Blog Archive

22 June 2007

Paris and Google Press Day? Zut Alors!

Some of you already know what I got up to earlier this week; I went to Paris to live-blog Google Press Day 2007. If you’re interested, you can read all about the day’s announcements on Google Blogoscoped, but here’s a more personal (and quite lengthy) account of what happened over those couple of days...

I was flying out from Manchester Airport on Monday lunchtime, so I stayed at my parents’ over the weekend and started my journey at Bolton train station. While I was waiting on the platform, I was kept amused by a random drunk nutter telling some guy how he’d played on stage with loads of famous bands, like “Franks Ferdinand”.

When I got on the train, the guy the nutter was ranting to was on his mobile loudly telling someone all about it. I had no choice but to listen in. “I’ve just been chatting to that busker [the nutter] who was in the video. He’s given me his address and wants a copy of the DVD. Can we send him one? Who should I give his address to?” After getting someone’s name, he continued. “Yeah, the gig was brilliant. Everyone said it sounded really good. Shall we just tell Jay he’s on the monitors at Glastonbury?” So, I’d managed to establish that he was linked to a band, presumably playing at Glastonbury. “Sorry, this is a bad line. I’ll call you later.” And then he hung up, leaving me wondering who he was.

I arrived at Manchester Airport a few minutes later, checked in for my flight and bought a copy of Q. Imagine my surprise when I turned to page 20 and saw the guy from the train! Turns out that he’s Bolton-born singer-songwriter Simon Aldred, more commonly known as Cherry Ghost. I’ve no idea what his stuff is like, but he’s been on Later... With Jools Holland and one of his tunes – People Help The People – is one of Q’s 50 essential tracks to download this month, so I’ll have to check it out.

My flight was delayed by just over an hour but I finally arrived at Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport and waited for my train. On the platform were two French chavs, one of which was playing crap French music through her crap, tinny-sounding mobile phone speakers. It’s both disturbing and reassuring to see that this isn’t just a British phenomenon. When the train arrived, it was crammed, dirty and far too hot. I reckon it was actually worse that the one we got to Headlingly!

Anyway, I finally got to my hotel with around 90 minutes to spare before I had to get on a coach at the Marriott that would take us to dinner. Plenty time for a shower and a leisurely stroll. Or so I thought. As it turns out, the map Google provided wasn’t entirely accurate, so I had to phone Suzy at work and get her to give me better directions. After making my way towards the wrong Marriott (there are apparently several in Paris) I had to resort to running(!) to make sure I made the coach pickup. Red-faced, sweaty and out of breath, I finally arrived at the right Marriott with blisters on my feet only to be told that there was no rush because the second coach wasn’t leaving for another 10 minutes. Thankfully, the coach had air-conditioning so I managed to cool off a bit before we arrived.

The venue for dinner was a small restaurant and marquee on the river, with a view of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. Danny Sullivan (of was behind me in the queue for name badges. Danny overheard me stating my name and publication, joked that Google Blogoscoped wasn’t really a publication and introduced himself. Danny and I then shared a table with a member of Google’s PR team in India and a few newspaper reporters from Paris, Israel, Turkey and India. The food selection was pretty impressive; canapés on arrival (including a rather disgusting combination of chocolate, foie gras and what I think was some kind of cherry jelly or liqueur), a choice of terrines for starter, duck breast in a creamy mushroom sauce served with vegetables and some kind of bulgur-wheat-like substance for main course, and then a wonderful variety of desserts. After plenty of talking, listening, eating and drinking, we headed back to get some rest before our early start the following day.

Having picked up an agenda for Press Day, I thought I’d go back to the hotel, connect to the Wi-Fi and make a post about the evening. That’s when I found out that (a) the Wi-Fi wasn’t free and (b) the Wi-Fi didn’t work. So, I reluctantly paid €8 for a card which gave me 60 minutes of Internet time in the hotel lobby and battled with the French keyboard to post the agenda. Other than the annoying French keyboard, the Internet kiosk was a normal Windows 98 PC that had been locked down with software so that you had to enter the code from the card to use the Internet from its restricted browser. Except, as I learned while I was making my post, you could simply press Ctrl+N to circumvent the software completely and open a new, clean Internet Explorer window – even when your paid-for Internet time is up!

After a terrible night’s sleep (too noisy with the window open; too hot with the window closed) I was taken by coach to Google Press Day 2007 to start my live-blogging. When I arrived, I looked for a seat near the front with a power socket nearby because my laptop only has a battery life of around two hours and the day was going to last about four hours. Luckily, I managed to find a socket to give my laptop a recharge during the morning break and lunch hour. Throughout the day, the Wi-Fi was a bit flaky, as was most of the electrical equipment after a member of the catering staff managed to make a table collapse that was supporting loads of glasses and a few large vases, smashing them all and causing water to drip through the ceiling of the room below, directly above the stage, the lighting rig, projectors, microphones, laptop and front two rows of seating!

