Google's Eric Schmidt grilled at show

All things Google discussed at Wall Street Journal's conference

The Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference is winding down, and one of the last major components is Walt Mossberg's interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Mossberg begins by asking Schmidt about Viacom's $US1 billion lawsuit against YouTube. Schmidt says that YouTube is legal and that Viacom should simply have waited until the service had tools in place to better identify copyrighted content. Mossberg seems dubious.

He then asks Schmidt if Google should summon the YouTube community, if there is one, to try to drive change of copyright law to modernize copyright law for the Internet age. Schmidt sounds cautious, saying that Google wouldn't drive its community to demand such change, but might help enable them to do so.

"Google is run around end users...and all of the innovation is about helping them understand information better and providing more valuable services." He describes the Web as "porous."

Mossberg talks about Steve Ballmer's appearance at the conference yesterday. Ballmer said that there hasn't been much change in the presentation of search results. True?

Schmidt discusses Google Universal Search and its blending of different sorts of results on one page, and says that people love it. It's an example of augmented presentation. And iGoogle presentation is tremendously successful. He says that iGoogle extends to non-PC and non-Mac platforms, such as phones. "And that's pretty exciting."

Walt says iGoogle is similar to NetVibes, My Yahoo, and Apple's Dashboard, and comes back to the idea that Google's basic UI hasn't changed much. Schmidt disagrees, mentioning the new menu up top that lets you jump between various Google services.

Mossberg then brings up Ask's preview feature, that lets you see a page before clicking through to it. Schmidt says that Google has tested such a feature, but people aren't that anxious to have it, and it can introduce performance problems.

Mossberg mentions Mahalo, a new human-powered search engine that was introduced at D yesterday. He says that it's frustrating that when he searches for a hotel (with Google, apparently), he wants the site of that hotel and a trusty review, but gets a lot of junk. Schmidt says that Google thinks it can continue to prove increasingly relevant results with algorithms rather than human editors. Combating companies that try to game Google results is a neverending battle, though.

He also says that the company is working on better approaches to help people find reviews.

Mossberg shifts the conversation to ads. He's grateful that Google has steered clear of garish ads, and that it has a clear separation between search results and ads. Now, Google has acquired DoubleClick, which does display ads. Is that a portent of Google's own site shifting to display ads?

No, says Schmidt. He says that Google is showing fewer, more relevant ads than ever, and that's core to the company's business model. He thinks this approach can be used in other worlds, such as TV. It makes both users and advertisers happy, and the value of the ads goes up. "We want to solve the advertising problem in general...to bring engineering to advertising in general." Including with DoubleClick.

"'Don't be evil' is a slogan, but it's also a way of getting people to think before they act," says Schmidt, and says that the company shoots down ideas proposed by engineers if they don't serve users.

"Let's talk about evil for a moment," replies Mossberg, saying that some people believe that Google has become too powerful, given how much data it has on its users and its ever-expanding online platform. "I understand the concerns," Schmidt says. But he says that Google "is one click away from losing that end user" if people aren't satisfied with its services.

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Harry McCracken

PC World
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