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So what's the plan? World domination? Keep throwing money at everything and see what works? Google isn't making friends along the way, taking on the likes of Microsoft (desktop software), eBay (classified advertising), phone companies (the San Francisco wi-fi plan) and others. Google keeps a confidential list of the 100--yes, 100--top priorities under development. That's a long list, and investors would love to know more about it and what Page, Brin and Schmidt are thinking. But secrecy is part of the culture. Google doesn't even invite analysts in for earnings-guidance sessions, so the resulting surprises can lead to big share-price swings like the recent drop. "We don't generally talk about our strategy ... because it's strategic," says Page. "I would rather have people think we're confused than let our competitors know what we're going to do."
What's certain is that Google will keep looking for new ways to organize and search for information. It will try to make money on most of them, primarily through advertising. It will expand more overseas (Google calculates that two-thirds of the world's Internet population speaks a language other than English), and it will form more global partnerships with content providers. Here are some things Google watchers speculate it is pursuing: new ways to search for (and perhaps buy) music, an online payment service to rival PayPal, some sort of smart phone, a space elevator to transport stuff to the moon. (Don't laugh. Brin and Page can't seem to let go of that last one, at least as an idea to kick around.) To help accomplish its goals, whatever they may be, Google raised $4.2 billion late last year through a second stock offering.
It's part of the Google ethos to pretend, at least, not to care about the share price or let it affect strategy. "We're not a $100 billion company, in my mind. We're just Google," says CEO Schmidt, a soft-spoken former executive of tech firms Novell and Sun Microsystems who seems comfortable with his role as the third Google guy. (That's something like being the fifth Beatle but far more lucrative.) Indeed, inside Google, obsessing about the stock price is almost evil. Marissa Mayer, a vice president, imposes penalties on anyone she catches tracking the latest tick. "If I see someone looking at the share price, they owe the cost of one share," says Mayer. A few have had to pay up, she says. Early last week that could have meant a fine of nearly $400.
Brin and Page set the tone at Google. They are businessmen who didn't go to business school, and they believe that gives them a creative edge. Their standard attire is black T shirt, jeans and sneakers (and white lab coats for special occasions). They are at once playful--they used to take part in the regular roller-hockey games in the Google parking lot--and solemnly idealistic, as when discussing Google's new $1 billion philanthropic arm. Brin and Page are products of Montessori schools and credit the system with developing their individuality and entrepreneurship. They're often accused of being arrogant, but to the extent that they are, it may not be egotism as much as an insistence on doing things their way. (The pair sometimes celebrates big Google milestones by going out to Burger King.) "We've obviously been successful," says Brin. "But there's been a lot of luck."