Google's Eric Schmidt
Google, Silicon Valley's hottest private company, is different -- and successful. Eric Schmidt, the company's CEO, tells AlwaysOn why, in his opinion, this is the case. This the first part of the interview, part two was posted Friday, and part three and part four are now also online.
.Schmidt: It really is. Virtually all of the strategic initiatives and product initiatives are either driven by the two founders or by very small innovative technical teams. We don’t have a traditional strategy process, planning process like you’d find in traditional technical companies. It allows Google to innovate very, very quickly, which I think is a real strength of the company.
AlwaysOn: Was that the thinking behind your recent acquisition of Pyra Labs?
Schmidt: In this particular case, one of Google’s founders, Sergey, did a lot of research on who the leaders in this space were, with a special emphasis on tools and end-user experience, which is what Google is really very focused around. It became very obvious that Pyra Labs was the leader, and so we have a deal team, which simply went up and said “Would you like to do this?” It seemed pretty obvious. They met the technical team. It was a relatively routine decision. It was very consistent with how the world and Google all benefit with more information on the Web more broadly accessible, and this is a way to advance that.
AlwaysOn: But you bought blogging software and a blogging search engine with a million registered users, as far as I understand.
Schmidt: What we really bought was a team. With these little companies, the asset that you get is the knowledge in the people’s heads, and that’s what we care about. They will be enormously creative in the next few years.
AlwaysOn: Did the blogging sector get to a certain critical mass where you felt Google had to pay attention to it?
Schmidt: I think it was more a question of the right opportunity came along. We’re extremely interested in getting more information published on the Web in any kind. A relatively straightforward analysis says that a lot of the digital authoring empowerment in people’s hands is at a stage where people do not appreciate how powerful this is. I’m not just talking about computers. I’m talking about digital cameras and those types of things.
I believe that this notion of self-publishing, which is what Blogger and blogging are really about, is the next big wave of human communication. The last big wave was Web activity. Before that one it was e-mail. Instant messaging was an extension of e-mail, real-time e-mail.
The next step in general for information is the self-publishing part. If somebody takes the time to write something, having Google understand that is very important to that person. So if you view the world as one person at a time, getting that person, that author to understand that we value, we index, we search, and we care about their information is a very important part of our strategy.
AlwaysOn: Let’s talk about this second chapter of the Internet. My view is that in the first chapter, as media businesses we reached out and found people. But in the second chapter, which I call the eBay-ization of the business model, there’s this awareness that, hey, Metcalfe’s Law is two-way, and that’s much more interesting than one-way.
Schmidt: Ten years ago, before the Mosaic/Netscape phenomenon, the culture in our country really felt very uniform. It felt like everybody was talking about the same things. On a day-to-day basis you didn’t hear a lot of wildly differing views from your own, because you worked with the same people and you read the same stuff and you were busy working on whatever problem you had.
When the Internet publicity began, I remember being struck by how much the world was not the way we thought it was, that there was infinite variation in how people viewed the world. People are amazingly surprised to find out that an awful lot of people think that they’re idiots, whether it is the Flat Earth Society or some other variant. Back then, everybody talked about how the Internet was going to change media, because it would bring everybody together.
But the Internet is really about highly specialized information, highly specialized targeting.
For example, we grew up with this notion of the three major broadcast networks. We all got news at the same time. We’re all still reeling from the fact that there are not homogeneous news sources anymore, that the magazine and publishing industries are becoming more variegated, more distributed, and smaller and more targeted.
The Internet, in particular what’s happening at Google now, is the extreme of this. This is not necessarily all good, but it’s clear that if you extrapolate this out, that there will be a million weblogs of communities that are very distinct and very strong. And they don’t favor one political party or one particular view of life. And the creationists will have theirs and the people who are non-creationists will have theirs. Every group will find people who are either simpatico or players. There will be thousands of those [communities].
My argument ten years ago was that the Internet was created to provide enough fodder for people to get Ph.D.s in anthropology again. Because all the previous Ph.D.s have been written, they have studied every known society. So we just invented a thousand more. I think it is very consistent for Google to try to be a way for people to see all this information in its many forms, not all of which will be acceptable to everyone. It has to do with the combination of empowerment from self-publishing and the sense that there are many, many more viewpoints than we are aware of.
AlwaysOn: You said that it isn’t all good….
Schmidt: Well, people are surprised to find out that there’s evil in the world. On a day-to-day basis I don’t encounter evil -- I work with nice people and I live in a perfectly pleasant environment, but in fact there’s plenty of evil in the world. And one person’s definition of evil is another person’s different definition.
AlwaysOn: When you think about it, Al Qaeda created a cyber-nation. They’re in lots of countries and it’s said they communicate with each other by embedding secret messages in different websites.
Schmidt: And there is at least one criminal on the Internet as we’re speaking, and at least one criminal pedophile. Why? Because they existed before the Internet existed. We need to find ways to prevent these bad things from occurring, but the fact that they exist [on the Internet] is not an indictment on the total model.
In many ways, the Internet allows you to target bad things and decide what you want to do with them. I believe that these issues around ‘good’ and ‘bad’ will become the defining issues of how information is accessed. We have a tradition of free speech in our country. There are exceptions that are applied with which we’re all familiar. Other countries have different traditions. Every country is going to face this issue, independently of Google.
AlwaysOn: Like that bit of a challenge the company had a few months back with China?
Schmidt: Well, Google has taken the position that we will not filter answers. And in the case of the Chinese government, they shut off access to Google and then they turned it back on a few weeks later. In my view that is a testament to how important access to this information is to China. In other words, speaking for them not for me, although from their perspective it’s not a perfect collection of information, but the sum of the value of access to the information was that important, given that China is growing so quickly and is so focused on technology adoption.
Dr. Eric Schmidt
Engineer and Co-founder of Google
Chairman and CEO