MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Google executives faced little hostility at the company's annual stockholder meeting Thursday, other than a familiar complaint: it's hard to call people at Google.
Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt presided over the meeting of several hundred stockholders, outlining Google's overall vision of the computing world and fielding questions from attendees. The formal business of the meeting was uneventful: the three company-sponsored proposals were approved, while the three shareholder proposals were rejected.
Schmidt presented briefly on Google's major businesses, calling display advertising "probably our next huge business." Still, the first (and only) huge business--search--is far from staid as Google attempts to deal with the huge amount of information created by the explosion in social-networking and user-generated content.
Following Schmidt's presentation, he was joined by co-founder Larry Page; Susan Wojcicki, vice president of product management; Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience; Patrick Pichette, chief financial officer; and general counsel Kent Walker to field questions from the audience, including several members who lobbied Google to choose their cities for its experimental fiber-optic networking project.
On mobile technology, currently the subject of a bitter spat between Apple and Adobe, Schmidt pledged that "we support all known interesting standards." Google is widely expected to demonstrate the next version of Android next week at its Google I/O conference running Adobe's Flash player, which Apple refuses to support on the iPhone. Schmidt also said Google believes Android will wind up as the first or second most popular mobile platform based on Google's commitment to "openness."
However, several shareholders criticized Google's investor relations department for not answering their own phones: Google makes much of its investor relations material available on its website, of course, but shareholders complained of endless voice mail loops. Those seeking technical support at Google have noticed similar problems, perhaps emblematic of a company so steeped in the Web.
One shareholder wanted to know how Google's search indexes could access content behind walls erected by companies like Facebook and Apple, to which Schmidt responded "the first thing that would be helpful would be if you can ask them to make their systems open, and if there's enough of you maybe you can make a difference." However, Facebook users are concerned about the balance between open networks and closed networks in response to recent changes.
Still, for the most part shareholders seemed content. Although Google's stock is off its highs from earlier in the year, it's well above where it was a year ago at the 2009 shareholder meeting, amid one of the worst economic downturns in decades. And its decision to stop censoring search results in China by moving its operation to Hong Kong drew praise from a representative from Amnesty International, which has criticized Google in the past for its decision to censor results in China.