Friday, October 13, 2006

A Look Over the Horizon: Google, Microsoft, New Yorkers talk

The room could've been set for a wedding. Short, elegant white hydrangea and orchid arrangements centered on each table, elegant martini glasses at each place setting and a beautiful sunny day all contributed to the excitement in the room. There was a man and a woman at the center, on a dais, and a third man officiating, and an expectant audience. Yet, the stage and room was set for the Syracuse University's Newhouse School in NY discussion at the Bryant Park Grill. The woman was Google consumer web products director Marissa Mayer and the man was Intellectual Ventures founder & CEO Nathan Myhrvold. The "officiant?" The author and writer of "The New Yorker's Annals of Communications" Ken Auletta.

These weren't the only powerhouses in the house though. CBS Digital Media president Larry Kramer, UBS Investment Banks MD and Joint Head of Tech Brian Webber and The New Yorker editor David Remnick also each had a chance for their shout-out.

Here are the meat-n-potatoes (synopsized):
KA: Does Google think it's getting revenue from its massive YouTube purchase?
NM: Google's purchasing a popularity entity, not a profitable venture. Soon these videos will be seen on HD quality.
MM: We will honor copyright requests of content creators on YouTube and remove videos when asked.

KA: Is Google going after Microsoft?
NM: Yes! Case in point, "Google's word processing application online is like a thumb in the eye to Microsoft" and MS will respond to that for sure.
MM: "It's hard to play offense when the competition has $150 mm in cash." "We try to focus on the end-user."

KA: How is Google affecting the traditional content generators (publishing, books, Hollywood)
MM: Books are not going to go away. Publishers don't need to work. People will always want to bring a book to the beach, not read it on their computer.
NM: "I'm on the board of Dreamworks, so I'm Shrek's boss's boss." The software is so much better from a technology standpoint so the ability to tell a story is much better. "The challenge is what happened to music is now happening to movies. Hollywood is driving toward the cliff, just like Thelma and Louise." I have two twin 17-year old boys and I told them as long as they live under my roof (with copyrights have paid for) then they will be paying for their music. Of course their teenage friends think they (and thus I) am stupid.
MM: We are working with publishers and have 10 years before we get all books online.
NM: The biggest issue is that there's no Digital Rights Management (DRM). There's no standard way to buy digital content, so people will steal it. It's like when you pay for something with a Mastercard or Visa, the machine that reads the stripe on the back is standardized.
MM: We initially had resistance when we first launched News. You didn't want to be in my Inbox that morning! But by the afternoon, things were better... We had success with the New York Times with the "1st-click free" experiment. We convinced them that there would be more registrants and loyal readers if they let them read the first page of the article they're trying to get at for free. It worked.
NM: In 1989 there was an article saying that it's not about the 3lbs of pulp delivered to your doorstep on Sunday mornings. Newspapers don't need the paper. It's about the content and now these content players can expand their offerings to other mediums. TV News killed "Look" and "Life" magazine because those publications were photojournalism. In the same way there will be some transitions and filtering of older properties as these newer mediums emerge and fine-tune.

KA: A lot of companies have a big lead and then stumble--AOL, Yahoo--How's it going to be for Google?
MM: We don't consider ourselves on a big perch. Yes, search is good but we'd like it to be even better! And we're not the leader in Asia. I always tell my product developers, "look! There's another leader! Follow them!" Sometimes it's easier to see what others are doing and follow their lead than to always have to be the one to come up with the font leading on a site. (oh! Woh is me!)
NM: It's important for companies to not rest on their laurels. The way you do well in life is to fix the mistakes when you're not perfect, because none of us are perfect.

Question from the audience:
Larry Aidem, President and CEO, Sundance Channel: Question regarding a quality filter. Their tagline is, "we watch bad movies, so you don't have to."
MM: Good videos get rated higher and when you see one you like you share it with your friends. For instance, she loved the OK GO treadmill dance and sent that to all her friends. There's a guy at Google who watches videos all day and rates them. Lucky guy. People love his ratings, and this is the beginning of their "quality filter."

Writing this, I got sidetracked and the one I found that I think is cool, is this one:
(and here:

A UBS guy asked about the scalability of the hardware.
NM: This is the disease that computer geeks since the 60s keep getting--thinking that you're going to get a computer that's scalable. The computer isn't scalable, the interface is. Basically, Google itself is a giant supercomputer using lots of computers around the world.
MM: Google wants to make more content partnerships. Her friends and family are exasperated by Google's interface. They're like, "You've been there 7 years and it still looks the same!" Advertising is the area where there's the most room for innovations.

Question from Joe @ The New York Times about when will we be able to just type a question into a search and get an answer?
MM: We need to do a better job of blending technology so you could get a picture, or a video or a snippet as an answer. Written instructions on how to build a snowman isn't as effective as a video. Soon she'd like to see ability to get search results for voice requests, like when you're in your car and you're looking for a Chinese food restaurant.

John Sykes from MTV Networks asked a question before there were closing remarks and the captive audience sipped some more coffee, exchanged a few business cards and then headed out into the bustling busy city of New York. Media, Technology, Art, Fashion, Film, Culture and Food--it's all here and it's all excellent!

Disclaimer: The martini glasses were filled to the rim with.... yogurt, honey and granola!