After four hours of live-blogging, taking photos and asking questions, Press Day was finally over and a coach took us to the airport, where I managed to catch a well-deserved power nap. My flight home was then delayed by an hour or so (again) due to thunderstorms and lightning in Paris, which meant I had to get a later train from Manchester Airport to Sheffield and eventually arrived home at around 01:30.

What a busy couple of days, eh? I saw Cherry Ghost, experienced a bit of Paris, met Danny Sullivan, got a photo with Marissa Mayer, asked Eric Schmidt some questions, saw a real iPhone (when Eric whipped his out of his pocket for a few seconds just to show off) and had a brilliant time at Google’s first Press Day in Europe and my first attempt at live-blogging from an event!

Many, many thanks for sending me Philipp!

Update: 23 June 2007 (10:54)
I’ve now uploaded all my photos to Flickr and added some links to them in the post.

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19 June 2007

Google Press Day 2007

Today (from 10:00 - 16.20 CET) Google is holding their press day event in Paris. Marissa Mayer, Eric Schmidt, Urs Hölzle as well as the YouTube founders will be there, and there may be some product announcements. I’m in Paris and will be live-blogging the event for you here.



  1. Nikesh Arora on Google’s growth
  2. YouTube’s new local sites, and the founders looking back at YouTube’s past
  3. Marissa Mayer (and a power outage)
  4. Urs Hölzle on environmental issues
  5. CEO Eric Schmidt speaks

Nikesh Arora on Google’s growth

Google says this is the first press day in Europe, and that they prepared a lab upstairs to look at some of their products. Nikesh Arora (Google President for Europe, Middle-East & Africa operations) is speaking now. Products are growing, as the slide illustrates.

Nikesh explains how Arabic users interact with their products in right-to-left, explaining how his job is to look over all this. The number of local employees went from 598 in 2005 to 2,500 now, and there are 20,000 bottles of water drunk by Googler employees in Europre in 2007! (They look after their employees.)

YouTube’s new local sites, and the founders looking back at YouTube’s past

As you can see on’s upper right side navigation, YouTube is now available in local versions for Brazil, France, Ireland, Italia, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and UK. (For instance, redirects to, showing a Spanish interface, with many – but not exclusively – Spanish videos.) The press pack confirms the launch of these local sites, adding that “Today’s announcement is a first step towards fully localized sites in each of the 9 countries.” YouTube say they’ve signed various major content partners, like the BBC, France 24, the Spanish Antena 3 and Cuatro TV, as well as football clubs, and non-profit organizations like Greenpeace.

The press release says, “As part of this first-stage rollout, each respective site is fully translated, with local homepages and search functions. Over time, each local site will benefit from an entirely “local” experience that will allow for country-specific video rankings and comments, as well as Video, Channel, Categories and Community sections.”

The YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen are now on stage. Steve starts by talking about the YouTube mission, and why they started the site. Back in January 2005, they were having a dinner party and took pics and videos of each other. They found it easy to share pics online, but videos were more difficult; they were too large to email, codecs and transcoding was complicated. Back then they figured more and more people would have this problem so they sought a solution, and came up with YouTube. The mission is still the same, they say: listen to the community and continue to innovate.

After a while, they started to see that people were creating content without a real target audience – people were just doing it for the masses to see. And people wanted to enjoy bursts of entertainment. This proved to be a powerful promotion and distribution platform, as users could watch what they want, where they wanted, the founders say.

They also saw a “clip culture” emerge. From “Lazy Monday” over “Lazy Muncie” to “Laazy Ramadi,” more people aspired to create their own videos based on the original viral clip created by Saturday Night Live. And communities began to span across the site, the founder says. Users responded to people with videos, and “celebrities” were emerging on YouTube.

The site also found new user: musicians who never had a way to do this before were now filming music videos, for instance. Also, policitians were now using the site to deliver messages to the voters. And partners began embracing the site as well, the founders say, from NBC and Sony BMG to CBS and Universal. Finally, advertisers came along. Chad and Steve mention how they always looked at the YouTube platform as a convergence between three user groups: content creators, viewers and advertisers.

Where’s the site today? YouTube’s vision is “to entertain, inform and empower the world through video”. The traffic soars; there were hundreds of millions of videos watched in 2007, hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded daily – that’s more than 6 hours of video uploaded every minute, the two say.

