21:31 PM

Google muzzles the press: a report from inside the Googleplex holiday media party

by Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher.com

I'd like to tell you about the party; but it was all off the record! Damn. I picked up so many great stories that it hurts not to write about them.

I think Google made the party off the record because it was Cindy McCaffrey's birthday (head marketing honcho at the big G), and she didn't want us reporting the number of candles on her cake (16).


Secret photo of Google ice sculpture--taken with Treo 600

(Jochen, our photographer, had to surrender all his kit).

It's difficult to see, but there are two "ice" penguins cunningly disguised as waiters. It's obviously a thinly-disguised salute to Linux--and a poke in the eye to Microsoft, which has ambitions in search.

I got there fairly late, as my car was a little challenged by the journey (it's still in the car park). As I walked into the party, I was surprised how relaxed and mellow everyone was. I expected a circus of media people, cameras, the Silicon Valley Hack Pack chasing the boys and Eric around, while Wayne hoped nobody recognized him. It wasn't like that at all. It was very pleasant: there was some live jazz, maybe 50 people were milling around, and it felt very comfortable.

I looked around and I realized that these were pretty much the same people from the year-ago holiday party, which was fun and relaxed too. Sergey and Larry were floating around with no hacks chasing them. I didn't see Eric; but he always heads out a half hour earlier if he can. And pretty much the same Silicon Valley hack pack was there.

David Krane, head comms guy at the Big G came over and said, "I read you all the time, and I share it with my team." (I couldn't keep that one of the record!) That's what I love to hear, and I'll never get tired of hearing it. It is the best feedback we can get. It's not the number of hits that matters, its who's hitting on you that counts, as I remember telling stand-alone journalist Chris Nolan recently.

(She was haranguing me about how many hits I get on my site, and saying that "advertisers will want to know that." Thank you, Chris, you've obviously done your research; but that's the old business model.)

Anyway, I've worked with David and Raymond Nasr for a long time, and not just on Google stories. Raymond, for example, was at Novell with Eric Schmidt, and previously at Apple and Sun. We chatted about the time when Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (the queen's husband), paid a visit to Novell in San Jose, March, 2000. That was when Pam Mahoney was also working at Novell; these days she is at seed VC firm, Mohr Davidow Ventures. Novell, at the time, was a large contributor to the Duke's charities. I had recently interviewed Eric, and so when the Duke arrived, they rustled together a few Brits and Scots to make him feel at home.

That's how I got to have lunch with Prince Philip; and it wasn't at a table with 200 people, it was at a small round table with six people. Which was great because we could chat. I'd love to tell you what he said about Bill Gates. But I can't: off the record again. I hate to string you up like this.

Back to the Google party . . .I started thinking about what an insane year this has been for the Google team. It kicked off when my colleague at the Financial Times, Richard Waters, broke the story that Google would use an auction system to sell its IPO shares. It would spurn the investment bankers and offer its shares directly to the public. Bold stuff: the investment bankers weren't happy; but so what, kudos to Google!

Then it was non-stop Google stories for months. At the FT in SF, we had an emergency meeting where we pulled together ideas for more than 30 stories. Our editors in London were ravenous; and the best thing to do was to feed them. It's better to feed them stories, rather than allow them too much time to think up great story angles on their own. I wish I could tell you about some of the great story angles that were cooked up down the "U-bend" ---the mahogany row of FT HQ.

As journalists, we soon tired of writing Google stories; but David, Raymond and the rest of the comms team (not to mention the boys and Eric), were sucked into a global media whirlwind and it's still pretty windy.

So, it was great to kick back, tell some stories, and catch up. I just wish it wasn't all off the record! There is no better way to torture a journalist than to tell him some great stories, and then say it is all off the record! It's pure torture; I should report them to somebody at the UN.

I think this one item should be okay. Especially since it is a little cryptic. Tell me if you can work this one out:

A Google/Yahoo joint venture is due on March 20 and it will bring great joy to the Kranes.