said.

Users can add feeds from the BBC, the New York Times, Slashdot and Wired. The engineering team plans to add full RSS support in the next two months.

Alan Eustace, Google vice president of engineering and research, said the company will let all users of Blogger, Google’s hosted blogging system, to quickly add contextual ads to their blogs via AdSense. Mayer said that Google also will be test delivering targeted ads to personalized Google home pages.

John Hanke, general manager of Keyhole, a geo-mapping technology company acquired by Google in October, previewed Google Earth, the next iteration of the product. The company has added a new global database and new data sources, such as NASA terrain maps.

Google Earth combines the Keyhole technology with Google search, so users can find information that matches the location. In the demonstration, Hanke accessed the data for the airport in Austin, Texas. Streaming data allowed zooming in close enough to see buildings or zooming out to see the terrain.

Typing “five-star hotel” into a search box to the side of the image returned a list of links to hotels. As Hanke clicked on one of the results, the image shifted to show the area of the hotel. He quickly accessed driving directions, and the route appeared superimposed on the satellite image, enabling him to “fly over” the route.

Hanke wouldn’t divulge pricing, nor whether the service would be available via paid subscription, as Keyhole is, or whether it could be supported by ads. The service will launch in a few weeks.

Peter Norvig, Google director of engineering search quality, said that Google has a project to reduce search engine spam, Web sites with little useful information that are created solely to show up high in search results. His team is looking at ways to identify sites that are just lists of links and push them lower in results. The work may be rolled out in a couple of months.

“It’s like whack-a-mole,” Norvig told “The minute we make a change, they’re trying to find ways to get around it.”

In a final question and answer session, Schmidt, addressing a question competition with My Yahoo, insisted that the company does watch what rivals do. “It’s not about competing with any existing offerings, but about trying to do something new,” Schmidt said.

But two public relations experts said that the Factory Tour — and its timing — were signs that Google may be more open with the press.

Lloyd Trufelman, president of Trylon Communications, which provides PR services for media and technology companies, said planning events or announcements to conflict with competitors’ is a time-tested technique he calls a “rebound.” The Google tour took place on the same day as Yahoo’s annual stockholders’ meeting.

“There’s nothing unethical about matching your competitor tit for tat,” Trufelman said. “Everything is just speeding up a little more, thanks to e-mail and the Internet.”

Melody Haller, president of the high-tech PR firm Antenna Group, commented, “Google has tended to be a bit self-convinced in its world view. Part of growing up to be a global company is getting a broader, more humble perspective. Perhaps that’s what’s happening to them now.”

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