Like all the big tech companies, Google and Alphabet play an outsized role in our lives as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Whether it’s helping people find reliable information in searches, collaborating with the government on tests, building an exposure tracking system on Android and iOS in partnership with Apple or fighting disinformation on YouTube, Google’s ability and accountability, not it has never been so great.
Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai recently joined The Vergecast to talk about the challenges Google faces in this period, including a shift in its core advertising business and the challenges of managing the company remotely. Pichai is adapting to remote work; he is actively blocking more time on his calendar to read and think, which he did on his daily journey. And he’s learning how to make pizza from scratch by watching YouTube videos.
“It turned out well,” he said.
Pichai also talked about Google’s commitment to its hardware business, including the Pixel phone line, and how the company continues to try to simplify its famous and complex messaging app strategy.
“The irony of the Google Meet team working remotely to create and iterate the product to take it where they wanted it to be was very interesting to see,” said Pichai.
You can listen to the complete interview below, in the podcast player of your choice, or scroll down to read a complete transcription, slightly modified for clarity.
Nilay Patel: There are three things I really want to talk about. One, how Google manages the pandemic. Two, the impact of your business. And three, I talk to all the CEOs about how they manage their time and I’m confident that the remote management of a company the size of Google has changed all that.
I want to talk about all these things. But there were two great Google stories that are important [from last week]. I want to ask two questions about them immediately. First of all, there is a big one NBC piece by April Glaser suggesting that your efforts for diversity have been closed [and] that society is no longer even using the word “diversity” internally. It’s true?
Sundar Pichai: Diversity is a fundamental value for us. Given the scale with which we build products and the fact that we do it locally for our users, we are deeply committed to having that representation in our workforce. I think we were one of the first companies to publish transparency reports and have shared it ever since. And we have just published our recent annual diversity report. We have made modest progress in critical areas. There is a long way to go. But it is really important.
What we are doing in the company is constantly within our reach. Let’s take a look at this first: let’s see what works, what we can scale better. All I can say is that we probably have more resources invested in diversity now than at any point in our history as a company, in terms of the size and resources we have included.
NP: There is a part of that report, which is interesting to talk about, because we have heard a lot about Facebook, but I don’t know if we have ever asked anyone about it to Google. Is that criticism from the conservative side of the corridor is something you are most responsive to with these initiatives, with the way you run the business. It’s something you think about, in terms of who is criticizing you from where?
Our efforts for diversity, we do not carry this goal. There are many areas where we are still, as an industry, as a company, dramatically under-represented. So there is still a long way to go. And we just didn’t have that consideration. I think that independently, right within the company, we have certainly made efforts to make sure that the company can accept the views, and nobody believes that they are not part of the company, regardless of their political views, between other things. But that’s all. I think these are two independent things.
Dieter Bohn: So the other big story that hit yesterday, from the day we recorded, was above a The information, on Mario Queiroz and Marc Levoy who quietly leave the Pixel division, and the Pixel sales numbers may not be exceptional. Is Pixel’s business up to what you hoped it was right now?
I will comment on the hardware and also talk about Pixel.
The past two years have been a great integration phase for us because we have combined our hardware efforts at Google with Nest. We have absorbed the mobile division of HTC. So there were a lot of seams together. And we also have a large product portfolio. So it was definitely a construction phase. We are very busy in the long run. Hardware is difficult. And it definitely has components, which take real time to do it well, thinking of the silicon or the underlying display or camera or one of those pins. And so we’re definitely investing in it, but that timeline. I think we have made a lot of progress.
Pixel 3A last year was one of our products with the highest level of NPS classification ever and has certainly also been tested externally. So for me it is a clear indication that we have made a lot of progress. This week we have just launched Pixel Buds, which you guys have covered – thanks – to a good reception. Our Nest Home Hub products are definitely doing well.
We have a long-term vision. We are not just for phones. We have a vision of where computer science should go. And I think it’s really difficult to drive that vision without doing hardware, software and services together. You have to think about the intersection of it. I see a lot of value in thinking about it and in doing it that way.