And where will the site be in the future? The founders list three areas of focus:

Sakina Arsiwala (responsible for making YouTube available internationally) and Patrick Walker (Head of Video Partnerships) continue the speaking. Tony Blair’s video channel on YouTube is cited as a content partnership. The Tour de France, on the other hand, is a branded channel (allowing partners to use their own design elements on the site). The Spanish football club Real Madrid also launched a branded channel yesterday, and BBC launched three such channels in March, with YouTube looking to experiment on a “content playground.” Some channels are locked with YouTube IP detection so that they can only be watched in certain regions.

The talks are followed by a questions & answers session. A question several people asked was why there’s no German version of YouTube yet. The answer: there just weren’t enough resources yet to do so – they’re just not ready yet. There was no information on how they selected the regions for which localized versions went live now. The YouTube team was also questioned on their censorship stand, answering “We’re working with Google to create a set of policies and have technologies in place to control how content is being used on the site. We want to respect local laws and local policies.”

Marissa Mayer (and a power outage)

Marissa (Vice President Search Products & User Experience) is expected to speak right about now. But as Piotr reports, “According to Murphy’s law... we have a power outage and Marissa Mayer is doing her presentation without slides ;) WiFi is dead, waiting...” The air con’s gone too. What happened was that someone knocked a table upstairs and some vases and glasses of water smashed. This made water come through the ceiling downstairs right above the stage!

Marissa’s talk will continue after lunch. So far, she spoke about the core principles and components of search – the four answers which create the entire experience that you have on Google:

  1. Comprehensiveness
  2. Relevance - Which goes first? Apples, oranges or grapes? This is what they’re doing with websites, Marissa says: it’s a question of ranking and ordering the results, the question being how can they rank the results in the most relevant way possible?
  3. Speed - Marissa says they’re constantly working on making Google faster and faster.
  4. User Experience - Google asks themselves, “Do the results make sense? Is it easy or hard to understand the answers and the layout of the pages?”

With that in mind, Marissa says she wants to take a look at Google’s past, present and future. In the early days, around 1998, the world wide web would fit on one slide. This year is Marissa’s 8th year at Google, and they now have 10s of billions of slides, grown by more than a factor of 1000 in eight years. Back then, you could organize all websites in a manual directory, as Yahoo did, but as the web exploded search became a necessary tool.

Google is constantly working to crawl and include more and more content, Marissa says. In June 2000, a year after Marissa joined, it was the time of GIGA Google – 1 billion web pages crawled. Next search engine had 600 million. As you include more pages, relevance becomes a problem. In the early days, users got used to hunting and pecking at results. Google realized their job was to provide the best result first, and that if they did their job right, the user shouldn’t have to click “next” or even scroll. This lead to the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, which has by now been translated into many languages.

Basically Marissa says Google realized they only had a few users, but they started to see the user base grow due to people getting better search results – which made it spread across the US and internationally.

Marissa says there are a lot of speed advances in the past 20 years. Two decades ago, you’d go to the library, look things up, get journals out and find your answer. Many questions would go unanswered because it wasn’t worth spending hours researching some questions. Then, you could email friends and sometimes they had the right answers. But with internet search, people could get answers within a second. But at some point, Google will be up against the constants of physics – though they’re aiming for light speed searches.

In an early Q&A that followed, Marissa was asked about the size of Google’s index and told the press it is “10s of billions of pages” and “three times bigger than next nearest rival.” (I wonder what Yahoo has to say on that...) Also, someone mentions how Jason Calacanis thinks the internet is polluted, and that we need a human edited search engine. Marissa replies that when the ’net is large & polluted, you need more sophisticated means to help people find information. Ideal, she says, is a “blend of both” an algorithmic search engine and a human-edited one.

After lunch break, the presentation continues, and Marissa shows screenshots of the evolution of the Google homepage over the last eight years (also have a look at an earlier post showing the Google homepage history). Apparently the first version of the homepage was so simple in the because co-founder Sergey Brin didn’t know much HTML. Marrissa adds that her family gives her a hard time over the look of the Google search result pages, as they say, “It looks the same! What do you do at work?”

Marissa goes on to speak about improvements to web search. One example are Google’s alternate queries; search for ABC Survivor, and Google understands the semantics of this query and suggests “CBS Survivor” as well. Marissa also mentions that that Google serves different results for different locations - e.g. Cote D’or in Australia will return the chocolate brand, but in France they’ll localize the results to the region in France. (And in Belgium, they’ll return both.) Speaking on the future of search, Marissa mentions the Cross Language Information Retrieval prototype that was launched at the Searchology event a month ago (search in one language, and find documents from other languages, translated back to your preferred language on the fly), and she reiterates the universal search concept, saying that “information silos” – Image search, Blog search, News, Video etc. – are united to break down search barriers.

