Home Page About Me SpencerBrodsky.com
Interviews Galleries Quotes

 

An Interview With

David Krane
June 19, 2007

 

 

 

Introduction:

Not many know more about Google than David Krane, Director of Communications at this massive facility in Mountain View, about thirty minutes south of San Francisco. One who may know almost as much is David Vise, author of The Google Story. I was privileged to interview him last summer. In the search for more information, I traveled to the Google campus and tumbled onto this walking Google encyclopedia named David Krane.

"So we’re basically flirting with ideas and a number of different layers as part of a unified common vision that Google intends to be a responsive green citizen."- David Krane

"The short-term, near-term gratification isn’t a model that is appealing to us."-David Krane

Our meeting began with an explanation about TED.

Mr. Krane


Let me tell you about his conference is called TED, which stands for Technology Entertainment Design. Google it, use Yahoo search, I don’t care, you’ll find it. And they have a series on their website that you can search for called TED Talks. And this is the, I think preeminent convening event for people in the technology, entertainment, and design industry. A lot of global leaders come to this, a lot of philanthropists, a lot of designers, a lot of architects, a lot of technologies. A sample of the people that come, Dean Camin who invented the Segway comes every year, Larry and Serge go every year, Bill Clinton was at this one, leaders of African nations came this year to tell us about important work that’s going on in Ruwanda, photojournalists come and show you really, you know earth changing projects that they’re working to expose human rights and human rights violations more importantly. Pierre Omidyar, the founder of EBay comes every year, Jeff Bezos the found of Amazon comes every year. It’s an amazing collection of people, speakers, etc.

TED Talks is their online initiative where they actually unlock portions of the conference and make it available for people to view for free. You will see talks by people you can’t even get to, as good as your network is, that are so amazing and so inspiring. It will certainly inform some of the work you’re doing for this book, but maybe give you some ideas of other people to reach out to or talk to.

Are you going to Seattle on this trip? Are you going all the way north? The Seattle Public Library which is really, really well-known. I don’t know if you know anything about them. The architecture is actually stunning. The methodology that went into how to organize information in an analog sense in a library, absolutely fascinating. The architect that did that project spoke at TED a couple of years ago. It is one of the most interesting talks that I’ve heard there. You’ll love this stuff. It will really, really inspire you so put that on your list.

 


Spencer:


As the Director of Communications at Google what are your responsibilities?


Mr. Krane


So it use to be as Director of Communications I looked after almost everything that the company did. Now that we’re bigger, certainly a multinational corporation, I’m lucky because I have several counterparts who are also directors who can divide my workload, my previous workload. The bulk of my time is spent in two areas. The first being the aspect of our business gets devoted to how we make money. So the fancy clinical word that we use is called monetization. Google has a number of advertising programs as you know that what I enjoy about them is I truly believe Google is one of the very first companies to make money at scaling the Internet, but doing it in a way without offending people. It’s a very user friendly, kind of gentle display of advertising. Text only in most cases. It’s very subtle, yet because the ads are so relevant and they’re carefully targeted they’re actually useful.

Our philosophy is that advertising is actually information. It shouldn’t be an interruption and therefore, you know, that’s the core philosophy. So that’s where I spend most of my time.

The other area I spend a lot of time is on our international communications. So I look after Asian Pacific and Latin America. And so Google’s business is growing very quickly in these parts of the world. We’ve had some challenges you know about. We’ve had lots of great wins in these areas, and the next two, or three, or four billion Google users are not going to come from North America, they’re going to come from these geographies so that’s what’s interesting to me. Our business feels very entrepreneurial, it feels like a start-up, we have a lot of competition in these markets and it’s not kind of like being a little bit fat and happy like we are in other parts of the world. So those are the two areas I spend a lot of my time.

The third area, just having been here for so long is I spend a lot of time working with our executives. I’ve known Larry [Page] and Serge [Brin] for seven and a half years, I’ve known Eric [Schmidt] since he got here in 2001 and I spend a lot of time working with our executive team and helping these guys tell our story and respond to both the exciting things we talk about and some of the crazy things that we do too.


Spencer:


What is the current status of Google’s role in the Human Genome Project and how will this mix of technology and medicine be used?