We will definitely have hiccups. We are a nascent player in a really complex space, so not everything will be smooth. But am I excited about our portfolio by the end of the year, especially if I have a longer term vision? Because some of the deeper efforts we are making will take three to four years to materialize. And when they come in, I think I’m excited about how they will shape where we are going.
DB: Yes. I asked you “How serious are you about hardware?” every year since you created the division and a bit like self-driving cars, “Well, it’s going to be a five-year period, it’s going to be a five-year period.” That five-year period seems to always be five years.
So when you say you’re in the long run, this is still the period you are thinking about [hardware] really bring really serious results in terms of large sales numbers or great influence on the market or are you looking for something more immediate?
No, I mean that we think of our hardware efforts obviously in the context of our general IT efforts and in addition to what our ecosystem is doing. So let’s take it into consideration. I think it is important to build a sustainable business, even financially. Because I look at the level of investment hardware needs, both in terms of all the R&D technology you need to do, the type of supply chain you need to develop, as well as the market investments you need. So it’s a deep investment. So to do it right, I think you need to do it with a clear financial sustainability goal. So it’s important.
So for me three reasons. One is to carry on computer science. The second is that we really drive our ecosystem. Practically everything we have done well, you can go back and in the early days of Android, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, with which we worked together, was a fundamental phone. Nexus 7 in the world of tablets. I can indicate the Chromebooks: we have always done our original hardware to start it. And I look at areas where maybe we haven’t guessed yet [work] – could be [smart]looking is a good example of where we didn’t. And then you can see that it is difficult to guide an ecosystem towards your vision, simply by building the platform below.
So I think that’s the second reason. And third is really building a sustainable hardware business. I think everything is important, and that’s how I think about it. And I’m excited. haystack [Osterloh] and team, working closely with Hiroshi [Lockheimer] and team, they have that long-term vision. So we work hard.
DB: So you are now the CEO of Alphabet, in addition to Google. How much time do you even spend on hardware? Are you looking at the prototypes? Is it just a kind of meeting in a week? Or is it a bigger part of your time?
It’s just a coincidence, I think, I spent the morning with the team today talking about our portfolio for the next year.
DB: Anything you want to tell us?
You guys will understand it anyway!
It’s a good question Rick and Hiroshi guide these efforts. But I try to spend time more backward on some of the bigger things they are doing over time.
NP: Dieter is pointing out: he just reviewed the Galaxy … A51?
NP: It’s a cheap phone. He gave him a seven. The reason we reviewed it—
I saw the introduction to the video where you said, “This phone sells more than the galaxy.” I actually saw the video.
DB: It was actually the best-selling phone in the last quarter worldwide.
I think I learned it by watching your video. It was really interesting. Maybe I should have known.
NP: This is the question here. When we think about the release of your phones, do we think you are competitive with the flagship Samsung devices? We think, are you competitive with iPhones? But most of the market is over there, at $ 399, $ 499. Is that what you want to be? Or do you want to go for a great flagship phone and take the share from the top of the market?
The area where we demonstrated the strongest value proposition, that’s why I gave it [Pixel] 3 An example is where we clearly demonstrated it. But having said that, if you want to keep computing going, that high end is where you will keep moving the needle. And this is where we are working hard.
So you will continue to see us invest in both ends of the spectrum. We care deeply – [we’re] obviously working with our ecosystem [on] entry-level devices. I am deeply passionate about this. But surely, the high end is something we are working hard on. That’s where some of the underlying investments pay off. It builds up over time because it takes two to three years to make some of the deeper investments needed to do it really well.
DB: Are you seeing – especially now with everyone at home – are you seeing big changes in consumer behavior in terms of buying hardware? Does everyone go out and buy Nest cameras? Or do they feel they don’t need it because I’m still at home? Is something changing for you there?
NP: Let’s move on to the wider activity of Google and how it is going. Dieter had the question about consumer behavior. I just had this hypothesis, so I will ask you: is the use of Maps decreasing?
