Google boss laments his ‘friendly’ failure

Eric Schmidt Image copyright AP

It's not often you get a senior executive of a global company make a public mea culpa on stage in front of an audience of peers, industry watchers and insiders.

But that is just what Eric Schmidt did when he appeared as the opening act at D9, a major tech conference in Rancho Palos Verdes in California hosted by the tech blog AllThingsD.

The surprise admission came when asked if Google had missed out on the whole friends revolution, including being able to access valuable information about who users and their friends are. Mr Schmidt took it on the chin.

"Facebook has done a number of things that I admire. If you go back on the things I worked on for years in the internet I said we missed something which was identity."

Mr Schmidt said he recently looked up memos he wrote back then about the issue.

"In the online world you need to know who you are dealing with...Four years ago I wrote memos on identity and did nothing...I clearly knew that I had to do something, and I failed to do it," he said.


"A CEO should take responsibility. I screwed up."

More candidly, when asked why he dropped the ball he admitted "I think I was busy."

Google has faced endless criticism for being unable to tap into this rich sea of information provided by a users' social graph.

As Facebook hurtles towards 700 million users, the information being shared by this growing community is out of the reach of Google's search engine and its ability to place adverts around that back and forth.

Facebook has shown that people would rather turn to their friends for recommendations on everything from tech gadgets to restaurants rather than a faceless search engine. All of which represents a threat to Google's core business.

When Mr Schmidt stepped down as CEO and handed the reins to co-founder Larry Page, reports emerged shortly after he took up his new role that he wanted people to put social front and centre.

Some tech blogs revealed that Mr Page even tied 25% of employee bonuses to the success of the company's new social strategy.

Later today Google will announce a way for users to show their love for websites, similar to their ability to click the "like" button on Facebook.

Users logged into their Google accounts will be able to tag a site with the +1 feature showing their approval and keeping tabs on their favourite search discoveries.

As Facebook grew as a company, Mr Schmidt clearly recognised its power and said that he did try to partner with them on search. At the D9 conference he noted that the social network went for an alliance with Microsoft instead.

The $240m Microsoft invested in Facebook back in 2007 probably had some bearing on that decision.

In the 90 minute long interview, Mr Schmidt also talked about privacy, Android, Apple, Microsoft, Larry Page, security, Chrome, Nokia, YouTube and search among a host of other topics.