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Google holds seminar for press on accurate story telling

'So transparent - you can see right through us'

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Like a well-travelled jellyfish, Google is now more transparent and international.

So a cavalcade of Google executives tried to convince reporters from all around the globe during an event held today at the Google Playground in Mountain View. The hacks arrived early in the morning, were shuttled from a nearby parking lot to the Google headquarters and served coffee from French Presses. Close to the main auditorium, hired actors played beach volleyball, while hairless adolescents made their way into the office for a hard day's work putting text ads on web pages.

We were lucky to make the Google Press Day given that our invitation arrived about 20 hours before the event started. Other reporters had weeks to prepare for the grueling news extravaganza, but then they write nicer stories. No matter. Google is all about openness now, and so our invitation did eventually arrive.

"The goal of my team is greater transparency," said Elliot Schrage, Google's VP of communications, when welcoming the reporters. Google has decided to be "more open about what we are doing, and what we aren't."

Don't think for a minute that the new culture of openness means that Google will provide details on how its technology works, more refined breakdowns of its money makers or real insight into future products and ambitions. No, the culture of openness is simply a means of helping troubled journalists "cover us more accurately and completely," Schrage said.

It always warms the heart when a company offers to help you do your job better in this fashion. It would seem that Google has finally put the press corps into "beta," and we couldn't be happier about it.

Along with the openness theme, Google executives pushed the international angle of the company's business. This entails more localized services and more overseas employees. It's not a terribly interesting topic, but Google decided to pursue it anyway. We won't.

On the product front, Google didn't show a heck of a lot. One executive demonstrated Google Notebook, which allows Google Desktop users to make little notes while they surf the web. You could, for example, keep track of interesting sites you've find while looking for a certain product and save the links, make notes about the sites and save photos for later review. You can also open up your notes to friends via a sharing function.

Google also showed off its version of widgets called Google Gadgets.

The most compelling new product was Google Trends, which is just a handy way to compare the popularity of certain search terms based on location and periodic spikes in traffic. You can check it out here.

Back to the openness front, Google did make a stride toward transparency during a lengthy question and answer session. CEO Eric Schmidt and his boy toys Larry Page and Sergey Brin fielded plenty of questions from reporters at the Google Playpen and from online interrogators.

Brin kicked off the session in style by going right after Microsoft after being asked why Google has concerns about Internet Explorer defaulting to the MSN search engine. Google always yammers on about the best products winning out in the end, so why does it care what Microsoft does?

"We just certainly see the history with that particular company - Microsoft - being anti-competitive being a convicted monopoly and not necessarily playing fair," Brin said. "So I think we want to focus early on to make sure that we are looking at areas where power can be abused."

Page added that he happily supports the Quaero European search engine. So, competition is okay across the pond.

One question that kept creeping up was how Google would improve its non-search services. A couple of reporters noted that search is Google's only stable service and that other services are often flakey and not well-baked.

"Well, I guess we think a lot of (the products) are great but not perfect," Brin said. "You know, we probably abused the word beta."

Brin noted that Google Labs was originally meant to be a testing zone but has since received too much attention for it to serve as a true beta ground for fledgling products.

"We don't have an appropriate venue," he said. "I think we need to communicate better the things that we actually expect to do well and the things that are really just where you guys are guinea pigs."

The Google executives overall urged the press to avoid comparing the company with Microsoft, saying such talk makes little sense. Google does not try to mimic Microsoft by spending millions on areas as soon as it sees a threat. The "cornerstone of (Google's) strategy is to solve new problems," Schmidt said, rather than focusing on competing in areas where other companies have already succeeded. We guess that Google's e-mail, calendar, office, widgets, maps and videos were just aberrations from that core tenet.

One reporter closed out the session by asking if the Google boys have a certain "Peter Pan craving" where they long for the good, old days when they could play with their colored balls without worrying about investors or the press.

Neither Page nor Brin took that gem head on.

Transparency indeed. ®

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