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American Magazine Conference 2008

Google's Schmidt Says Internet 'Cesspool' Needs Brands

Says the Solution Is Quality Content; Tells Publishers and Editors to 'Increase Your Relevance'

By Published on . 5

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AdAge.com) -- The internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday. Speaking with an audience of magazine executives visiting the Google campus here as part of their annual industry conference, he said their brands were increasingly important signals that content can be trusted.

"Brands are the solution, not the problem," Mr. Schmidt said. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

Google CEO Eric Schmidt: 'We don't do content. You all create content.'
Google CEO Eric Schmidt: 'We don't do content. You all create content.' Credit: Doug Goodman

Welcome words
Those were welcome words for the editors and publishers who have been watching the internet draw more and more ad spending every year. Mr. Schmidt took aim, however, at the Association of National Advertisers for opposing Google's planned ad deal with Yahoo. The association has said the deal will diminish competition and help Google and Yahoo increase ad prices.

"If you're going to criticize us, criticize us correctly," Mr. Schmidt said. "We're guilty of many things, but that's not one of them."

In a talk that he structured mostly as an invitation for questions and ideas, Mr. Schmidt declined to advise magazines on looking more popular to Google's page-ranking programs.

"We don't actually want you to be successful," he said. The company's algorithms are trying to find the most relevant search results, after all, not the sites that best game the system. "The fundamental way to increase your rank is to increase your relevance," he added.

On the subject of print, especially newspapers as we have known them, Mr. Schmidt was decidedly gloomy. "The evidence is not good," he said, guessing that the print business will eventually comprise a smaller piece of publishers' much larger online businesses.

A 'natural partnership'
That said, magazines and other professional content creators are essential for Google's efforts to help people find desirable content, he explained. "We don't do content," he said. "You all create content. It's a natural partnership."

But when asked where the industry ends up if there aren't outlets willing to pay journalists to create quality content, Mr. Schmidt was a bit Palin-esque, saying that he didn't have an answer but one thing to look at is whether journalism should be a for-profit enterprise.

The future of quality editorial is, moreover, hardly certain. "It's a huge question in the world," Mr. Schmidt said, "particularly in the United States."

Branding, on the other hand, may be an essential element that helps people navigate the world, he said. "Brand affinity is clearly hard wired," he said. "It is so fundamental to human existence that it's not going away. It must have a genetic component."

His talk came as part of a broader program organized for the magazine executives by Google. Eileen Naughton, Google's director of media platforms, spoke first -- greeting many people she knew from her years as a magazine executive. She joined Google after Time Inc. eliminated 105 jobs, including hers, to cut costs in December 2005. Attendees also listened to tutorials from Twitter's chairman-chief product officer, Evan James; YouTube's head of client solutions and ad programs, Jamie Byrne; and RockYou's CEO and founder, Lance Tokuda.

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