Highlights from Google CEO Larry Page's "State of the Company" address

What Google's chief has to say on the present and future of the company

Google CEO Larry Page published something of an open letter to Google users today outlining where the company is right now and where he wants to see it go in the near future.  For those of you who don't want to read the whole thing (it is rather long), here are some highlights.

-On why the company is integrating Google+ further into its search capabilities:

We have an old-time Googler called Ben Smith, who is a good friend of mine. It turns out that he isn’t the only Ben Smith in the world! Today, it’s tough for Google to find the right Ben for me. Many people share only their public profiles, not their posts, photos, or connections. And privacy considerations certainly limit the information that can be shared between platforms—even if the third parties hosting it were willing to work with Google, which hasn’t always been the case.

Google+ helps solve this problem for us because it enables Google to understand people and their connections. So when I search for Ben Smith, I get the real Ben Smith (for me), right there in my search box, complete with his picture. Previously, the search box would just have had the series of letters I had typed, with no real understanding that I was looking for a unique person. This is a huge and important change, and there’s a ton more work to do.  But this kind of next-generation search in which Google understands real-world entities—things, not strings—will help improve our results in exciting new ways. It’s about building genuine knowledge into our search engine.

This isn't the best example because "Ben Smith" is also a pretty famous journalist whose work people look up on a regular basis.  In other words, if I search for "Ben Smith" on Google I may want to get the journalist, not a dopey picture of my friend of the same name.

But I digress!  This sort of thing does make a certain amount of sense from a search standpoint.  Of course, it also helps Google deliver better-targeted ads toward its users and thus generate more revenue for the company, but they probably don't want to emphasize that as their #1 motive here...

-On integrating more direct answers into searches in lieu of the standard list of links:

In the early days of Google you would type in a query, we’d return ten blue links, and you would move on fairly happily. Today you want more. If you search for “weather san francisco”, chances are you want… the weather in San Francisco right there on the results page, not another click or two away. So that’s what we now provide. In fact, before you’ve even finished typing “weather” into the search box we give you the weather because we’ve learned that’s most likely what you’re looking for.

Truly great search is all about turning your needs into actions in the blink of an eye. There is a huge amount of data in the world that isn’t publicly available today.  Showing it in our results involves deep partnerships across different industries in many countries. It’s very similar to the work we did to get Google Maps off the ground.

Providing more direct answers (or "actions" as Google calls them) is indeed a welcome addition.  I'll be interested to see what other sorts of data they can put at the top of a search query that we don't currently see.

-On integrating Google's services more tightly with one another:

As devices multiply and usage changes (many users coming online today may never use a desktop machine), it becomes more and more important to ensure that people can access all of their stuff anywhere.  Constant downloading is a terrible experience, so I am excited about products like Gmail and Google Docs that work well across Android and desktop. With Chrome now recently available on Android, switching devices becomes painless, too, because all of your tabs are just there across your desktop and Android.  You can even click the back button on a different device, and it just works! And with Google Play, movies, books, apps, and games are all accessible from the Web or an Android device—no cables, downloading, or syncing required. I think there is a theme here!

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love Google Music.  Whenever I rip a CD onto my PC it will automatically load onto Google Music and then BAM! it's right there on my Android device.  I do think Google is certainly onto something here and it will have strong implications for the enterprise as well once Google Drive is up and running since it'll allow multiple people to access work files from any number of devices.  Google is taking a page from Apple and is trying to be a one-stop destination for just about everything you need in the digital realm.

-On love (no, seriously):

We have always wanted Google to be a company that is deserving of great love. But we recognize this is an ambitious goal because most large companies are not well-loved, or even seemingly set up with that in mind. We’re lucky to have a very direct relationship with our users, which creates a strong incentive for us to do the right thing. For every magic moment we create—like the ability to drop a photo into Google and search by image—we have a very happy user.  And when our products don’t work or we make mistakes, it’s easy for users to go elsewhere because our competition is only a click away.

As Gartner analyst Whit Andrews noted in a recent interview I did with him, Google is right to be paranoid.  If they tick their users off, it's not hard for those users to go to Bing.  But if, say, Google makes it easy for you to have all your stuff in one place and is (relatively) unobtrusive when it comes to your privacy, people are much more likely to stay with it for search.  That said, Google has to keep up its end of the bargain.  If they start selling user data, for instance, I think most of us will be more than happy to take our business to Bing.

-On evil:

We have always believed that it’s possible to make money without being evil.

Well that's good.  This is the part where I refrain from making a joke about Goldman Sachs...

At any rate, I don't see a lot of news-y material in this letter but at the same time it's always newsworthy when the CEO of Google releases a long missive on the state of his company.  It couldn't have hurt him to announce that the much-coveted Google Glasses would be going on sale next month, though...

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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