During a fireside chat at Jupiter Research's Search Engine Strategies conference, Google co-founder Sergey Brin was asked when he realized just how iconic Google had become. Brin told the story of a user who turned to the popular search engine to determine whether a family member was having a serious heart attack and what actions to take. With that information in hand, the family got the victim quick medical attention, and a subsequent triple-bypass procedure saved his life. "That was a pretty significant moment," said Brin.
Despite such dramatic evidence of Google's impact, Danny Sullivan, the editor of SearchEngineWatch.com who conducted the Brin interview, joked that media reports comparing Google to God "sets the expectations kind of high."
Tell that to the audience of search professionals who after Wednesday's chat crowded Brin like groupies circling a rock star.
Naturally, the biggest question on many people's minds when it comes to Google is, When's the inevitable IPO? When Sullivan approached that topic, Brin said going public simply is not a priority for Google. He said the subject gets debated from time to time by the company's board, but that the potential financial windfall is offset by the perceived hassles an IPO would introduce. "It could really go either way," he said. "But we're very profitable, so we don't need the cash, and there's a significant management distraction involved in being a public company." Still, Brin admitted that "there's a good chance that eventually we will" go public.''
The half-hour chat roared through a wide range of topics, and Brin offered a number of insights about Google, its history, and the search market in general. Among them:
-After a year in which Google introduced a news search tool, a beta of its Froogle shopping search function, a new version of its increasingly popular toolbar, and severa small acquisitions, Brin clearly was anxious to see the pace of activity continue. "When you're heading downwind in a sailboat, you never feel like you're going anywhere," he said. "We always feel like we should be doing more."
-Brin made no bones about the fact that the greatest need of search engines is for more content worth finding. "You can't do a good job of search unless what you're looking for is out there."
-With Google now searching more than 3 billion Web pages, the company has no intent of sitting on its laurels when it comes to the way it searches for and presents information. "We fundamentally work with all of the world's knowledge," said Brin. "There are many, many things you can do, and we're not going to exhaust them any time soon."
* He longs for the days when Google operated under the radar while better known search engines jumped into the portal wars. At that time--the mid- to late 1990s, to be precise--the company was undistracted by mergers and acquisitions or competitive issues, and it could focus on technical development. "But we are where we are," said Brin, with a almost undetectable sigh.
* Brin is reserving judgment when it comes to the frenzy of consolidation in the search market over the past 9 months. Google has remained clear of the fray, and Brin is unconvinced that gobbling up competitors is good for the resulting companies. "These are getting to be complicated companies with lots of different products," he said. "I think the integration challenges are significant."
* The worst thing about Google in Brin's eyes? "Coping with growth," he said. How many companies would love to have that as their biggest problem?
One moment of brevity suggested just how powerful Google has become. Sullivan jokingly asked whether there were any chances Google might buy Microsoft, to which Brin responded, "I think there are a lot of liabilities we might inherit." When the laughs died down, the talk went on unimpeded, but one couldn't help but wonder: Maybe Google and God aren't that far apart after all.