The World According To Google

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.”

After a demonstration of new
features
in Gmail, Google home page product manager Jessica Ewing
showed off new features in the iGoogle home
page.

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.

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