Marissa also touches the subject of personalization. “I think the really powerful part about all this is that we can take information from Web History and iGoogle so that we can create a search engine of the future.”

In a second Q&A with Marissa, someone asks about potential copyright issues when the Cross Language Information Retrieval is republishing full pages for its translation service. Marissa admits that they translate search phrase, titles, descriptions and entire web pages, but that they believe this is legal with regards to copyright law. Another question mentions that Wikipedia is heavily featured in Google results; does Google have discussions about reliability and authenticity of any results, e.g. should the BBC website rank more highly than someone’s blog? Marissa answers that PageRank is user-driven by linking to pages. Links feed into page rank, anchor text, etc., so those types of links to Wikipedia happen because people like the content and link to Wikipedia pages.

Questioned on googlebombing, Marissa says that links on blogs often look like googlebombs when they’re not. But she also says that googlebombs often become the “right result” in itself because people searching for e.g. “miserable failure” actually want to find a page on George Bush! When asked how much Google invests in video image recognition, Marissa states that voice-to-text recognition is more important for video search because it’s further along than image recognition.

Urs Hölzle on environmental issues

Urs Hölzle (Google Senior Vice President, Operations) is speaking now. He says he’s on stage today because when it comes to energy, he’s the villain at Google... as he’s responsible for energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions. Google has a focus on cutting their emissions and “working to raise industry standards,” but the average Google data center catering to the internet’s many users and services wastes power. Computers use a lot of energy, which turns to heat, which needs cooling, which needs more energy. Urs says in a typical data center, up to 65% of the energy is lost – only 35% reaches the computers!

To tackle some of the issues, Google is committing to being carbon neutral by 2008. They already use evaporative cooling, Urs says, which according to him results in data centers that use “50% less energy than standard industry data centers.” Google also runs a shuttle service on Bio diesel in the San Francisco area, gives free bikes to employees, uses video conferencing to reduce travel, and has solar panels installed at their headquarter. Urs says that Google is “offsetting what is left,” which he says isn’t always the best, but a “good compromise.” Urs’ speech ties into yesterday’s announcement of Google Recharge, as well as the recent Climate Savers Initiate.

Also on stage speaking now is the French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who specializes in aerial photography and whose works have “both political and aesthetic connotations,” as Wikipedia writes. Yann talks about the people who are going to suffer with global warming. Jim Walker of the Climate Group – which Google joined last week – also makes an appearance, stating that Google’s announcements are “encouraging” and that they “reinforce their vision.”

CEO Eric Schmidt speaks

Eric’s talk begins now. “Search was, and is, and I suspect will be for many years, the killer application,” Eric says. “We have more engineers working at google on search than we do anything else.” And: “As the web gets bigger, you need a bigger index ... It’s like looking for more needles in larger haystacks.”

Personal search is the next big phonomena, Eric says. The best search is a personal search – one that we arrange, we control, etc. This is going to become the theme of Google as they move forward, Eric proclaims, stating that (and this surprises Eric) iGoogle is exploding in its use. Eric likens iGoogle to a ringtone as people love to personalize it.

Eric continues to say that Google likes to tackle things with the help of partners, sharing revenues, and that there are lots of challenges ahead; growth, society and the future. “What are the next billion people who come online going to do? Are they going to democratize the web? Are they going to bring more languages? I don’t know, but I know they’re going to come.” Eric mentions a Venezuelan TV station that survived by coming online... and using YouTube. This was an important event for the people of Venezuela.

Eric talks about how soon, it will be possible to walk up to a computer and make it yours: the “Be Mine” command. Securely, safely, without any question of theft. And then, when you’re done, you’ll say “Be Gone” and you’re logged out. Eric also mentions mobile phones, and during the beginning Q&A shows off by flashing his iPhone...

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Google Press Day 2007 Agenda

I’ve just returned from a dinner hosted by Google ahead of Tuesday’s press event. (I’m currently battling with a French keyboard and only have 60 minutes of Internet time, so this is going to be short but will have taken me ages to type!)

This evening’s dinner was hosted by Nikesh Arora (President EMEA Operations and EMEA Management Team), Elliot Schrage (Vice President Global Communications and Public Affairs) and the Google Press Team.

