By:Andy Beal, Published:2003-8-23

Inside Search Engine Strategies, San Jose 2003 Day 3

Day Three: A Chat With Sergey Brin

Day 3 of Search Engine Strategies, San Jose included a wide range of sessions covering broad topics such as “Meet the Crawlers” and the more targeted “Google API”. However, there was not an empty seat available when Danny Sullivan sat down with Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, on the eve of his 30th birthday, to chat about the past and future of the world’s most famous search engine.

Sitting in two elegant arm-chairs with a large plasma screen providing a back-drop of a roaring log fire, the setting suggested that we were ease-dropping on too old friends who were reminiscing about the past.

Google’s growth

It has been five years since Google entered the search engine arena and in that time the then unknown challenger to AltaVista has grown from 15 million pages indexed to a colossal 3+ billion, serving 76% of US searches. Danny Sullivan recalled how Brin had attended one of the earlier conferences and had asked the audience who had heard of Google. Back then, few hands went up. Laughter circulated today’s audience when Danny gave Sergey the opportunity to ask the same question; “Who here has heard of Google?”

Danny then proceeded to real off the developments that Google had made this year alone; AdSense, Toolbars, buying Blogger, launching Google News Alerts etc. Asked if Sergey was proud of these accomplishments, he replied modestly, that despite the list sounding impressive, he believed they were “not doing enough” in his mind. Sergey wanted his company to expand even further and provide searchers with even more technological developments and enhancements that would expand the use and enjoyment of Google.

Expanding content on the web

Danny wanted to know from Sergey which of the past year’s accomplishments he was particularly pleased with. After giving the question some thought, Sergey offered that the recent launch of their “AdSense” service was his proudest moment. The affiliate type service allowed small businesses an opportunity to display Google’s AdWords sponsors on their own website, providing a means for many companies to increase income from their website by sharing in the revenue these sponsorships generated. Sergey expressed his desire for AdSense to “spur the next generation of content on the web”.

An IPO for Google?

Turning to the question on everyone’s lips, Danny asked Sergey if an IPO was on the horizon and when might Google make a public offering. Giving his answer, you could tell that Sergey was a man that had envisioned building a better search engine to assist the world, with the last thing on his mind being answering to Wall Street. “We debate [going public] periodically at board meetings” said Brin and it “would be nice to have currency to do acquisitions, [however] there are significant management distractions with being public”. While his statements seemed to signal that Google does not intend to become a public company, Brin did admit that there is a “good chance eventually” that they would issue an IPO but that it is “not the most pressing thing.”

Google acquiring MSN?

If issuing an IPO was not in the future of Google, was an acquisition strategy likely to be developed? Danny couldn’t resist putting a twist on a recurring question, “Any chance Google would buy Microsoft?” Sergey joined the audience in raucous laughter as everyone dismissed this as being a possibility, although with Google’s reputation and dominance, you would be forgiven for thinking that this impossible scenario could just happen. On a more serious note,Danny did ask Sergey whether Google would entertain any advances made by a rival company such as MSN. “We have always said “no” thus far” explained Brin, but he went to on elaborate that they “can’t discount any approach”. This statement created more questions than it answered, suggesting that rumors of an approach by MSN and Yahoo had an element of truth.

Preventing misuse

Turning to the technology developments that Google had planned for the future, Danny asked Sergey to elaborate on the work that goes into the constant development of the famed Google PageRank. Sergey explained that it was still very much an important part of Google’s ranking system and that more than half a dozen new ranking technologies are tested each month with roughly half of these being integrated into Google’s PageRank algorithm. He went to on discuss the issues Google faces with spam and indicated that Google is aware of the “corrupt” uses of some companies in an attempt to manipulate the PageRank but he made it quite clear that they have technologies to deal with any misuse.

Paid inclusion not likely at Google

A request that is often made to Google is that they introduce a paid inclusion option so that those interested in obtaining faster inclusion into the index, have a means to do so, at a premium. While many representatives of Google have expressed in the passed that this is unlikely to happen, Sergey made a point of clarifying his dislike of introducing paid inclusion. “I don’t really believe in it” said Brin, adding that he wanted to “keep any kind of payment from objective search results”. “Objective search” the very thing that has made Google popular, hence his reluctance to tinker with its formula for success. In the second part of the question, Danny asked whether Google had given any thought to offering some form of “paid support” to allow webmasters a faster and easier way of communicating a problem with Google engineers. This was also a “no go” as far as Sergey was concerned as he believed that by offering this type of premium support it would sap resources and “slow down [Google’s] pace of development.”

As the “virtual fire-place” started to die down, Danny asked Sergey what was the worst thing about being at the helm of the worlds most popular and most analyzed search engine. After taken a few seconds to consider the question, Sergey offered a simple answer, “coping with the growth”. While many of us might think that we would love to be involved with a company growing as rapidly as Google, being in control of behemoth such as Google can be a daunting task for someone who has yet to celebrate his 30th birthday.

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