March 22, 2004 12:19 PM PST

Google to find place for Orkut network in search

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--Search giant Google will integrate an online social network created by one of its engineers into its search services, perhaps within a year, according to CEO Eric Schimdt.

Speaking at the PC Forum here on Monday, Schmidt announced the plan for Orkut.com, the brainchild of 28-year-old Orkut Buyukkokten. He did not give a time frame or any other details, but said that Orkut is in beta testing right now and that "most products (at Google) stay in beta for about a year."

Social networks, where individuals can seek out information on vacations, astrophysics or discount auto parts, are one of the main topics at PC Forum, a three-day conference dedicated to discussing future computing trends. (PC Forum was acquired last week by CNET Networks, the publisher of News.com.)

"Social networks are an answer to the destruction of community," Dan Rosensweig, chief operating officer at Yahoo, said at the conference.

Schmidt said that such services are a natural complement to the sort of automated searches that Google now provides, because it allows visitors to connect to experts or at least to people with knowledge.

"One of the problems with search is you can't find people," said Schmidt. "We believe that these social networks will have a tremendous amount of information."

Theoretically, information searches from social networks can also be more germane. A human, after all, is providing the information, not a machine. The quality of automated search is good, but it's still not perfect. Schmidt asked the audience if they always got the answer they wanted in the first result from every search they performed. No one said they did.

"So everyone here is dissatisfied with our service," he said. "Until we can answer their question every time the first time, our work is not done."

Although optimistic about the potential for social networks, Schmidt indicated that Google isn't investing huge amounts of assets in the project. Three engineers are working on it. When it started, there was only one engineer, Orkut himself, and a single server behind the project.

Politics have become one of the early testing grounds for social networks. Jonah Seiger, the founder of Connections Media, and others noted that these sort of networks helped Howard Dean move from being a fringe presidential candidate to a major--albeit temporary--force in the Democratic primaries.

While initially used mostly by liberal groups, conservative groups have become one of the fastest growing segments on Meetup.com, company CEO Scott Heiferman said.

Schmidt declined to comment on whether any IPO was coming for Google. "We are fortunate that our business model is such that we can generate enough cash from operations so that we have not needed to go public," he said.

Schmidt added that he met Google co-founder Larry Page during a panel at the same conference four years ago.

 

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