Dec 9, 2009

Marissa Mayer Talks Google Search, Chrome, Online News And More At Le Web

TechCrunch's Mike Arrington this afternoon interviewed Marrissa Mayer, Google's VP of Search Product and User Experience, at the Le Web conference here in Paris, France.

Last year, Arrington interviewed Mayer on stage at Le Web too, and Google took Chrome out of beta that day and talked about Searchwiki. This year, no announcements were made, but Mayer shared her thoughts on all the Google news from earlier this week, including the new releases of the Chrome browser and her views on the future of news.

TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington this afternoon interviewed Marrissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search Product and User Experience, at the Le Web conference here in Paris, France.

Last year, Arrington interviewed Mayer on stage at Le Web too, and Google took Chrome out of beta that day and talked about Searchwiki. This year, no announcements were made, but Mayer shared her thoughts on all the Google news from earlier this week, including the new releases of the Chrome browser and her views on the future of news.

Congratulations on winning the Woman of the Year Award of Glamour Magazine, pretty cool.

Yeah, I felt really honored.

Let’s start with the news. Google had quite a few announcements to make this week, can you recap?

Yes, of course. So we held our Future of Search event, and presented a lot of new exciting ideas: Google Goggles, Voice Search expansion, Search by Location, and the big news about our realtime search endeavors and the partnership with Facebook and MySpace.

Lots of news for one week.

Yes, and all of them revolve around four key components:

- modality (how do you search)

- media (more richness and interactivity, realtime content etc.)

- language (translation)

- personalizing search experience

Last year, you announced Google Searchwiki here at Le Web. I’ve never liked it, and was glad to see you integrated an off button. But when are you getting rid of it for good?

We recognize that we need to improve the experience, make it more integrated.

You mean kill it?

No. (laughs)

I thought Goggles was interesting, you know, the ability for Google to tell me what something or who someone is based on visuals. How far are we away from turning that concept mainstream?

Google Goggles is partly indexing, but it’s mainly image recognition combined with elements of location and OCR. As these technologies evolve, so will we. At this point, voice to text is further along than image and video recognition technology, so we’re at the starting line now.

By the way, thank you for showing me your Google Phone backstage.

(laughs) I didn’t, that was my iPhone. And you know I can’t comment on speculation.

Let’s talk mobile search. How important is that to Google, I mean, what percentage of searches get made on mobile?

I’m not able to share specific numbers, but it’s definitely growing. The percentage is going up, and even roughly doubled in a year.

Moving to Google Chrome, which was finally released in beta for Mac earlier this week, and ChromeOS. What’s next?

We made some interesting announcements about the Chrome browser and extensions yesterday, which we think will cause a lot of interesting things to happen. For the browser, the focus at Google is on the user experience, speeding up browsing, and so on. As for ChromeOS, which I refer to as an anti operating system by the way, we’re a while away from getting onto devices, but we’re getting there.

Do you track the number of downloads for the Chrome browser closely? Anything you can share?

We can’t share specific numbers, but we’re talking tens of millions of users.

I’m a Mac user, so I haven’t played around with it a lot. Do you use it all the time?

I use all browsers out there, and speed is very important for me. I like Safari, and I use it because it’s so predominant on Macs, but Chrome is just so fast.

Let’s move to Google News. How do you look at the whole brouhaha about the future of news?

Obviously, we brainstormed about this a little bit internally, on how to get users more engaged with online news, experimenting with for-pay content models and more lucrative advertising models and so on. And you know, journalism at its core remains the same, but the way it’s delivered changes and evolves. We think like this: if you reinvented news and the business model in the industry, how would you go about it? And we have to conclude a lot needs to change.

I find it interesting if you go to Wikipedia, you can actually see news breaking on there instead of on online newspaper websites at times. But there’s only one Wikipedia article about a given topic, while you can find multiple angles on a topic from different media. And all of them are competing for placement.

What we also think about a lot is about to personalize news, what metrics we can use for that. Facebook and Twitter popularized streams, but why isn’t news more like that by now, more personalized, synced across platforms and devices, location-aware maybe even? Baking all that together would make a very compelling product; what I call a hyper-personalized news stream.

Interesting. Do you think companies like The New York Times are going to be able to adapt?

I think so. We’ve been partnering with them for a while, they’re actually progressive thinkers. They really want to learn how they can reinvent themselves.

Would you partner with Murdoch / News Corp?

Well, we have a partnership with MySpace …

But you have a different relationship with Rupert Murdoch.

Yes. (smiles)

Do you think news Corp will end up pulling their content out of search engines?

I hope not, because we want to be comprehensive. We have to respect the copyright owners. If we don’t, we don’t have the best search engine we can build, and we take pride in quality.

Would you consider ever paying for content, exclusively or not?

Difficult to say. We already help publishers with some of their monetization problems, just look at the 5 billion we paid out to publishers around the world thanks to Google AdSense. Also consider Analytics, which gives media companies certain insights, for free. We deliver technology solution that can help solve their problems.

Let’s talk Music Search. Is it available here in Europe?

No, only in the United States because of licensing agreements.

Does this audience have any way to try it out?

Well it’s restricted based on IP, so the answer would be no.

What I like about Music Search is not only the streaming possibility inside search results, but also the integrated lyrics search and purchasing options. I listen to the radio a lot, I look up lyrics from time to time, and now this service lets me combine both experiences

Further plans with Music Search?

We’re happy with it, but it’s definitely a start. But consider this: lyrics are the number two searched terms of all time on Google, and music comes in at number 9. Obviously, there’s a big user need.

Something entirely different: do you play some of the scammy social games on social networks, say Farmville?

I’m aware of them, but I haven’t played Farmville yet.

You know about the dark side of some of these ventures by now. But all of these companies involved in this also advertise on Google. How do you fight their behavior?

It’s a difficult problem for sure, but we issued lawsuits earlier this week against scammy advertisers, so I can’t comment much more as we’re in litigation.

I find myself consuming more and more content based on retweets, friends sharing stuff on Facebook, etc. There’s a trend there, moving to discovery of content rather than search. How are you going to leverage that phenomenon as a search engine provider?

Well, look at two releases we announced this year: Social Search, for one, allows people to search both public results from the Web and content that comes from their friends, shared across various social media. The second product is realtime search, which I find myself using a lot. And I trust the content on there most of the time, even of they’re public and not coming from friends. We’re clearly in need for industry standardization in this field, we need more APIs, and so on, but it’s an important notion.

A big problem with realtime search seems to be filtering, the virality of rumors true or false, mob forming, etc. – is this something you think you can solve?

Hard to say. We can’t simply apply the PageRank algorithm to content shared in real time, but we look at the ecosystem and detect signals we can use to reveal authority, for instance. It’s difficult, but there are data points out there that can be used for filtering.

It would be great if you could help solve that problem.

Agreed, also because when you find the really good source tweets, they’re so almost magical. Getting to the starting point of breaking news and rumors already aids a lot.

Let’s talk Google Wave for a second. It captured our attention, but there’s some confusion. Is it our fault, or does the product need more tweaking?

As usual, we launched early and are iterating as we go along. There are some vital features missing at this point, we know. Another part of the story is critical mass, because the value increases when more people you know or work with start using it.

Is Google Wave used internally?

It varies from team to team.

Last question: there’s a Google Phone, isn’t there? Otherwise you’d be flat out denying it instead of giving me the pokerface.


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