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Rory Cellan-Jones

Meeting Google's Threesome

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 19 May 08, 22:15 GMT

You arrive up a long drive, past golfers and other country club members. Then, after passing through the portals of this hotel on the outskirts of Watford, you are suddenly in a different world. Eager young people are networking furiously, the chief executives of Europe's leading media companies are having discreet chats in the corner - oooh and there go two of the richest people you're likely to meet, the billionaire founders of the world's most happening technology company.

Welcome to Google Zeitgeist, an in-house corporate conference like no other. After all, which other company could attract a prime minister and a queen (Gordon Brown and Queen Rania of Jordan) as speakers?

For a group of journalists from across Europe - including me - it was also a rare opportunity to meet the threesome at the top of Google. For an hour, in a conference room at the hotel, the founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and the chief executive, Eric Schmidt (he's also a billionaire from his stock options), answered our questions.

Google co-founder Larry Page and CEO Eric SchmidtWe didn't get the hot news that we were looking for - a speedy response to Microsoft's latest move in the Yahoo saga - but we did get a fascinating glimpse of what makes Google work, and the dynamics of the relationship between three very smart, and very strong-willed people who continue to build an ever more powerful business.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, in almost identical dark jackets and grey T-shirts, sat side by side, batting most of the questions around - while Eric Schmidt, like a proud uncle with two brilliant nephews, sat at the end of the table, occasionally intervening when he felt Larry or Sergey were being too exuberant in their responses.

The threesome came together seven years ago, when Page and Brin recruited Schmidt as their chief executive, and they still seem to function as a team. I'm struggling to think of another business where the founders have made that work so well - usually, the clash of egos between entrepreneurs and professional managers leads to an explosion and some hasty departures.

So what did we learn? That, like any team whose overwhelming success has begun to antagonise the rest of the world, they present a united front against any criticism. No, Google isn't too powerful in advertising - it's yet to make it big in television or radio or print (but we're coming so watch out was the underlying threat). Oh, and by the way, our success isn't down to the "strong-arm tactics" used by another company which has run into anti-trust problems. Hmmm, wonder who that could be?

What about privacy? Not a real problem for Google - it's those pesky social networking sites that are the real issue, with users putting inappropriate photos online. "These things pop up and haunt you," according to Sergey. Whereas we will only use search data to give you an even better, more personalised web experience. And while some businesses may choose to play fast and loose with your data, that isn't the case with Google: "If we're not trusted, we have no business. We have such a lot to lose."

When it comes to the opposition, these guys claim they actually spend very little time thinking about it. In the words of Eric Schmidt, "Google tries to think about Google most of the time." You might think the two founders, having built huge fortunes and the world's most admired technology business, would find it a little dull to continue thinking about Google, but both seemed fired up by new challenges.

For Larry Page it was renewable energy. He's spotted that the huge server farms Google is building have lower energy bills in those places where the electricity comes from dirty old coal-fired power stations. So his new challenge is to prove that you can make renewable energy cheaper than coal, with investments in solar power.

Sergey Brin, just back from visiting relatives in Russia and apparently proffering some technical support, is frustrated by how complicated computers still are for many users, and fascinated by the way mobile phones are likely to give many in the developing world their first access to the internet. He promises that Android, Google's mobile operating system, will make a big difference in places like Africa.

Both apparently feel the need to show that their huge wealth can be put to good use - as well as buying them their own private Boeing 767. Here's how Sergey Brin summed it up at the end of their press conference: "We have to prove to the world that, as we have been successful and fortunate, we can reinvest to create substantial good."

It was a relaxed and sure-footed performance by the triumvirate that runs Google. Their company is no longer the smart and plucky kid taking on the big boys, but, to some eyes, the new playground bully of the internet. But they have the satisfaction of knowing that while "Google tries to think about Google most of the time", that is just what the opposition are doing too.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Well, don´t know about you, but personally I surf with treehoo.com the web that plants trees for most of its profit. What a simple and genious way to help our planet. Can any other webportal beat that?

  • Comment number 2.

    What i actually have not understand why BBC try to present Google as a very noble company and Microsoft was some kind EVIL company.

  • Comment number 3.

    aboylearning

    Don't blame the messenger for the message!

    It's not that the "BBC try to present Google as a very noble company" - if you read this blog and there other coverage it's quite balanced.

