Google’s Brian Bershad on the Search Giant’s “Second Act,” and Building More Trust

3/13/09Follow @xconomy

Google owns the world’s most popular Internet search engine, but to hear the leader of the company’s Seattle site talk, building that was “the easy part.” All the information on the Internet was free and available for indexing with its clever algorithms, but that’s just a tiny fraction of the world’s information, when you start thinking about books, business documents, photos, videos, e-mails, voicemails, instant messages, technical databases, and more.

“The Web was wide open,” Brian Bershad said this morning in Seattle during a presentation at the Science & Technology Discovery Series hosted by the Technology Alliance. “With non-Web data, we need to get people to give it to us, and we need to give them a reason to.”

This “second act” in Google’s quest to organize all the world’s information and make it accessible is what got Bershad, a former University of Washington computer science professor, fired up about becoming Google’s Seattle site director in 2007. The search engine is now used by 597 million unique visitors a month, and is responsible for 60 percent of all Web searches, he said. Google now has about 20,000 employees, and about 350 engineers between its sites in Kirkland, WA and Seattle, he says. At the very beginning of his talk, Bershad made sure to put up a disclaimer about how some of the things he said are his opinions, and not always necessarily the company’s. I doubt he said anything that’s going to stir trouble in Mountain View, CA, but there you have it.

So here were some of the highlights of his talk:

On the “user experience”: One of Google’s clever insights early on was that users preferred a clean, uncluttered page to do searches. Now the company has “long fights” in-house about things like whether search results should show up in blue letters or red, or which information should be placed on the left or right side of the page. It may sound trivial to some, but it matters a lot, Bershad says. When Google experimented with putting sponsored links in red to draw more attention to them, it found it could draw more clicks, and more revenue, but people didn’t stay with the ads as long, and it turned off some customers. So they switched back to baby blue text for sponsored links. “If we give our users a great experience, we’ll make money,” he said.

On keeping Google searches up to speed with breaking news: Bershad told the story … Next Page »

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