Yes, absolutely.[[[[Ride]Only you don’t use it you’re probably contributing. No, I’m just kidding.
NP: I am always using it.
No, it had a significant impact: of course, since people don’t drive around, you clearly saw an impact. Interesting to me, it has been perhaps in the last two or three weeks, we certainly see users returning to us in search of local information. So we definitely see activities around people trying to find services, what’s around, what’s open. People are exploring and discovering local services again. So there is this clear inflection, but it’s not clear what it means fully. But it’s here.
NP: And then in your larger business, of course Google earns most of its advertising revenue. We have heard the effects of the advertising market change. The whole world has been affected by the effects of the advertising market. How do you see these effects on Google? What are you doing to manage them?
I mentioned it in the earnings call. Compared to January and February, we clearly saw the impact in March. So, of course, Google isn’t immune to the global economy. In a sense, it is representative in all areas. So clearly, since entire sectors have been affected – the journey is a particularly serious example – we have certainly heard it across the board.
“Google isn’t immune to the global economy.”
What is interesting for us is, historically, compared to past cycles, research is something that is strongly ROI oriented, performance oriented. And so advertisers adapt. They retreat quickly. We see changes in demand and people taking advantage of it. You will immediately see the activity in “office furniture”, just then. So you can see the economy adjust in real time. And so it’s fascinating to see it that way. But for sure, it definitely had an impact on our business.
DB: In your earnings call, you mentioned that this wasn’t going to happen immediately in the next quarter. We are in a difficult time for a while. But getting out of this, how long will it take, do you think the advertising market will look substantially similar to what it looked like a year ago? Or are you thinking that things will change radically in your advertising business, or in your business in general, in a way that you are able to look at now? Or is it too early to say? Is it too difficult to predict?
It is the question, which is in most of our minds: what are the trends you are seeing that are back to average? And what’s here to stay? Well, will the journey ever return to what it was before? And so on.
It is obviously difficult to predict with the nature of the virus, how long it will be. We assume that the effects will be there for a while. I think it’s the right way to think about it. As a company, let’s assume it will take some time to recover, and [we’re] planning in this way. But it’s a little difficult for me to say.
Human needs are quite basic, I think, in terms of being social, wanting to meet people. Personally, I can’t wait to go back to a … I wish I could go see a football game or something.
Do I want to go to a music concert? The answer is yes. So I think the innate human need is there. But I think it will take some time before I get back to it. So I expect it to be a kind of slow and steady recovery.
NP: How are you thinking about the general push to reopen? In Google, you said that people will work from home until 2020. What are you thinking about for Google? And then, in general, how are you thinking about this push for reopening, especially in the United States?
At the beginning, I felt that we were among the first to go to work from home, also because I think it made sense for the health and safety of our employees. I felt that since much of our work could be done from home, it made sense for us to contribute to social distancing. Clearly, needs vary widely between different groups. We have already talked about hardware: having access to test equipment, laboratories is definitely important. You can’t check if something works in 5G unless you can actually find yourself in that test environment.
So it varies widely between teams. And we will be cautious on the return for the big company. When the local ordinance permits, I think we’ll probably start with trying to get 10 to 15 percent of the company, giving priority to people who actually need to be there. In this way, we can really have a dense environment and have many security procedures in place. And just because we’re talking about 10 to 15 percent capacity doesn’t mean a lot of people: we can actually rotate and get more people once or twice a week.
And you have people in two different buckets. There are people who really want to come back, and they are missing. Especially in Google, for 20 years, we have really invested in our physical spaces and in the culture it creates in order to make people work well together. And so I think there are people who lack that part of the experience, depending on the personal situation. And then there are people on the other side of the spectrum who want to be conservative. So we’re trying to do it.
But I expect that by the end of the year, we will have 20 to 30 percent capacity. Which may mean that we are able to get 60 percent of our employees once a week, or something. And that’s what we mean, where a vast majority of employees think they will probably work from home until the end of the year. But it is a very fluid situation. If things obviously seem better, we will adapt to it. We want to be flexible. Trying to really understand what works, what doesn’t work in this.
