Web 2.0: Conversation with Google Founder Sergey Brin
After lunch today, John Battelle announced that he has a special last-minute guest--Google founder Sergey Brin. Brin was much more candid than Yahoo CEO Terry Semel when faced with the tough questions, which was incredibly refreshing. He exuded relaxed confidence as he lounged on the couch in a t-shirt and jeans.
Q: To a roomful of entrepreneurs, talk a little bit about how you got here.
A: The #1 factor that contributed to our success is luck. We followed our hearts, and worked on search because it was useful and an interesting problem. We talked about open sourcing the code, but finally decided to go the business route.
Q: Semel said google is a portal, and they're #4.
A: That would make us the underdog (laughter).
Brin then goes on a tangent about cafes, with the Google cafe not even being #4 of all restaurants in San Francisco.
Q: Do you see MS as underdog?
A: I see Google as leader in technology. From a technical point of view, I like where we are.
Q: Google has 3x PE share than what Yahoo has. Are you comfortable with that?
A: In terms of the search marketshare, I'm delighted so many people use our product. We have a little promotion, a few partnerships here and there. People come to Google because of the search experience and it's the reason they stay.
Q: One of the reasons you are successful is because of the user experience. With the Google personalization product [which has a lot going on], is that something that's going to continue?
A: I hope it stays clean, but "we'd be foolish not to make an impact in areas where we can."
Q: There are many feed reading companies that are concerned about the Google Reader. Do you think about the ecosystem of small entrepreneurs who are innovating when you make a decision about products to launch?
A: The launch of Gmail spurred M&A activity in the space, I'm guessing lots of feed reader companies will start to receive calls from Yahoo, MS, etc. We care about enabling other busnesses, let me talk about Adsense for a bit. (Talks about banners back in the day, how they used banners, and the contextual ad service they had built internally to play around with while banners were hot. When bottom dropped out of banner ads, they were left with what they had developed.) We were worried about all these great content companies going out of business. Our search was less useful based on that, so Adsense has helped create and sustain online businesses [so Google could stay in business].
Q: Semel, (AOL CEO) Johnathan Miller, and Barry Diller all made content a big deal. Is content a big deal for Google?
A: We believe in sending folks to other sites. We're not about trying to create our own content to keep people on Google, we're about sending them off. Google video provides playback.
Q: Do you believe in a web-based office suite, do you think there's a place for it?
A: I don't think that trying to take tech from prior generations and porting them directly always makes sense.
Q: Is clickfraud a problem, especially from the perspective of syndicated network?
A: It's something we have to work on. There's a long list of protections already, we have a fraud team like credit card fraud teams. Secondly, advertisers don't care about clicks even though that's what they're paying for, they care about conversions. They have their own ROI formulas [so presumably they know when clickfraud is a problem, and can do something about it--i.e. lower their bids on keywords]. Also, the ad system is fairly complex, aside from fraud prevention measures, it's not so simple to deactivate an account based on what we suspect is clickfraud.
Q: What's next? What kind of products should entrepreneurs avoid building?
A: I disagree that areas we enter are bad to invest in. A lot of the products you see are bottom-up efforts and a lot of them surprise us.
"A lot of our successes don't have anything to do with anything our executives thought were a good idea."
The most successful Google products have not been things that have been directed from the top. Uses Wikipedia as an example: "a few years ago, nobody would have thought it would be a good idea, including me".
Q: Can you talk about user generated content?
A: Don't know I'm best person to predict next generation, a lot of companies have really good ideas. The reason we try things out on Labs is because it's very hard to predict what will be successful. It requires lots of experimentation.
Q: Where will video search go, and where do you want it to go?
A: People underestimate the amount of info present in video. If you take a Discovery or Nova video, they have an enormous amount of high quality video. Some of the highest quality content is in video form. I think that making it searchable will unlock it and will help be very educational.