Mr. Krane


We plug into that in several different ways. And I say really no drastic change now from where we were when David [Vise] wrote about it. Bioengineering, Human Genome Project, etc satiates one of the core appetites here which is driven by intellectual curiosity. This is an area the company is very interested in. We hope that Google can make a substance of impact in this part of the world and as part of computer science and engineering in a meaningful way, yet I can’t say we have something really deliberate and really substance to announce today. You probably read a little bit, we’re flirting with lots of experiments right now. Human Genome Project and some work there is interesting. We work with a group at Stanford called folding at home where we take the Google toolbar and leverage unused CPU cycles on a computer and make contributions to a large data mining effort there. We have a philanthropic arm now since the book as written. It’s very formal, called Google.org. These guys are looking at investments and contributions in this area as well. But again it’s a lot of parallel lines that are sort of running off at some unknown point in the distance. Not a lot of convergence right now. Not a lot of calculated umbrella strategy. It’s a passion we have. It’s an intellectual curiosity, but nothing that’s too mature today.


Spencer:


The much anticipated iPhone from Apple is soon to be released and Google Maps is an important feature. What more can we expect from the partnership between Apple and Google?


Mr. Krane


We’re very lucky because our CEO Eric Schmidt is a board member of Google who also happens to be a board member of Apple so thankfully we have a great opportunity to keep the lines of communication at the highest level open on a very regular basis. Maps are an obvious application that will run well on the iPhone. Mobile as a category, is an area that’s becoming increasingly important to Google in the last two years. And you hear our executives constantly in conferences and in public forums saying mobile, mobile, mobile, that’s what’s next for Google.

So I would argue that basically anything that we do and we engineer to run in a mobile device should certainly run on the iPhone. Whether it’s Gmail, I use Gmail on my blackberry, on my cell phone and it works really, really well. I use web search on both of those environments and it works really, really well. Maps, driving directions, traffic, some of the other things we’re intersecting with maps. All of those various layers I think will run very well on an i Phone. Some of the stuff we do in imagining and photos, photo hosting, etc, those will run really well on the iPhone because the screen is so big, the resolution is so clear, etc. So yeah, I’m pretty confident you will see a lot of Google on the iPhone.


Spencer:


Google street view, as you know, gives a panoramic view as people standing in the street. How is this technology achieved if you can tell us and if you have plans to expand this all over the world?


Mr. Krane


Sure. The answer is yes to the second question. Everything we build we don’t just build for a U.S. audience or an English speaking audience, we’re a global country. And of course when we do this we study local markets very carefully to make sure that culturally something like this wouldn’t be viewed as shocking or an imposition or potentially illegal.

But three dimensional information like this that is available for public view is an important part of this larger mission we have which is to organize all of the world’s public information. We built this using a series of vehicles that are equipped with state of the art camera and lens devices that we engineered through multiple sets of lenses that sit in kind of a circular fashion on top of the vehicle. And these guys literally drive and use lasers to kind of line up their shot at a very rapid shutter speed and they just consume, consume, consume as much imagery as they can. All the imagery is fed to an onboard hard drive which then is later dumped into our systems first for some tuning and calibration before we make it available for street view.


Spencer:


And are you currently working in the cities in the United States?


Mr. Krane


We are. And we have to finish the coverage in the four or five cities that we started, but we’re also kind of revving our engines to move in to some other markets as well.


Spencer:


It is really an exciting process.


Mr. Krane


Seeing it in high resolution. To be able to navigate within that window, love it.


Spencer:


You don’t have flash installed on some of your computers…..


Mr. Krane


….Which is strange because flash engineering has become like central to what we’re doing these days so we need to fix that.


Spencer:


In Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, he acknowledges that there are still some three billion people in poor and rural areas who live in an unflat world. What is Google doing to extend the flat world beyond it’s current borders?