DB: Are you thinking of longer term in terms of the number of people who could work from home or work remotely? Twitter has just announced forever. You can work from home for as long as you want. Are you thinking that way too? Or are you going to wait and see how things are going?
I want to be driven by the data here, and therefore I see it as a research phase, and [we’ll] see where the data take us. In a sense, I’m glad Twitter is running some sort of end-of-the-spectrum experiment. So thank you, Jack. It’s nice to see that end of the spectrum.
Productivity has gone down in parts and what isn’t clear to me is – in the first two months, most people are already busy with projects where they know what to do. But the next phase, which will start, is, let’s say you’re designing next year’s products, and you’re in a brainstorming phase and things are no longer structured. How does this collaboration actually work? It is a little difficult to understand and do. So we are trying to understand what works well and what doesn’t.
We will probably be conservative of it. We want to make sure things work well. But getting out of everything, do we all learn and have more flexibility in the way we think about this? I think so, yes. This is how I would bet.
NP: I will take this transition somehow and ask you about the messaging strategy. I will understand it. You come with me while we do it.
[[[[Ride]How can I make a limit podcast without thinking about ours—
DB: pop quiz, hotshot. Name all products.
Our whole messaging complexity is making sure limit has a lot of material to work with.
NP: Google has historically been good at dog food and the use of its products. Obviously, this is a time to use these products in a way that has perhaps never been stressed before. You added gallery view to Meet. It looks like a button that should have been there, and suddenly everyone understood that it isn’t there, and popIt is there.
But there are some bigger competitors. There are more consumer-oriented companies that are succeeding, such as Zoom. Is it a moment of clarity for you? To say: “We really have to win this. We know what we need to do because we are using our products as much as we do. “
It is certainly an important moment. We brought Javier [Soltero] a few months ago, first of all, with a clear vision. So we had a clear sense of where we wanted to go, so some of the effort was clearly going on, and somehow, when COVID hit, we hadn’t made it completely with all the changes we wanted to make.
I think the irony of the Google Meet team that works remotely to create and iterate the product to take it where they wanted it to be was very interesting to see. Javier has a very, very long commute, and one of his biggest concerns was commuting when he was joining. He’s practically doing it now. But it is an important moment. Many schools, many organizations already use Google Meet. So we are doubling.
Obviously, COVID has blurred the lines between consumer and business and people use products in all types of contexts. And so surely, we are using it as an opportunity to make Google Meet and Google Chat, enlarge it and make it more available.
And of course, we are a service provider [but] we are also a platform. So RCS and all the work we are doing. RCS is where we are like the United Nations. We try to gather a group of people. So it is making better progress than it seems because you are bringing together so many people. As people sign up, you will see more and more momentum.
So all of this is going well together, I think. I’m glad we realigned it, all with Javier. Work both with our cloud team with Thomas [Kurian]and our platforms collaborate with Hiroshi. And so I think we’ll get to the right place. I’m very excited.
DB: You raised RCS. You know I will ask. What are the-
This is a rare moment when I’m like … because I know Dieter wants to talk about it. So I had to go there.
DB: At a time when Facebook is saying, “We will integrate all our messaging products and put everything under full end-to-end encryption,” do you think Google has more products in multiple contexts is still the way to go? Or do you think there should be more integration there?
We certainly want to have a more integrated and simplified vision, but in all scenarios I see our offer of platforms. Android is open as part of the open platform stack. I think you need an open standard messaging framework. And we have to evolve it from its SMS days, and that’s RCS for me.
And of course, we will continue to do this in all scenarios because I think it’s part of building that open stack. I don’t see that it is changing. But in terms of services, I want it to be as simple as possible for people. And I think we’ve made great strides from where we were with Google Meet and Chat. Of course, we have Duo. We intended Duo for consumers and Google Meet and Chat for businesses effectively. But the lines are blurred. And they share a lot of common core technology. They are both based on WebRTC, so there is a lot of common work and, given its common teams, we hope to be able to iterate.
