Mass media masses at the Googleplex
It's that time of the year again when Google opens its doors to the media and offers wine and food and relaxed, off the record conversations with its top people.
I love this event because it is so family-like...it is a place full of familiar faces and I can't imagine the holiday season without it. And I can report that I had some excellent conversations about some topics that are very dear to me: China and the behavior of Yahoo in regards to the jailing of a Chinese journalist; plus the monetisation of Google News. Unfortunately, I cannot report on what Google executives told me.
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I was impressed with Elliot Schrage, chief of GOOG's PR/communications teams. The appointment of Mr Schrage, about a year ago, was fascinating to me because his background is so different from what would be a typical hire by a large Silicon Valley company. Here is someone that had been representing companies such as Nike, dealing with serious ethical and moral issues around child labor, and also dealing with foreign governments.
Clearly, his appointment showed that Google was looking into a future where it would need to navigate a landscape of similar ethical and moral challenges, and it would need experience in foreign government diplomacy.
I was glad to hear that the China issue is well recognized within Google and that the company is trying to understand how best it can behave in an ethical way.
I would say that Google has a fabulous opportunity to create a significant competitive advantage for itself because of the China issue. It can boost its ability to recruit the best and the brightest people. And people are the company, they create the value and the innovation.
Yahoo faces a significant disadvantage in its ability to compete against Google in attracting top talent because of management's disgraceful behavior in China. Who would want to work for a company that Reporters without Borders called a "police informant" for the Chinese government? If Yahoo fails to create an ethical position on this issue, the brain drain out of the company will accelerate.
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I also met the very impressive Susan Wojcicki, VP of product management. She is in charge of monetising Google's products. I asked her to monetise Google News because that action would assign some value to a product that is currently free, but not produced for free.
By trying to monetise Google News GOOG would then be able to share revenues with the news producers--who are all hurting tremendously. San Jose Mercury, for example, this morning announced yet another round of layoffs. Google has the scale to help create badly needed revenue streams for news organizations.
Google News has a very large audience and some of that audience clicks through to the original site. However, driving traffic to a news site doesn't help much because news sites are terrible at monetising their online operations. Many news sites run Google Adsense ads and those pay very little per click, nowhere enough to support the costs of producing news.
How will news organizations survive when their advertising base is rushing into search engine marketing? The simple truth is that selling products or services next to a search engine box is far more effective than next to a news story.
Yet news is what gets people to return to the Internet. We desperately need a value recovery mechanism that rewards high quality news production. We don't have it yet but a company like Google has the brain power and the scale to create one, IMHO.
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There were many familiar faces on the media side and also on the Google side. It was a pleasure running into my former boss at the Financial Times, Richard Waters.
David Krane, one of GOOG's senior comms guy has had another delivery from the crane, a second child. I'm impressed that David took a bunch of time off to bond with his child and that he recognized how such events impact women so much more than is sometimes recognized.
It was also good to connect again with Brian O'Shaughnessy, now heading comms for the entire product group at Google, recently recruited from running the show at Verisign.
Also good to see, John Furrier, co-founder of fast growing media company PodTech, who was wandering around packing various recording devices... Steve Gillmor, famed blogger, told me that he no longer has his Gillmor Gang podcast, but is working on a secret project...His brother, Dan Gillmor was there, I haven't seen him in a while, Dan said he has another book project.
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