There’s not much to report back on, but the agenda for tomorrow is as follows:


10:00 - 10:10 Welcome by Nikesh Arora, President, EMEA Operations

10:10 - 11:15 Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, YouTube Founders, followed by Q&A

11:15 - 12:00 Break – opportunity to file copy

12:00 - 13:00 Marissa Mayer, Vice President, Search Products & User Experience, followed by Q&A

13:00 - 14:00 Lunch

14:00 - 15:00 Urs Hölzle Senior Vice President, Operations & Google Fellow, followed by Q&A*

15:00 - 16:20 Eric Schmidt, CEO, followed by Q&A

16:20 Press Day Ends

Unlike Google’s Press Day 2006, I’ve been told that there won’t be a live webcast. (Apparently Google couldn’t justify the cost given that most of the US would be asleep!) Instead, continuing the day’s YouTube theme, the press day will be filmed and all videos will be uploaded to YouTube later in the day, and the audio will be published as a podcast too. I’m told it will take around 2 hours to upload each 1 hour of video to YouTube, so if you want to be one of the first to know what’s happening, make sure you keep checking Google Blogoscoped, where I will hopefully be live-blogging the main announcements.

*I’m told Urs is in charge of Google’s datacenters, so that could be interesting for anyone interested in Google’s hardware!

Update: The live-blogging started.

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14 June 2007

Five Weeks of Facebook

Things have been a bit quiet on this blog recently. That’s partly because five weeks ago I finally signed up to Facebook, which is currently the best way to spend all your spare time doing nothing on the Internet. (More accurately, I received an invite to join Facebook from a friend, but since I wanted to use a different email address than the one where I’d received the invite, I had to register an account and then search for the friend who’d sent the invite in the first place... but more on that later.)

Facebook always seems to get mixed reactions; people either love it and can’t get enough of it, hate it because they don’t see the point, or like the idea but find it useless because they don’t have any friends (either on Facebook or in reality). When Chris joined, he described it as being “Friends Reunited done well. Or Friends reunited with Twitter and Flickr added on. And with blogger.” Coco signed up and hated it at first, but soon changed his mind once he’d got a few more friends and found out it had an API. Now he loves it so much that he’s written a Recipe Binder application for Facebook. Generally speaking though, the people who ‘get’ it and use it properly quickly become addicted to it. And I know this because I’ve seen loads of people update their status to things like, “Chris is addicted to Facebook.”

So what’s so good about Facebook then?

Here are five things:

  1. You can tag people in photos, enabling you to view all photos of your friends regardless of who took them. This makes it much more useful than Flickr when it comes to parties and group photos.

  2. Not only can you leave comments for your friends on their walls, but you can use the Wall-to-Wall feature to view your conversation with them in chronological order. The lack of a feature like that on MySpace confused the hell out of me.

  3. When you login, you see your News Feed which shows you what’s happening with all your friends, like who’s been writing on walls, which groups they’ve been joining, what their current status is, whether they’ve uploaded new photos. Again, MySpace had nothing like this. Checking all your friends’ profile pages for new stuff on MySpace is a right ball-ache.

  4. They have a pretty decent mobile version of the site at which lets you do most things, such as update your status, view profiles, write on walls and accept friend requests.

  5. They recently released a development platform so that anyone can write applications for Facebook. That’s good for Facebook (because they don’t have to bother doing much new development), good for users (because they get loads of useful or otherwise interesting applications) and good for developers (because they get to show off their skills and stuff).

And what’s bad about it?

Here are another five things:

  1. They’re sneaky bastards and ask you for your Gmail/Yahoo/Hotmail account password so that they can send invites to all your contacts. By making this part of the registration process, they’ve been hugely successful in spreading their Facebook love.

  2. If someone sends an invite to an email address other than the one you’ve got registered with Facebook – or the one you want to register with Facebook if you’re a new user – you can’t accept the invitation. When you click the link, you don’t get the option to login. This means you either have to login and search your friend or start messing about with parameters in query strings. While Facebook does allow you to add multiple email addresses to your account, I still got an invite the other day asking me to register even though I’d added that email address, so I don’t know what’s going on there.

  3. There’s no easy way to find out which people you’ve already sent friend requests. The closest you can get is the list of people who can view your profile on the Poke, Message and Friend Request Settings privacy page.

  4. There’s no option to remain signed in on the main site. However, the mobile version does leave you signed in. I guess this is because it was originally aimed at schools and universities where most people would probably be using shared computers. They should at least make this an option now.

  5. They recently released a Developer Platform so that anyone can write applications for Facebook. That’s bad for users because Facebook profiles will probably start to become overly cluttered and messy like most MySpace profiles, especially when some applications have a ‘viral invite system’ which essentially sends invites to all the friends of anyone who adds the application.

Of course, if I’m wrong about any of those points, let me know.

Facebook me!

Today’s blog post was brought to you by the number 5...

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