But a little flexibility, I think it’s okay here.
NP: We started talking about phones. One of the reasons why Apple phones are so sticky is that they have an excellent messaging product. Do you think it’s connected? Do you need a great sticky messaging product to get people moving?
I would like to give a user response and also a technical answer.
From the user’s point of view, whatever Android phone you get, you always want a messaging product based on the phone number you are about to create, and you want something that comes with the platform, and we are trying to align it. And this integration, I think is fundamental. And so I feel that it’s an important part and where Android has been behind. So I think it’s important there.
Technically, different OEMs and different couriers with different RCS implementations have been a major cause of fragmentation in Android. It caused real pain. Simplifying like this is a huge multiplier in terms of productivity, efficiency and simplicity. So for both reasons, I think it is important to invest and get it right.
NP: So we drew you here by saying that we would talk about the pandemic. We mainly talked about messaging. I want to be sure to talk about the pandemic.
[[[[Ride]What a surprise.
NP: I feel that your team has prepared you well. You should have known that this question was coming. I keep track every week of when Trump and his team kept the flowchart and said, “About two thousand Google engineers are working on it.”
Go through that day. Did you expect it to arrive? The next day, Trump said someone from Google had called him and apologized to him. It happened? How were those days?
Very soon, through COVID, we decided to do everything as a company [in] areas where our expertise could help. And so we made a lot of effort.
I think there have been two efforts, and we were in contact with the [White House] coronavirus task force. And there have been two efforts, both in terms of what Google can do to provide more information, and Verily was working on a way to develop large-scale testing, particularly with an emphasis on drive-through testing, with a focus on to first responders. And we got in touch with both efforts. And so it is what it was.
Today, I think Verily is currently on 86 sites in 13 states. And this was that effort. Obviously it took longer than most of us expected to get there, but there were real constraints along the way. But I think we have made a lot of progress. My opinion on this is that, in a time of global pandemic, we want to do everything we can to help the United States government succeed. And therefore we are trying to play our role in it.
NP: I’ll ask you directly: did you call President Trump and apologize?
My discussions took place with the task force, so that’s what I was talking to.
NP: It’s quite a quote. It seemed to me at that time that the distinction between Google and Verily was not well made. And so I think my sequel here is: is it clearer now? You are the CEO of Alphabet. In truth it is under Alphabet. You are also the boss of Google.
I think we were communicating in two areas. We were both communicating. I feel that the burden lies with us as a company to clarify and be clear in terms of how we are communicating. I don’t think we got it all right in terms of communication between the two groups, who spoke back and forth. So I just wanted to make sure we were clear in terms of communication.
NP: So what’s the relationship between Verily and Google now? Do you still have volunteers working on the Verily project?
Yes. Since they are both in Alphabet, we see it as areas in which we help. So sometimes Google is working on health care, Verily is doing health care. If we share the resources where it’s needed, sometimes there could be a breakthrough in Google’s AI, which is what Verily uses to market. But on a technical level, we can exchange ideas. On a regulatory level, we work together to have a compliance process and all that framework that we have incorporated. But I’m excited about the progress Verily is making.
DB: Do you find that this separation, as a sort of two separate companies under one umbrella, is still useful? Or has your thinking changed on the distinction between Alphabet Verily and Alphabet Google?
It’s a good question. There are many areas where I find the distinction to really help because when you take something like Waymo and the time it has to operate, [it’s] face a series of very different problems than building a typical Internet product. I like the fact that there is a structural separation, that the Google management team doesn’t have to sit and think across that width, and they can be more focused. And it allows us to play these different bets with the different characteristics they would need and different time horizons and so on.
So Alphabet creates this flexibility. The basic commonality throughout the alphabet is that we think [there] it must be a deeper technological game – something based on basic technology to solve something. This is the underlying commonality.
