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May 18, 2007

Personal Democracy Forum Report: NYT's Tom Friedman and Google's Eric Schmidt

by Josh Bernoff

"The World Is Flat" author Friedman interviewed Google CEO Eric Schmidt. "Where are you going?" asks Friedman. Schmidt of course began by flogging universal search.

Schmidt: "As you use iGoogle, we learn more and more about what you do, who you are." He calls this a powerful notion of a computer that knows how you think.

(Schmidt made a funny aside about how no one was looking directly at him -- they're all on their computers.)

Regarding politics, Schmidt is hopeful that the Net will help, because everything a candidate does is recorded and analyzed -- and that disinformation can be debunked by the masses. Now Google is your resume -- everything is there. Of course that could be a problem with youthful indiscretions -- Schmidt says, tongue in cheek, "At age 21, everyone should be able to change their name."

In fact, among youth, the problem is "over-sharing" -- a serious issue of too much revealing what they are doing. I guess politicans will be drawn, counterintuitively, from the ranks of those who were shy when they were young.

"We will earn that people can be falsely charged and still be innocent." (I'm not so sureabout that.) And second, "We will be living with the historical record." This applies to everyone, not just public figures.

Schmidt points out that people's biases mean that repeated accusations "become" the truth. This is a great insight. Defending yourself will become an incredibly important skill.

Friedman talked about the Bahraini election -- Google Earth showed just how big the palaces were to the general population.

Schmidt discussed about the “great firewall” in China and how Google dealt with it. “This is an issue with more than one legitimate point of view.” Google decided to enter the country. If they need to omit a result, we tell the Chinese citizen, this information was omitted (and the citizen probably finds a way around it). But the arrival of broad access to information has to be good for China opening up, according to Schmidt.

Friedman: "What have you learned since buying YouTube?" Schmidt's answer: "The incredible complexity of the professional media world." That is, all the different rights associated with content. (Note to Schmidt: we could have told you that before you bought YouTube.) Also, Schimdt says, the incredible impact of video (versus text). Finally, that people consume video in smaller bites, very different from the structure of television.

Friedman: "How do I get hired at Google." Schmidt: Call me. More seriously, "We decided to put in a scientific way of finding the best talent. Everyone needed to have something unusual about them." Actually hired a Rocket Scientist. So originally, they wanted people beyond a normal corporate view. "The best lesson I have learned. . . . The most important thing is what kind of person you are getting." Schmidt believes you want people who have a broad range of interests. My comment: does this really work, and do they actually do it? You need some hard-nosed businesspeople, too, and my experience is they have plenty of those. Based on this comment, Google will be inundated with resumes from people who have bicycling or collecting vintage Clintoniana or some other weird hobby.

In response to a question from Jeff Jarvis, Schmidt says YouTube is featuring "YouChoose" for political videos and will feature one of the debates. Suggests that the politicians put all their bits of video on YouTube. Good idea! Of course, then they will get edited and remixed by unauthorized viewers . . .

Our analysis: Google looked very positive -- "do no evil"-ish -- because Tom didn't push very hard. I wanted to hear more about the copyright issue.

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