The world's most intriguing company
(Page 2 of 2)
Developing a PayPal-type service could open up new opportunities and revenue sources, Mr. Beal says. The possibilities might include an auction service, a video-on-demand service, or even its own version of iTunes. Think about it, he says. "You'd use the world's best search engine to find music, and then use Google Wallet to pay for it."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Google's two guiding statements - "Do no evil" and "Organize all the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" - say nothing overtly about computers, search engines, or ads.
But serving up advertising fits the mission because "we look at ads as information," says Tim Armstrong, vice president for advertising sales. Google believes it can target ads so specifically to each user that the ads will been seen as valuable content, not annoyances. After all, people like to read catalogs - collections of ads - points out Google cofounder Sergey Brin.
The more knowledge Google has about each user, the more it can make the online experience convenient and productive. But that also raises questions of privacy, and threatens to knock a leg out from under the company's "do no evil" edifice. To produce relevant ads, Google's computers must know what content is in the Web pages you visit and, in the case of Gmail, what's in your e-mail. A product to be launched shortly, Google Earth, will show detailed 3-D photos of much of the United States, right down to people's homes. Mr. Brin argues that these photos were previously available and not current, and don't provide enough resolution to threaten anyone's privacy.
Google's rush to put its brand on a slew of online services takes advantage of its "feel-good factor," Beal says. It already offers maps, a shopping guide, and specialized searches, such as news and images on the Web. The approach is similar to the way Richard Branson marketed his Virgin brand across a wide variety of products, he says.
But while it's busy pushing out products, the company doesn't seem to want to maximize its short-term financial gains. It regularly passes up opportunities to make money, Mr. Edwards says.
"Google is a very innovative company, but it's also managed in a very unconventional manner," he says. "We advise [investors] not to assume Google is going to launch any particular product [or try to make money from a product] until they do."
Among the company's quirks: not splitting its stock, which has soared from $85 to nearly $300 in less than a year, to make it more attractive, and not selling ads on its own ultrasimple home page (which contains what has been called the most valuable white space on the Internet). It also encourages employees to spend 20 percent of their time away from their usual work, experimenting with a project of their own choosing.
At a May "factory tour" for journalists and analysts, speakers were introduced with a "fun fact" about themselves. The job title for one employee, for example, is "Spam Cowboy and Porn Cookie Guy." Another, the visitors learned, is so obsessed with his job that he got married on his lunch hour.
The casual, fun-loving Silicon Valley image the company projects is hardly unique, Moore says. But it's combined, somewhat incongruously, with a tough attitude about its secrets - such as the algorithms it uses to index the Web.
"They do run a very tight ship," Beal says. "It's very difficult to get information out of anybody at Google."
But what's really remarkable about Google, Moore says, is how it's been able to stay in its protean "fetal state" much longer than most companies, which rush to define who they are and profit from it. "I think that's a testimony to its founding partners and to Eric Schmidt, who's doing everything he can to keep this freedom as long as he can."