Google focuses heavily on the Internet space and you know if [a problem] it is distinctly different from that and allows us to still apply technology – perhaps sharing common things like AI and our data centers but having the right structure, the right incentives, the right approach to tackle this problem. And so I think it was really useful to have that flexibility. Mi aspetto che a volte potremmo guardare qualcosa e dire: “Ehi, è su Google. Forse ha senso essere più in alfabeto ”o viceversa. Abbiamo creato quella struttura per creare quella flessibilità. Nest è un buon esempio. Ha più senso che sia allineato più vicino al team hardware e, ovviamente, c’è convergenza lì.
NP: Quindi ci sono un paio di grandi iniziative per la salute all’interno dell’ombrello Alphabet. In verità è uno di questi. Questo è un momento, credo, per la biotecnologia, per le scienze della salute. Diresti che Verily ora è interamente focalizzata su COVID e sulla pandemia? O è una delle tante cose che sta facendo?
È una delle tante cose. Ci sono molte persone lì che sono dottori e persone di assistenza sanitaria. Ovviamente, chiamando, si sentono motivati ad aiutare in un momento del genere. Quindi c’è molta attenzione. Ma sono focalizzati su aree come il diabete, una malattia a lungo termine. Quindi sono chiaramente focalizzati anche su altri aspetti dell’assistenza sanitaria e continueranno a farlo. E così quelli sono già grandi sforzi raddoppiati.
NP: Google sta facendo un sacco di altre cose intorno al coronavirus e COVID-19. Quali sono alcune di queste altre cose al di fuori del sito Web?
È una grande parte. Ormai abbiamo impegnato oltre un miliardo di dollari in vari modi, sia che si tratti di sovvenzioni a organizzazioni di sanità pubblica, crediti pubblicitari per le piccole / medie imprese, e quindi di lavorare in ciascun paese attraverso i programmi di prestito diretto delle agenzie ufficiali alle piccole / medie imprese anche. Abbiamo intrapreso sforzi sui DPI. C’è il profondo lavoro che abbiamo svolto sui ventilatori del team di Rick. E ovviamente, il nostro supporto per le scuole attraverso prodotti come Meet. Abbiamo fornito Chromebook. Quindi copre un’ampia varietà di sforzi.
E ovviamente, la notifica dell’esposizione e il lavoro nella traccia dei contatti ha un grande sforzo, insieme anche con Apple.
NP: Non capita spesso che Google e Apple collaborino a questo livello. How could that happen? Come è stata la tua conversazione con Tim Cook? Come va in termini di collaborazione tra le due aziende?
È stato uno sforzo davvero eccezionale. È iniziato, penso che entrambi abbiamo visto il problema e visto l’opportunità di fare qualcosa, e i team hanno iniziato a lavorarci su. E al punto giusto, ti rendi conto di questo problema, in particolare per farlo bene, abbiamo visto alcuni degli sforzi delle app precedenti effettivamente lottare per funzionare bene.
E così ci siamo resi conto come fornitori di piattaforme, vogliamo davvero renderlo facile e farlo funzionare su larga scala, ovviamente con il consenso dell’utente e la protezione della privacy. And the teams started talking, they saw an opportunity to do it better, so Tim and I connected, and we talked, and we said, “Let’s announce it jointly.” That helps clarify that we are going to approach it consistently.
And so for public health organizations planning, we wanted to give a clear commitment and a framework that they can actually invest, and we’re going to support it as a platform.
The teams talk multiple times a week across the two companies, and we are in conversations with public health organizations around the world. You will see there are large countries where they are fully developing a service on top of it. Our goal here is to have one more toolkit in all the efforts you need to manage COVID. We wanted to make sure we created the option value and add one more step in that toolkit.
NP: When you’re on the phone with Tim Cook, what was a problem that needed the two of you to solve or decision that needed the two of you to make?
One example I would give, when Tim and I talked, it was mainly actually deciding to just go public and lay it all out, earlier than both companies would normally do in a process like this.
