Eric Schmidt Admits to Missing Out on the ‘Friend Thing’

Google CEO says, 'I screwed up'

In a keynote interview at AllThingsDigital’s D9 conference on Tuesday, Google CEO Eric Schmidt admitted that his biggest failure as the company's head was missing out on social networking—or, as he put it, “the friend thing.”

Google tried “very hard” to partner with Facebook, Schmidt explained, but they’ve traditionally allied with Microsoft instead. “Facebook’s done a number of things which I admire,” he said. “It’s the first generally available way of disambiguating identity. Historically, on the Internet such a fundamental service wouldn’t be owned by a single company. I think the industry would benefit from an alternative to that . . . Identity is incredibly useful because in the online world you need to know who you are dealing with.”

Schmidt said that he recently looked at memos he wrote four years ago about Google needing to address the online identity issue. “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.”

In the interview, Schmidt also said that there are four companies— Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon—dominating the Internet today, which he dubbed the “gang of four.” “We’ve never had four companies growing at the scale those are, in aggregate,” he said, explaining the complicated relationship that these firms have as partners as well as competitors. Notably, Schmidt left Microsoft off the list. “Microsoft is not driving the consumer revolution in the minds of the consumers,” he said.