Mr. Krane


Bringing Google to basically every language in the world is one step. Google is supported in roughly 115 languages around the world. That wasn’t the case seven years ago, even five years ago. We also, particular through this philanthropic effort called Google.org, are looking at underdeveloped nations, countries, markets, environments, etc and figuring out what kind of impact can we have today because a lot of these countries aren’t ready for the Internet yet or are not ready for Google. So we’ve made an investment and a very important initiative led out of the MIT New Media Lab by Nicholas Negroponte. I think it’s now the $150 laptop project. This is a fascinating piece of technology. For about $150 these guys have engineered a laptop computer that uses very clever network and technology called Mesh Networking Technology to connect to the Internet through Wifi. It has a hand crank on it to basically keep the battery alive. It has some very interesting LCD technology in the screen so it works in desert in environments in Africa where the sun is very hot. So Google is an investor in this project.

This is one great example, to answer your question about the kind of contribution we can have. We also made a public investment in a Internet service provider in India for example. There’s a part of India where, they weren’t ready for Google yet because they didn’t have the access to the Internet so Google helped fund a local ISP that was doing work that could bring the Internet to these users and with that Google will follow. So we’re looking for lots of ideas and opportunities like that where we can make a difference. And it doesn’t have to be Google specific, it could be at the infrastructure level.


Spencer:


Serge Brin and Larry Page developed this phenomenal search engine that changed the way we use the Internet. What lessons can we learn from their success?


 


So, as I mentioned to you guys earlier one of the things that is surprising about Google, but is also magical about Google is the core business plan. The core set of objectives that Larry and Serge set out to pursue in 1998 when they got really serious about building a company. We haven’t deviated from that dramatically at all. Larry and Serge absolutely run this business, for the long-term, not the short-term. And that’s evident in numerous different ways and I think that’s a piece of advice that is very, very important for other entrepreneurs to follow as well. The short-term, near-term gratification isn’t a model that is appealing to us, you know. We are very, very committed to doing this for the long-term, and most importantly, doing this for our users interest first.


Mr. Krane


I love sitting in meetings here where we’re talking about the development of a new technology and there isn’t any discussion at all about how we’re going to make money. I love that. It’s first and foremost our job is to bring and add new value to users. Later, if it’s appropriate, we’ll figure out a way to monetize those services. So the user focus and the long-term focus I think are two of the secret star successes here.


Spencer:


Can you explain the C limate Savers Computer Initiative and what other measures is Google undertaking to help the environment?


Mr. Krane


Sure. So we talked about some of the other examples earlier, but I’ll replay them for you. The c limate savers commuter initiative is really targeted at the most egregious offender in our business which are these mountains and mountains of computers that live in our data centers that run Google. Those are by far the largest consumer of energy in our business, much more so than our offices and the radio over there that is playing music, etc. So this is a consortium of Google, Intel, other leading industry players that have teamed together to look at a number of technologies within the computing stack. For example, power supplies. To find a way to reengineer these technologies to make them more efficient, more green, more environmentally friendly.

Other things that Google is doing, we’re not resting just in that area. We’re very involved in solar for example as I mentioned earlier. Just yesterday we light up the world’s largest commercial instillation of solar panels, certainly the largest in the states, likely the largest in the world which yields 1.6 megawatts of energy, about enough to power 1,000 homes across California. We’re very excited, very proud of that. We just announced yesterday about 11 million dollars of funding and rolled out six proof of concept vehicles that are part of a new trend called plug in hybrid electric vehicles, PHEV’s. And these are literally garden variety Toyota Prius that have been reengineered to essentially derive their power by plugging directly in to the solar panel grid. So they get their power from the sun. Really impressive technology, it’s for a hybrid vehicle.

We’re also doing things such as where we’re sitting in this building here at Google, it’s called building 43. A number of the materials that have gone into this building are very environmentally friendly, low lead paints for example, carpets that are free of the toxic fumes and chemicals that you typically find in commercial carpet, window coverings for example that have dropped in a landfill and eventually biodegrade, they don’t take up unnecessary space in the earth. The brown wooded staircase that you see is all reclaimed timber for example. So we’re basically flirting with ideas and a number of different layers as part of a unified common vision that Google intends to be a responsive green citizen.


Spencer:


It is reported that Google spent over three billion to acquire Double Click. What will this do for Google?