We would have probably normally waited to develop, hash out more issues fully. But we both realized, given the public nature of it, given the responsible conversation you need to have with many societal institutions as part of it, it was important that we put it out and shared details, and engaged in a conversation. So we basically made that decision, I think teams had maybe different timelines on when they should be announced. And so we talked through, and we decided to announce it sooner rather than later.
DB: You and I have talked previously about Google’s responsibility when it comes to AI and making sure AI was ethical. With this, you’re in the middle of a pandemic, you’re in the middle of a whole bunch of different countries with their own health organizations. How do you think about your responsibility as the CEO of Google in this pandemic? Because from a certain perspective, it rises to a governmental level of a social contract with users. Or you could say, “No, no. We’re just a tech company.” So how do you see that?
It’s a good question. It’s a one in 100-year kind of issue we are dealing with. So it’s important. I want to do everything we can [and] always be aware that we are a company, a private company, working through an extraordinarily public moment. We clearly have products, which people come and rely on, and so doing that well, both in terms of providing high-quality information and getting it right trumps everything as we handle that. And that is the biggest way by which we can do well.
Beyond that, supporting our employees, supporting the communities we operate in, all that goes hand in hand. And then there are longer-term efforts where, because we have deep technological underpinnings, we can bring that technology to bear to support health care organizations and so on. But that’s the way I think about it.
I think it’s an important moment where the big companies need to step up. But I think you need to do it in a construct in which you realize you’re a private company, and you’re one small part of big value chain to solve this.
NP: So that’s an interesting way of putting it because some of the problems you’re solving are new. We’re going to use the Bluetooth radios in everybody’s cellphone to do exposure notification. I think, historically, that’s a new idea. I don’t think people had that before. It’s obviously got a bunch of new problems to solve.
On the flip side, there are some very old problems to solve here. Are people getting reliable information? Can they trust their leaders? Can they trust the companies they rely on? Google obviously provides a lot of information in search. You provide a lot of information in YouTube.
There have been some massive coordinated disinformation campaigns on both of those platforms. Facebook just recently announced what amounts to a worldwide supreme court for free speech on its platform. Are you thinking you need to do something at that scale to manage the very old problems of reliable information on your platforms?
It’s the foundation of what our company is built on. Search was designed across the web to surface the highest-quality information. So it’s something we’ve thought about for a long time. Obviously, the challenges have gotten more complex and harder, for sure. And so we have evolved our approaches, too.
I’m following what everybody is doing with a lot of interest here. So for example, in YouTube, over the past maybe four years, we have definitely, for categories of information, relied on external experts. On violent extremism, we partner with counter-extremism organizations. So we tap their expertise to help shape our policies. And as we evolved our hate and harassment policies last year, we consulted many organizations. We took inputs.
So I think relying on deep experts, other nonprofit institutions, governmental expertise, is a natural way we want to approach our work. And so I think to me, whether you set up an oversight board — I will look to see what the learnings from it are, and definitely going to study that. I think it’s important to understand that.
I think we are going to be flexible. If we find something works, we will be really open to adopting it. But we also, I think directionally, have really worked hard to bring outside input in terms of policy definition and so on. So that’s how we generally think about it.
NP: I want to just ask about how you are managing Google. Vergecast listeners know I tend to end all these interviews by saying, “How do you manage your time?” And that question, it used to have one kind of very clear set of answers. Now, it’s all different. So as CEO of Google, you’re obviously managing a giant company remotely. You’re dealing with governments. You’re dealing with your own employees. How are you currently just managing your time operating the company?
I’ve tried to have two parallel tracks. One is explicitly, there’s a definite focus on COVID response. So I’m spending a significant chunk of my time on something like that, which I wasn’t spending two months ago.
But also making sure the company operationally is focused on continuing to pursue all efforts they are doing and being able to compartmentalize, and do that, too. And so I’m making sure that our meetings just have a real sense of normalcy, and that’s why I gave the example of the earlier morning meeting today when I was reviewing our product plan for next year. It’s just a normal meeting, which I would have done. And so being able to do—
NP: What surprised you in that meeting?
