Matt Brittin Q&A: The changing web

  • Click here to read the cover feature relating to this ’Search giant shapes the future for digital Britain’
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Marketing Week (MW): With ’social’ becoming more dominant in the way we use the internet, even when we’re searching for the product or service we want, do you feel Google needs a social network offering that works to stop you becoming over-reliant on ’search’?

Matt Brittin (MB): While we’re not about to launch a social network site of our own, we can definitely reflect the increasingly social nature of the internet with our search results. When you search for something on Google you are starting to see Twitter feeds, user reviews and YouTube videos displayed among your results.

Search is still a very powerful part of the decision-making process. The web is becoming more social, but rather than building a direct competitor to Facebook we would prefer to keep innovating in what we’re doing.

MW: So is the Google business not threatened by the seemingly unstoppable rise of Facebook?

MB: I think Facebook is great, a very smart company indeed. I know a lot of people that work there and I obviously know a lot of people that use it. I recently saw the movie [The Social Network] and thought it was brilliant. I actually went for professional reasons and ended up being very entertained.

But I maintain that consumers haven’t finished searching through algorithms just because they can ’search’ through peers and friends. Just like in the real world, you use the web to ask your friends and peers what they’re up to, what they’re doing and what they think about stuff but you also go to experts and you shop around.

Facebook has given people a set of tools to share information and content but search is still a very powerful element to the locating of necessary information. They work very well together.

MW: How then, especially in the face of new competitors such as Bing, do you plan to keep evolving your search capability?

MB: We tend to focus on users and their behaviour rather than our competitors. But it’s great that Microsoft is investing more time in doing search better as it means more choice and means we have to keep raising our game.

In the past few months we have launched [search index] Caffeine, where we rebuilt our back end of search – the bit users don’t see. People now crawl a far larger, richer web more frequently so we had to ensure we could find new stuff more often and bring it to people quicker.

Then there is Google Instant, which saves people time by predicting what their search terms are with every new letter they enter into the search box. Speed is sometimes the forgotten killer application of digital and being able to do things fast is really important. The faster we deliver results and get people off our home page and onto what they are looking for faster, the more useful they find our service.

MW: In what other ways do you see our use of the web evolving?

MB: Thirty-five hours of video is now uploaded to YouTube every minute. We are moving from a web that is principally text-based to one that is much richer. Video allows users to see body language and understand the proper tone of content. It’s much more of an emotional medium. People are participating in video in a way that once only the BBC and ITV could do. Text to video is the next big communications revolution.

MW: You launched Google TV in the US. What is it and can the UK expect something similar?

MB: The intent is to bring the web and TV together. In the majority of UK homes with broadband, people sit and surf while watching TV on at least a weekly basis. We want to put that functionality onto the TV set because currently you have a very smart screen on your mobile, laptop or tablet, but the TV screen is really dumb. You can’t access all the stuff that you can on your mobile, which means sitting quite uncomfortably watching the TV with the laptop open on your legs. Google TV brings the internet to television – apps, full web browsing and an easy-to-use interface. We’ll see how it goes in the US. We would like to get it ready for a UK launch and elsewhere but there is no date yet.

MW: You spent big on a recent advertising campaign for your new online display offerings. Is this a growing part of the Google offering?

MB: We’ve invested a lot of effort in trying to bring some of the science, targeting and sophistication of search into online display. With our ad exchange, we can offer website publishers the real-time ability to decide on which impression to serve to make them most money from their ad space. By offering an auction in the instant that a page is loading, we give the best possible return on that space. In old media terms it gives you the best possible yield on your ad inventory.

It gives the website publisher the best price, the advertiser gets better leads and website users receive highly targeted advertising. I think CMOs are starting to get it, but this kind of marketing requires a high degree of analytical skills and digital understanding as well as the classic requirements of creativity, ideas and a sense of what the customer wants.

MW: This time last year Google CEO Eric Schmidt unveiled the company’s ’mobile first’ strategy. Was 2010 the long-awaited year of the mobile?

MB: People talk a lot about the year of the mobile, but I don’t even think we’ve had the year of the internet yet.

If you look at marketing spend on the internet versus time, attention and engagement spent on the internet, we’re not there yet. As for mobile, we’re just at the beginning. The big inflection point comes with the adoption of smartphones and the increasing use of internet on those devices.

We get 30 times more searches on iPhones or Android phones than we do on, say, a BlackBerry or a similar device that doesn’t have a full HTML browser. Marketers have to figure out how consumers are using their mobiles. We know, for example, that one in five desktop searches has a location element whereas one in three mobile searches has a location element.

MW: Android is reportedly the fastest growing mobile operating system. What do you think you’re doing right?

MB: We want to make accessing the internet on your mobile phone easier. When we looked around at people accessing the internet through desktop computers, we observed that browsers were slow because they had been built 10 years earlier when the internet was text based and nothing like as rich as it is now.

That led us to building [internet browser] Chrome. In the year since we launched Chrome, everyone else’s browsers have got better and faster. That’s a win as far as we are concerned because we want people to have a better internet experience.

We made Chrome open source, which means anyone can take the code used to build it and incorporate it into their browser. The same goes for Android, which is about accessing the internet more easily on your mobile phone and making it easier for developers to create applications for different handsets, networks and countries.

Before Android was adopted by different manufacturers and network operators this was difficult. Every phone had a different operating system. With Android we’re trying to increase the range of devices that a developer can use it in.

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