Google’s Lunch for World Domination (or Not)

The biggest thing at the Condé Nast Portfolio mag lunch yesterday was not the three-tiered dessert trays (we’re sure there’s some frou-frou name like “pinafore” but we’re not fancy enough to tell you what it is for yummy little pastries no bigger than a stiletto heel tip).

Nor was the biggest thing anything that Google’s Eric Schmidt said. As a big company CEO, it’s his job to not announce anything before it’s announceable, certainly not in front of a room full of New York business magazine journalists. Journalists he pointedly praised for not being all rushy and bloggy — “all sorts of people trying to do all sorts of things quickly, poorly, business coverage, the rise of blogging and so forth and so on,” as compared to the “best, highest standards” giving people the “time to do the research … figure out what’s right, what’s wrong” as a monthly like Portfolio should be able to do.

But we did promise to tell you more than the table scraps we threw out yesterday on what happened, and so, here’s some of what struck us about Schmidt’s remarks, which you can now see for yourself on the Portfolio website (though you can’t see some of the questions and answers, ours — noted below — included):

  • Schmidt’s slightly wrinkled geek jacket and mustard-colored pants with a striped tie were way less obviously fashionable than most of the other people in the room, even though he’s worth a lot more and his company reaches — dare we say it — many millions more than all of Advance Publications (Condé’s parent) put together. (On the other hand, maybe it’s more about the right million people than the wrong hundreds of millions. “Oh, that’s nothing,” Google people say about products they’ll be launching that reach “only” 2 million people, according to Schmidt. They’re more used to dealing in the “hundreds of millions.”)
  • Schmidt wrote a piece in 1996, when he was at Sun Microsystems, for U.S. News and World Report in which he strongly critiqued Microsoft:

    Microsoft has been portrayed in the media in extreme terms: the “good” Microsoft that drives the software and PC industry, creates jobs and leads America’s recovery, and the “bad” Microsoft whose monopolistic practices drive competitors out of markets and stifle innovation. In reality, both stereotypes are accurate.

    Substitute “Google” in there, and you can see why Portfolio ed-in-chief Joanne Lipman pointed the story out. Same here:

    Microsoft’s role and power in the industry are stunning. No other company could routinely release such weak first versions of its products, then use its own customers as a test group for revisions until it gets a fully working product.

    Can you say “Google Mail”? As in the product we all use, but which is still in beta testing mode, giving Google an out whenever it’s not really working the way we like, even though it’s usually about the best free email out there. (Yahoo’s beta mail product is also pretty darn good.)

  • You can expect very targeted ads courtesy of Google on your cellphone within a year or so in the U.S., now if you live in Japan, and maybe soon in China. “European trials are over the summer,” Schmidt said.
  • G-Buy or whatever it’s going to be called is not, Schmidt says, taking it to PayPal, because PayPal has already solved the “problem” of buying things on the Internet, and Google prefers to innovate, solve new problems. Google’s commerce app will be more for advertisers, Schmidt said. We and others in the room left confused about what he was talking about.
  • Google’s just launched a news product in Arabic, and their automatic translation from language to language is going to be scary good (or something like that).
  • “We’re trying to index more and more” of the world’s information. “People around the world are more and more dependent on Google as their initial source of information” around.” We’re sure he didn’t mean Google’s aiming for world domination. (See Microsoft, above.)
  • We asked where good ends and evil begins, when you’re as big as Google. (Their motto is “Don’t Be Evil.”) Like, when you’re launching Google Base, an attempt to out-classify the classifieds, you serve a lot of people but could destroy the newspaper industry and all the jobs and services that go with it. Schmidt said they think the most good comes from serving the “end user,” and that businesses will naturally follow that. He also said Google is developing applications that they hope will ultimately help newspapers survive.

    Want more coverage? His thoughts on the whole China thing, and what-not? Search for it. On GoogleNews of course.