Mr. Krane


It takes Google into entirely new business that we don’t do. It takes Google into a business where we can build a much larger network of partners that will accept advertising from Google. Again, the same kind of advertising we talked about before, user friendly, very tasteful advertising that’s appropriately attributed. Double Click is presenting ads to other websites on the Internet and they have a line of share of that market. And the type of ads that they’re an expert at presenting are graphical ads or what we call in the industry display ads. Google’s expertise is more or less text advertising.


Spencer:


Like ad words?


Mr. Krane


Exactly. So what this does is it brings a new format of advertising plus a whole new set of partners that can make our overall kind of global part of advertising much bigger and much more diverse. It also brings 1,000 new employees in the most important media market in the world, Manhattan, that can really help accelerate our business on a number of other levels.


Spencer:


Tell me about your partnership with the nation’s largest radio broadcaster, Clear Channel?


Mr. Krane


You bet. The Clear Channel deal is great. It’s a big point for our hunger and our interest in taking the expertise that we’ve learned in search advertising and online advertising and bringing it to say more traditional environments, radio, television, print, etc. Clear Channel again is another one of these advertising partnerships where they are giving to Google inventory of air time if you will across about 750 stations across the nation during premium spots all throughout the day. And what Google’s responsibility to do is to find advertisers that subsequently create radio ads that we can then dynamically insert into those windows of advertising time that Clear Channel gives to us.

Clear Channel is the most dominant company in the industry for radio. This is the most attractive space if you’re interested in radio advertising, and what it does for Google is it gives us an opportunity to do some of the hard work for them, finding the advertisers, presenting the advertisers to their stations in real time, and then we share the bulk of the revenue with Clear Channel. So it’s a new revenue stream for Clear Channel. It’s a new exposure opportunity for Google advertisers who may not have otherwise found their way on to radio and we provide a lot of tools and technologies to measure the response and the precision and the effectiveness of radio advertising that really wasn’t otherwise possible before. We are very excited about this for a number of reasons.


Spencer:


One last question. Are you able to tell me about any new Google programs currently developing?


Mr. Krane


Probably not would be the high level comment. But I can tell you a little about trends just to give you some categories.

I mentioned earlier mobile, mobile, mobile. You can expect to see a lot of work in this area in the wireless and mobile space because again as you know it’s not all about accessing the Internet from a desktop computer anymore or a laptop. Lots of cultures that I do a lot of work in myself, Japan for example, many of the people we work with interact and serve in Japan, their primary Internet access experience isn’t through a desktop PC, it’s through a mobile phone, very, very important. Other trends, online applications, so think of spreadsheets, word processors, presentation software, etc. A big trend in the industry is a lot of stuff is moving on to the web and moving off of software programs that run locally on your PC. So we have a number of product offerings in this area.

We have three big pillars to our business: search, advertising, and apps. So I think that mobile and apps, we’re going to clearly layer into those buckets.


Spencer:


And what’s the status of Google books because I know that was big maybe two years ago?


Mr. Krane


Moving forward, excuse me, moving forward at a clip that we’re very pleased at. Yes, there have been some challenges there, some litigation, some copyright. With that said we have a number of partnerships with publishing companies today, they’re very excited about this. Another more exciting aspect I think is the work that we’re doing and the progress we’re making with library partners. We started with about a half dozen libraries initially, University of Michigan, Harvard, etc. And now I think we’ve expanded that to, you know, a large number of additional partners all over the world in places like Oxford, other parts of Western Europe, etc. And we have large operations that are set up in all of these locations where we are in a very respectful, nondestructive way scanning and digitizing a lot of this information. Especially content that’s out of copyright that’s available in the public domain, stitching it together in a large database that people are using to search and find information.


Spencer:


Is the vision to actually read books or is it about more to find information through the books?


Mr. Krane


The vision is not to read books at all in Google. It’s to find more information, to augment your searches, and then to subsequently be able to click over if the book is for sale and be able to buy it through one of our partners. You see Barnes and Noble.com links, Amazon.com links, etc. So again we don’t want to be in this business of replacing those industries, you don’t want to replace libraries, etc, but as you know libraries can only have a finite collection of books and for geographic reasons I can’t get myself to the library very quickly I would love to have access to their collection to augment the research I’m doing. Google books makes that possible.


Spencer:


Thank you very much, that’s all my questions.


Mr. Krane


My pleasure, absolutely my pleasure.