Does Google have a master plan?

Google CEO Eric Schmidt visited Sydney yesterday and gave some hints about Google's master plan ... or lack thereof.

Google has done so much, so fast, to advance cloud computing and online advertising that many imagine the company has a detailed roadmap that articulates its vision for the future.

After yesterday's press conference in Sydney, which featured Google CEO and Chairman Eric Schmidt, we're not so sure that's a sensible conclusion to draw.

The press conference was staged to announce a new partnership with Optus, a mashup that brings Perth public transport information into Google Maps and a new Sydney office.

The real interest came from a long Q&A in which Schmidt was asked how he works with Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Schmidt said that Page and Brin now spend their time "doing whatever they want to," as befits their status as the company's founders. An awful lot of their time, Schmidt added, goes towards assessing the "20% time projects" that Google staff famously create on the day a week the company leaves them free to innovate.

At this point we should state that we're trying very hard to avoid the trap of taking a single statement and extrapolating it into an explanation of Google's inner workings. And we probably would not have mentioned the remark about 20% time projects at all, were it not for the fact that Schmidt also said that once Page and Brin assess these projects, some survive and are eventually brought to his attention.

Another interesting insight came when Schmidt was asked about how the company plans to make money from YouTube. His response to that question was to say that Google has teams looking at how it might be done and that the company's eventual solution will be very innovative. He gave no timeframe on the release of this system or how it would monetise video, again making us wonder if Google ever knew quite what its plans were when it scooped up YouTube.

But even if there is not a masterplan, there is one concept the company is building its future on: cloud computing. Schmidt said that more and more businesses are starting to consider Google's online applications, with the moment at which businesses are faced with re-licensing Microsoft Office the time most begin to consider its applications.

"We don't win every time," he admitted, but hopes to win enough that the company's enterprise business starts to contribute more than the 2-3% of Google revenue that does not come from advertising today.

To make cloud computing a more compelling alternative, the company will continue to partner with carriers like Optus, or indeed anyone who can make networks more pervasive and therefore make it easier for people to use Google. Australians, he said, could well see more local telco partnerships as the Optus deal is non-exclusive.

So does Google have a master plan? After yesterday's event we were left with the impression that if it does have one, it's either keeping very quiet about it or the details are much sketchier than some would imagine.

We're also not ready to rule out a scenario in which the whole organisation is flying by the seat of its pants. Which would make it a completely normal business, perhaps the worst let down of all!

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