    The problem is that Google are good at presenting themselves in a favourable light and Microsoft are hopeless at it, despite all their billions. And MS commercial policies are often difficult to defend whereas Google clearly provide a service people want, free at the point of use.

    I'm nonetheless a fan of MS - they have done a huge amount for technical and commercial progress in the world. But I'm realistic about their abilitity to continue to do that in the future, or ever to be loved.

    They need to more altruistic stuff like offering XP very cheap on laptops for the third world if they want people to love them.

    And nothing will persuade me that we need Vista.

  • Comment number 4.

    Rather disappointingly, rembrandt22 appears to be a server robot pushing the same message wherever a blog mentions google or MSN...do a quick search online and you'll see EXACTLY the same message popping up all over the place. Hardly the ethical guru apparent at first glance!

    However, despite the cyborg reality, the principle of technology-for-ecology is robust!

  • Comment number 5.

    Google "our success isn't down to the strong-arm tactics" What would you call their recent stance on trademarking?

    Not giving companies and brands sufficient time to budget for or protect their trademark on googles paid search in my view is a "strong arm tactic".

    Despite this personal view, I do believe Google adds a lot to the online world and is probably the reason why so many businesses are doing well online.

  • Comment number 6.

    I never quite get Google - I have used all their services for free since 2006 and have never clicked on sponsored advertising, or given them any revenue in anyway. Yet someone sits there maintaining my calender, email, reader and all the services for free.

    I have seen in business many times where a technical brilliant person is just not good as a "front ender" and brings in a businessman with the skills to sell the company and what it does.

  • Comment number 7.

    Come on: Google ARE too powerful in advertising.

    They 'own' the vast majority of online search traffic and search related ads. It's a fact!

    If you don't believe me GOOGLE IT! :)

    They currently offer the most powerful and accurate search product available and this, on merit, is why they have become a near monopoly for search and search advertising.

    Why should this bother us?

    Because, with the largest and smallest businesses on the planet now advertising on Google, advertising on Google is becoming increasing important for businesses and increasingly expensive.

    The cost of pay-per-click, (for example), on Google has gone through the roof in the past couple of years. Businesses are now paying two, three and sometimes five times as much for the exact same results.

    This artificially pushes up prices, as companies try to recoup some of the their advertising increases by charging more for their products.

    I am NOT a Microsoft fan, but I hope that they and Yahoo can combine to make the online search advertising marketplace a bit more competitive.

    Google search is excellent and they offer some fantastic products; but I cannot believe they are still claiming that they are not too powerful in online advertising
    - They SOOOOOOO are!


    Jim Connolly
    www.thetechnewsblog.com

  • Comment number 8.

    "The cost of pay-per-click, (for example), on Google has gone through the roof in the past couple of years. Businesses are now paying two, three and sometimes five times as much for the exact same results.

    This artificially pushes up prices, as companies try to recoup some of the their advertising increases by charging more for their products."

    The cost of advertising on Google has actually gone up from what was a very cheap source of advertising to something more comparable with press, TV, direct mail and so on. The difference is search allows such a depth of understanding and Google have made the most of this.

    Then consider they have not made such inroads in other services they have been developing - openoffice still vastly outranks the Google office pack whilst Microsoft is by far a leader, desktop search is a mess and what about all those promises from the labs???

    Yes they have got a good search package, but as mentioned in the blog - it's one small part of a very big world.

  • Comment number 9.

    What I've been hearing from rival mafia is that Eric Schmitdt owes his success largely to a global network of mobster friends. They also say that he was directly responsible for the 'obscene amounts of money' made by promoting child pornography produced by some of these people.
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 10.

    Google can rule the roost if they did just one thing....

    Created a Internet Operating system. Essentially a dummy terminal but ofcourse some people would like to keep their data private and in their homes and so a Hard Drive can still be handy. BIOS is capable of network card booting, whether it is PXE or whatever.

    It won't replace Windows, Mac or Linux anytime soon but it is the start of what will happen in the future! Cloud computing? No thanks, this is Cloud super-computing about to be born!

    Other things would be needed such as the ability to play games like Doom 3 or Crysis etc (probably a running service that would already exist on a dedicated server somewhere... you just pay your £35 one-off payment and you can always access the game).

    Now I truly believe this is being developed in Google's labs.... but everyone thinks I am crazy! Is it really so crazy to think the Internet will become our Operating System in the future? Regardless of it being 5, 10, 20 years away?

 

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