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August 9, 2006

A Conversation with Google CEO Eric Schmidt

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Okay, if I ever felt out of place in my life, this would surely be the moment. The keynote speech is about to get underway and people are still filing into Hall 3 of the Convention Center. Look at this place!

Um, please ignore how early I am. I already know I’m a nerd.

As I’m waiting for things to start moving I am suddenly feeling very young, like I am about to made out for the imposter I really am. I’m also quite perplexed by the angsty Avril Lavigne music playing in the background. Who knew techies loved their Avril?

And we’re officially off. Unfortunately for the bloggers in the room, Danny and Eric converse at lightning fast speeds. Here’s what I think is important.

[Note, most of this will be paraphrased, as my fingers can only move so fast.]

Eric Schmidt on Privacy Issues

In response to AOL’s privacy blunder on Monday, Danny asks Eric what Google is doing to prevent a similar situation from taking place. Just as he’s done many times before, Eric assures the audience that Google has "lots of systems" in place to prevent revealing personal information from being released. He says he’s long been worried that the query string people use to search would become fertile ground for the government to use to randomly snoop on people. (We are, too.)

In response, Danny asks if Google would ever consider NOT storing information for indefinite amounts of time, and instead deleting it after certain time intervals. Eric says no. He feels it would be very difficult for someone to steal information regarding Google’s users. To him, the more interesting question is not an accidental error, but what would happen if the government decided to "get in there" and take the information. That, Eric says, Google does worry about. (Again, so do we.)

Danny responds: Do the search engines need to do more to try and pull back on the public information [available on the Web] or to work harder to filter the information to make it harder to get?

Eric Schmidt says it’s a question of common sense. Users have to realize there are "crazy people" out there and to be careful of what information they send out. Eric says Google would be very concerned to hear that the information people find by searching on Google was being used to hurt someone.

He says:

For example, we’ve [Google] made it easy for you to delete a phone number or credit card number without asking why so you can help protect yourself. The solution is that Google is simply an aggregator of information. The people who publish that information better have a good reason for printing it. A little bit of judgment helps a lot. We worry a lot about this because we want Google to be used to be a positive force in the world.

On Transparency

Danny acknowledges Google’s recent steps towards transparency, but says many advertisers are still left wanting more and asks Eric what Google is doing about that.

Eric says they are trying to find ways to give advertisers truthful information, which he says is difficult because they have such a high number of advertisers. Historically, Google did not want to give out the kind of information Danny is describing because they feared it would be misused or portrayed in a false way. I think now they’re realizing they have no other option.

On Radio

Eric has high hopes for the future of Google’s radio advertising and believes Google will soon be able to create a target-able, measurable ad system that will benefit both advertisers and consumers.

He says:

"We can provide great value to advertisers and to end users. When you watch the television you see ads that are clearly not targeted towards you. It’s a waste of your time. One of the outcomes of our programs if we do this right is that you should end up with fewer ads that are more relevant in all contexts."

What’s Next In Search?

Danny kids that search is boring and quizzes Eric on what he thinks may be the next big thing. For me, Eric doesn’t really give a clear answer on this one. He starts talking about the personalization of the Web and the ability to create customized gadgets, but I don’t think that’s particularly revolutionary. I don’t think people know what the next big thing for search is yet. That’s what Mark Cuban was ranting about a month or so back, right?

Whatever is next for search, Eric says Google’s fundamental goal is to deliver the most relevant search result.

"We make all decisions based on whether it will improve or hurt standard results. We have many new ideas about how we can use info that is not link-based to improve the quality of the answer. The truth is we use link farms as only one of the signals we use in rankings."

Very interesting: Eric says not even knows all the factors involved in Google’s algorithm. Hear that, you can’t even torture it out of him. [Note to self: target Sergey instead…]

Just Give Me The Google Implant!

Danny says he feels like Google wants to be everywhere. They’re doing email, giving you a calendar system, helping you buy things, getting into analytics and spreadsheets and accelerating the Web. Danny says he surrenders, just give him the implant and get it over with! Heee. [Where do I sign up for that? — Susan]

Eric says Google tries to be very systematic with everything they do. The master plan is to solve the problems people have online.

"If we can unify people’s calendar and emails, we think it has a really big impact. How are we going to make money on that? That’s not our primarily goal. We’ve talked a lot about the limits of our growth. The most obvious is that we are one click away from you going to one of our competitors. We’re not going to keep people’s data hostage. We’re trying to figure out how to solve the end users problem, keep them happy and giving them what they want."

Aww, I kind of like that.

The session ends with Eric being forced to undergo a lightning round of fun questions. In it we learn Eric performs about 1,500 Google searches a day, clicks on Google ads "all the time" and thinks the most interesting Google product out right now is Certified by Google.

A most excellent keynote! My fingers are exhausted.

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