When former Google CEO Eric Schmidt took the stage at the AllThingsD conference, it was almost guaranteed that he would blurt out something controversial. But Schmidt didn't go over the top -- he did, however, admit that Google "screwed up" on its social strategy, and that it's his fault.
Schmidt said that after reexamining four-year-old memos: "I clearly knew that I had to do something, and I failed to do it. A CEO should take responsibility. I screwed up." Google's current chairman was referring to his efforts to team up with Facebook, a move that was rebuffed by the social networking giant.
Despite Facebook's frosty relationship with Google -- evidenced by the revelation that Facebook hired PR firm Burson-Marsteller to slam Google in the press for privacy invasions -- Schmidt piled on the praise for the social network, which he described as one of the "Gang of Four" major tech companies alongside Amazon, Apple and Google.
"Facebook's done a number of things which I admire," Schmidt said. "It's the first generally available way of disambiguating identity. Historically, on the Internet such a fundamental service wouldn't be owned by a single company. I think the industry would benefit from an alternative to that. ... Identity is incredibly useful because in the online world you need to know who you are dealing with."
Schmidt spoke of how pairing Google search with the social data Facebook now has on almost 700 million people would be a huge for Google -- especially now that Google Offers, the company's answer the Groupon, has officially launched in Portland, Ore. But because Facebook and Google are squabbling, it will be difficult for Google to make search more social -- as Bing is doing with its Facebook partnership.
If you're waiting for your "Schmidt moment" of brutal, borderline-inappropriate honesty, it came when he said that Google wouldn't attempt to acquire a social network like Twitter "because we can get people to give us that information."
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