It is just — timelines are hard to plan around. Your disruptions are kind of concerning. So when you plan timelines — and they’re for sure hard — it’s not a surprise. It’s what was different about the meeting.
NP: I almost got you. I was this close.
[[[[Laughs]Quasi. That’s why I’m laughing.
NP: So you’re having meetings on sort of a normal cadence with a sense of normalcy. What else has shifted for you in how you’re managing your time?
The art of doing this, and I’m actually talking to others who have worked from home before, and the line I heard was, “Working from home is as much about not working from home, too.”
I think that’s been harder for IT. How do you draw the boundaries? I miss transitions giving me a chance to drive and think about stuff and process. And so on hand, it’s a bit more efficient because you can move across what we are doing right now might have taken a lot more time, maybe not as a podcast.
But I miss the transition. I miss that space to think quietly. And so for me, that’s definitely something I need to progress better. But I’m managing my time. I have a clear sense of the major areas in the company I want to spend a percentage of my time [on]. I actually look back at my calendar every three months to see whether I spent my time on the things I wanted to spend. And I’ve always done that. So any aberrations that come out, I step back and think, “What can I do structurally to make sure I get back to how I want to spend my time?”
So it’s a constant reiterative process. And sometimes you look back in horror, and you realize you got it wrong, and then you course-correct. So that’s how I think about it.
NP: So the classic question I ask is “When do you work?” Because it’s a question I’m very focused on. It sounds like you did a lot of your time working and thinking in those transitions. How are you building that time now? Or is that something you’re just working on?
It’s a good question. I’m trying to force-block times on the calendar, specifically to read and think. I think it’s hard to do. But actually block the time and do that.
That’s how I had the time to watch your Galaxy A51 video. Sometimes just trying to understand what’s going on and spend time outside. So I think carving out that thinking time is one tool I have. But drawing boundaries is something I’m working on as well. Definitely picking up hobbies, which I never thought I had before. I made pizza last week from scratch, thanks to some YouTube cooking video. It turned out okay. And so things like that help.
NP: As you look out over the course of this next year, over the course of the crisis unfolding, what are the leading indicators of change that you’re looking at that maybe other people aren’t looking at? Maybe that’s specific to Google, maybe it’s broader than that. But what are the signals that you see? You have access to a lot of signals. What are the signals you see that indicate change is coming, one way or the other?
It’s effectively user pattern shifts, trying to understand — is telemedicine a real thing? Does it sustain? Or is it just something people do, and do people revert back to how they do things.
So looking at recovery patterns and seeing where you’re actually seeing a difference, a long-run difference, is what we are trying to piece out and understand, where we can. And we’re very interested in how does work culture shift? How does travel and meetings shift for the long run? And hence its impact on things which will do well because of that, and things which will have to adapt. So shifts like that.
Education is a big area where we are watching, and definitely I know you’ve been passionate about rural broadband and connectivity. To me, distance learning really identifies those gaps, too. And so figuring out how through both connectivity and computing we reach those things, is a long-run journey, I think, which we’re working on.
But I think trying to get those snapshots of where things are changing and trying to be data-driven and adapt is something — I do think these are moments of opportunity as well to build a future. History shows through times like this because so many people are facing so many problems, entrepreneurs rethink things and solve things. So it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.
NP: Do you see it differently around the world? You have access to a lot of data from around the world. Some parts of the world are in different states of this. What are you seeing around the world that is giving you an indication that things are going to change in the long term?
One thing, which has been striking is — I don’t think in our lifetimes we have seen such a global moment where everyone seems to be going through a shared experience. That’s unique. So it’s kind of one of the few positives. It feels like a moment for humanity together as a whole.
But for sure, when you look at places in Asia, which have gone through and come back, we do see some shifts in areas, like as people get used to ordering online, some of those effects seem — some of the shift stays. So we see trends like that. But I see a lot more common than not, which, to me, shows the commonality of humanity, more than how different we are. So there’s more common patterns I see rather than differences.